SEMA News—December 2013
By Mike Imlay
SEMA Data Co-op Case Studies
How Robust Data Has Improved Business
The SEMA Data Co-op (SDC), the industry-owned data repository, moved from Beta phase into full operation just last summer. Since then there’s been a lot of talk about “clean data” and the need for manufacturers within the specialty-equipment industry to “take control” of it. ACES, PIES, long descriptions and even product photos and videos are now critical to sales in today’s digital age.
According to Jim Graven, SDC director of membership, companies of all sizes have been joining the co-op at a much quicker pace than expected. Many have discovered that managing their own data has led to opportunities they had not anticipated.
“The most exciting thing for us is having our system go live earlier this summer, actually seeing our suppliers and receivers exchanging information and data between each other and getting positive feedback from our membership,” said Graven. “We’re very pleased with the growth of membership. As far as total membership numbers, we’re trending ahead of our plan. We’re getting a lot more data receivers than we had anticipated, and we’re pushing hard on supplier sign-ups. It’s been a fantastic mix of both small and large companies, suppliers and receivers.”
These companies realize that taking control of their data makes them more attractive to a wider number of warehouse distributors (WDs) and, ultimately, to a greater pool of consumers.
Organizing and putting your product data out there invites vendors and consumers to come to you. More exciting, however, is the potential for innovation that proper data management can unlock for a company. It positions the business as a dynamic leader in a rapidly changing marketplace and can even help a company to identify and target new and unexpected markets.
To investigate early results from SEMA Data Co-op members, we interviewed three key officers representing a trio of early SDC adopters. Each company’s experience represents a case study in the differing ways that properly managed data can expand sales and even create new marketing initiatives.
Case Study #1:
Hotchkis Sport Suspension
Founded by John Hotchkis in 1993 and based in Santa Fe Springs, California, Hotchkis Sport Suspension Co. specializes in suspension applications for early- and late-model musclecars as well as performance-oriented European and import brands. According to Henry Hancock, the company’s vice president and general manager, providing customers with real-time, accurate data was always difficult before joining the SDC.
“We relied 100% on another data provider,” explained Hancock. “When we launched new items or had an initiative for new products, we would fill out a spreadsheet and deliver it to our provider and rely on them to populate the data in PIES and ACES formats according to industry standards.”
As time progressed, Hotchkis realized that it needed a better solution to keep pace with the fast-emerging standards and practices of the modern digital marketplace.
“Data is, in our opinion, dynamic,” continued Hancock. “We have to have immediate access to it in order to make modifications or enhance the data with the demands of the consumer. With them needing much more detailed data about our products, it became apparent that we needed more control. Because consumers are accessing information all over and wanting more robust and accurate data, we now feel that we can more clearly communicate what our products actually do.”
As opposed to supplying data sheets to its former data handler, Hotchkis can now access and update data directly through the SDC portal—and it’s making a big difference in the speed and manner in which the company engages the end consumer.
“The SDC enables us to take control of our data, modify it and enhance it any time to help the consumer understand what we do, and then return it to the SEMA portal so it can be accessed by our customers,” Hancock said. “It really enables us to have control over the changing market and the needs of the market for more accurate data.”
Case Study #2:
Jason Kuenkler is operations manager for Alligator Performance, based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Established in 2005, the company has quickly become one of the largest diesel performance aftermarket companies in the United States. Kuenkler said that the company is now poised to expand its business into the entire performance aftermarket, thanks in large part to the work it has done with the SDC.
Like Hotchkis, Alligator compiled its data virtually “by hand” before joining the SDC. Now it is utilizing the SDC to not only organize and disseminate its own product data, but also to populate its company website with an unprecedented amount of industry products and information that consumers can instantly access.
“Just to give you an example, it took us from 2005 until about January 2013 to load 8,000-plus parts onto our former website,” explained Kuenkler. “Currently, with the integration that we’ve built with help from SEMA, we’ve created a platform that’s unique to the industry. We’re now using the enhanced-standards database of ACES and PIES to run the back end of the actual search functionality on our new website to offer 80,000-plus parts online.”
In short, Alligator has populated its website in mere months with a living, growing database used by the industry at large. According to Kuenkler, the implications are vast. First, it allows the company to tie aftermarket parts to the correct OEM makes and models for virtually any application.
Second, it enables site visitors searching on a particular vehicle to drill down on any of that vehicle’s types and submakes for appropriate parts and applications. Third, the site is automatically and instantaneously updated with any new product data supplied to the SDC by its quickly growing pool of vendors.
“It’s been long in development and a learning experience,” said Kuenkler. “We’re kind of the poster child for the SDC’s data integration. We’ve taken what they’re doing and brought it to a whole other level. Our goal is to be able to provide our customers everything that they may be looking for when it comes to aftermarket products.”
Case Study #3:
According to Jake Plappert, BedSlide director of marketing, the SDC has been a boon for that company as well. The co-op has enabled the business to modernize the way it handles data and, in the process, helped it identify new potential applications for its product—and thereby fresh markets.
Since 1999, BedSlide has manufactured sliding drawer mechanisms to access truck-bed cargo space.
“Our product line is about 37 SKUs, so it’s not very big, which made us kind of slow in adopting new ways of handling data,” conceded Plappert.
“We always had a running jobber sheet that we managed, and that was probably the simplest way I can say that we managed our applications. When it came to sharing that information, a lot of times that is literally how we gave people our applications.”
Over time, however, the manufacturer eventually found itself filling out myriad ACES and PIES spreadsheets for all the different WDs it worked with. The process, said Plappert, was cumbersome, time-consuming and inefficient, since each WD required a different format. However, once BedSlide joined the SDC during its Beta phase, everything changed.
