John Zochert is director of marketing and product development for Wells Vehicle Electronics, a global supplier of advanced vehicle electronic components for replacement applications in the automotive, marine, off-highway, industrial and heavy-duty industries. In this position, Zochert is tasked with fulfilling the needs of the market by providing value-added services that support quality products and overseeing the marketing communications, product and technical services teams. In today’s interview, Zochert talks with aftermarketNews about the company’s 110-year history, its extensive tech training library and the concerns about rising SKU counts. He also addresses the challenges and opportunities presented by the increasing amount of electronics in vehicles today.
The growth of electronics content on passenger vehicles represents both opportunity and challenge for aftermarket service providers. How can manufacturers such as Wells Vehicle Electronics help keep the independent aftermarket competitive in this vital service area?
It wasn’t too many years ago that some industry observers predicted a decline in aftermarket-performed diagnostic work, but the opposite has been true. Our industry is incredibly resilient, as seen in the significant investments in technology being made at every level of the aftermarket – among U.S.-based manufacturers like Wells Vehicle Electronics, within the distribution chain and in the service bay, where technicians have access to the latest scan tools as well as Web-connected computer stations and mobile devices. We’ve shown we can keep pace with the evolution of OE technologies and that the independent aftermarket remains the most convenient and accessible source of top-quality diagnostic and repair services.
At Wells Vehicle Electronics, we’re aggressively expanding our engineering and manufacturing operations here in North America to accelerate product development in order to meet the growing demand for top-quality replacement ignition system, emission controls, sensors and switches and other components for late-model vehicles. And, our Wells Tech technical services department continues to expand the breadth of user-friendly training and support resources available to professional technicians and parts professionals.
Technical training has been an area of emphasis for Wells Vehicle Electronics, with your extensive series of training videos. Do you see growing interest among technicians in this type of support?
We’re seeing exponential growth in demand for training and technical resources, from our award-winning free video training segments to our ever-growing range of interactive diagnostic solutions available at WellsVE.com – including our recent Virtual Tech diagnostic tool. We recently reviewed the results of technician focus groups that showed an intense interest in using the Web as a diagnostic tool, and YouTube and Google in particular were mentioned by technicians and shop owners as “go-to” research tools. Many shops now have a Web-connected computer or mobile device for every technician and encourage their employees to use Internet resources to more accurately and efficiently diagnose and repair a full range of issues.
Wells Vehicle Electronics’ history dates back more than 110 years, yet it has seemed to aggressively raise its industry profile in just the past several years. Are there still elements of the company’s “story” that people are surprised to learn today?
You’re right that we’ve never been particularly self-promoting or flashy, because, frankly, that’s not what our channel partners and end-users need. They’re looking for innovative, proven vehicle electronics solutions from a trusted manufacturer that offers the right coverage, great cataloging and technical support and superior service levels.
That recipe has worked very well for more than 110 years and it is even more important today given the increased complexity of vehicle systems and the competitive demands of today’s aftermarket value chain. Our channel partners understand that we deliver on our promises, which allows them to focus on growing their businesses.
One surprise for your readers might be the strong, sustained growth of our North American manufacturing footprint and the growth of our original equipment business. We’ve recently completed a major expansion of our engineering and electronics manufacturing operations in Fond Du Lac, Wis., with more parts being developed from start to finish here in the U.S.
Replacement parts distributors are obviously facing rising SKU counts. How does Wells Vehicle Electronics help customers make sure they remain ahead of the inventory curve by stocking more of the right parts for the right applications and fewer parts that are declining in demand/popularity?
We now offer more than 38,000 part numbers across dozens of product categories, so we have first-hand knowledge of the inventory challenges facing our channel partners. Our sales and category management teams work very closely with customers to identify emerging service opportunities as well as declining demand for specific older part numbers. The goal is to help each customer develop the right assortment for every warehouse and store location. One of the most important benefits we provide is extremely high service levels and rapid availability to ensure that our customers don’t simply have a part number in a catalog file, but rapid, dependable access to the part itself so they can close more sales.
Wells often introduces components that are described as “better than OE.” What does this mean and how does it benefit your customers?
We recognize the importance of delivering parts that look and fit just like the original because that’s how our industry helps technicians or do-it-yourselfers feel confident that they have the right part for a specific repair. But OE performance isn’t a high enough target in many cases, particularly when Wells Vehicle Electronics engineers have identified reliability issues with a given OE component. Technicians trust us to improve on OE designs when required. This engineering philosophy strengthens our brand, but above all it helps service providers earn the loyalty of their customers.