Yesterday’s fourth annual Vision Conference, hosted by the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) exclusively for its members, boasted record attendance of close to 200 people. The “AASA VisCon” event, held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago, promised to offer “compelling insights for the next decade,” through a number of presentations and panel discussions on the key issues impacting the supplier industry today.
Following board meetings and a welcome reception held the prior evening, AASA President and COO Steve Handschuh opened the days’ proceedings along with AASA Chairman David Coolidge, executive vice president, Americas, Global Automotive Aftermarket Division, Bosch, who gave introductory remarks. The first half of the day focused on the results of AASA’s new Aftermarket 2020 study, which AASA commissioned Booz & Co. to conduct on behalf of the association and its members. The Aftermarket 2020 report was provided exclusively to members.
As part of the VisCon agenda, Evan Hirsh, vice president of Booz & Co. offered the aftermarket supplier executives in attendance a briefing on the key findings of the report, followed by panel discussions on the finer details of the study.
In addition to several networking breaks held throughout the day, a networking lunch was hosted during which Mike Hanley of Ernst & Young (E&Y) gave a brief presentation on what trends E&Y is seeing in the aftermarket today and how the firm is helping to guide its clients through current changes in the industry. Gone are the days of focusing on cost reduction, Hanley said. Cost optimization is the name of the game today.
Hanley noted that miles driven, gas prices and unemployment rates continue to be the primary economic indicators by which the industry is motivated today. In addition to these three things, however, suppliers also should pay closer attention to consumer behavior right now. Specifically, Hanley recommended looking for opportunities to drive demand, such as creating a strong online strategy for communicating one’s portfolio of products and brands.
Manufacturers must take more responsibility for customer buying trends, Hanley said: “Not just product, but service and delivery. That’s a responsibility manufacturers need to take on.”
He also noted the “tremendous interest” private equity firms have in the aftermarket today and pointed out that there are opportunities to learn from these financial players. Hanley recommends that suppliers study what various private equity firms have done to turn around businesses that were floundering.
VisCon also brought back a topic that was well-received at AASA’s Executive Breakfast at last year’s AAPEX in Las Vegas. A panel including moderator John Gray, senior VP of Experian; Shane Evangelist, CEO of U.S. Auto Parts; Famous Rhodes, director of eBay Motors; and Mike Schwab, VP, Aftermarket Group, NGK Spark Plugs, revisited the topic of “Marketing Your Parts Through e-Tailers.”
Also on the day’s agenda, Affinia’s Terry McCormack discussed the role of “Know Your Parts” as it relates to the reputation of the automotive aftermarket. In addition, Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, provided an update on the role manufacturers play on Capitol Hill today. Following Timmons’ presentation, Jay Burkhart of Federal-Mogul gave VisCon attendees an update on the status of OptiCat, the aftermarket’s newly created manufacturer-owned data cooperative.
The day ended with two presentations offering a spotlight on suppliers’ customers independent repair shop owners and distribution groups.
Repair shop owner, author and speaker Mitch Schneider dialogued with shop owners Charles Hartogh (Ill.) and Diane Larson (Mass.) on what they struggle with today as shop owners and how suppliers can better serve them.
John Washbish, president and CEO of Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, closed out the day’s presentations with some candid insights for the suppliers in the room. Washbish urged suppliers to keep the feet on the street and encouraged greater collaboration in areas that suppliers and distributors have in common, such as sales, credit, customer service, tech support, product availability and promotion.
Sponsors of AASA VisCon 2011 included Ernst & Young, Polk, Remy Power Products, Experian, Foley & Lardner, GCommerce, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, IMR Inc. and OptiCat.