The company now inputs complete data into the system, which each WD can then pull in whatever way that suits. Even more importantly, the SDC has also given BedSlide an entirely new way of looking at its data, which in turn is now completely revolutionizing the manner in which the company is marketing its products.
“The daunting task was that it was tempting to try to say that an application of our product fits a certain type of truck—for instance, a crew cab, a standard cab or an extended cab,” said Plappert. “A lot of companies can do that. But we find that our product really fits a certain type of truck bed size, so a part that fits a crew cab may actually also fit an extended cab if they both have the same size bed. When we started getting our data organized with the SDC, we found that there were so many different configurations that our products fit. We had to approach things in a new way and look at applications we had maybe missed.”
That, of course, was a good thing. As Plappert explained: “One of the biggest challenges we used to have year to year was constantly trying to maintain an accurate application guide. The biggest impact the SDC made has been to our online website and how we can now update that information. The SDC is extremely user friendly, and we’re currently working to make an adjustment where we can narrow our application data down to truck bed lengths and widths and wheelwell measurements. We will then be able to easily find every vehicle our BedSlide will fit. That will be huge for us.”
In other words, joining the SDC has led BedSlide to a broader marketing vision. The company is now identifying potential applications and fits (and therefore customers) it never knew it had.
Making the Complex Simple
Any discussion of data management inevitably gets technical. To the uninitiated, all of the foregoing may sound somewhat complicated. However, all of the three early adopters found that getting a handle on their data through the SDC was easier than they had imagined.
“We joined in the tail end of the Beta phase,” recalled Kuenkler. “Once our vendors put me in touch with Jim Graven at the SDC, we had a long talk. Being a SEMA member for as long as we have been, we wanted to support what SEMA was doing. Organizing data is a process, but SEMA has made it really seamless. It’s been a really cool, positive experience.”
Hotchkis Sport Suspension signed up with the SDC early on and eventually uploaded all its data in 2012. According to Hancock, the only time-consuming factor was collecting and preparing the manufacturer’s information for entry into the SDC portal.
“Luckily, I was familiar with databases and how one should approach something like that,” Hancock said. “At times, there were two to three of us working when we could on different SKUs and ensuring that the data for each one was correct. We spent about a year to a year and a half on the 800 SKUs we have. That’s not a lot of SKUs compared to some of the bigger companies in our industry, but it was enough for a small company to have to sit down and go line by line and make sure your marketing and long descriptions are correct.
“However, the experience with the SDC has been seamless. The staff has been extremely helpful, so all has gone well. I think that the challenge for anyone is finding a good partner in setting up your data. We worked with a company called Access IT Group, and they were great in helping us organize our data into industry-standard PIES and ACES. That was key. On our own, we weren’t entirely familiar with the fields we needed to populate. While we ended up going through the spreadsheets ourselves and entering all the details, they were providing us with the templates and guidelines to properly do that. It was a major help.”
Expanding Business Opportunities
In the end, Hancock, Kuenkler and Plappert all agreed that the SDC has been a boon to their respective companies. They highly recommend membership to others in the industry for a number of reasons.
“The biggest plus is having accurate information, extremely live, happening right away for everybody to pull from,” said Plappert, who added that consumers and WDs can now find BedSlide products while searching on certain vehicle criteria, even though BedSlide may not have specifically identified that vehicle as one of its known applications. “Having robust data that is accurate is definitely huge,” he concluded.
Hancock pointed out that the SDC brought Hotchkis added benefits that the manufacturer never foresaw when it first signed on.
“The SDC helped us to understand what priorities we needed to set to pursue our goals,” he explained. “It gave us the vision of where we needed to go to accomplish our tasks. It’s daunting, but if you’re coming into it for the first time, the communication with the SDC as to how to present quality, authoritative data to the industry is unmatched. The staff gave us all the tools to upload it and make it available.”
Three early adopters agree that the SEMA Data Co-op has changed the way they handle and disseminate data for the better.
For each company, getting up and running with the SDC at first sounded daunting, but the process proved surprisingly seamless and easier than expected.
Taking control of their data has led all three companies to identify and pursue new marketing opportunities.
The three companies surveyed also report increased sales, which they attribute to improved data management through the SDC.
Hotchkis Sport Suspension
A former 23-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry, Kuenkler believes that the SDC is bringing the automotive aftermarket a sorely needed solution to data management that other industries have had for a while.
“The industry has been lagging behind a lot on data,” he said, “and Alligator is trying to push the industry envelope right now in terms of what is available from a company like ours. We’re also a manufacturer, so we understand both sides of the picture, including the difficulties that are involved in just getting set up in an enhanced database like that offered by the SDC.”
Kuenkler said that clean, robust data benefits businesses by helping their customers to avoid buying the wrong products.
“People these days want to point, click and get their product,” he said. “They don’t want to wait around. They don’t want to get the wrong stuff. They don’t want to go through the hassles of returns. They expect customer service. Unfortunately, for too long in the performance aftermarket, it’s been easy to get the wrong parts because they’ve been displayed [online] the wrong way.”
Kuenkler said that it all boils down to a simple equation: “If you want to be able to provide your product to a broad market base without hitting a marketing nightmare of issues, being able to give clear, concise data tied to what your stuff fits properly allows customers to make the right decisions, get their products and positively review your company.”
Join the SEMA Data Co-op
To learn more about what the SDC can do for your business, or to become a member, contact Director of Membership Jim Graven by phone at 888-958-6698 or via e-mail at email@example.com. You’ll also find additional information at the SDC website: www. SEMAdatacoop.org.