WESTMONT, IL — Bill Thompson is the president of IMR. He joined the company in 2003 and immediately recognized the extraordinary potential in both the amount of research the company does, and the volume of data it collects. As a result, he has led the way into innovative new research venues, and developed new ways of using the data for a variety of automotive customers. Among the places IMR data can be seen is the weekly research article “The Pulse,” published every Friday on aftermarketNews. Under his leadership, the company continues to grow its portfolio of aftermarket research products and services. Bill is currently a member of the AASA, AAIA and SEMA and currently sits on the AAIA market research committee.
In this exclusive Executive Interview, Thompson explains the role of IMR in the aftermarket and how market research data can provide companies with the competitive edge.
IMR dates back more than 30 years. Why did the company start and how did you got involved in the business?
IMR was founded in 1975 as a syndicated research company that had a focus on the automotive industry. Doing large scale syndicated research at that time was relatively new and for the automotive industry, IMR, in a sense, was a pioneer. Since that time, the focus of the company has expanded to include other syndicated research as well as custom research capabilities and an automotive research panel.
I was asked to join and run the company in 2003, given my background. At that time, what I saw in IMR was a tremendous amount of potential. The amount of research conducted and data collected is astounding. IMR is constantly thinking of new ways to use the data already collected.
How is IMR data used in the automotive industry?
The research data IMR collects is used in many different ways as each research piece addresses different issues.
Our parts and service research is used in category management, in understanding DIY/DIFM trends, channel share trends and replacement rate trends.
The repair shop, technician research is used in category management and to understand the changing dynamics of repair shops and commercial business.
The accessory research we produce helps manufacturers understand the overall market for accessories and provides an in-depth understanding of accessory purchases by consumers, prices consumers are willing to pay and the detailed features and functions they’re looking for.
Other research is custom and geared towards helping companies know their customers better, whether it is a consumer or technician, by helping them understand how they make decisions when making purchases.
What type of research do you offer the aftermarket?
I think IMR is probably best known for CCAMS (Continuing Consumer Automotive Maintenance Survey). This syndicated research annually surveys 100,000 consumers that represent more than 188,000 vehicles yearly. With more than 30 years of tracking 140 parts and service for cars and light trucks, IMR data helps provide valuable trend information. The data collected in CCAMS addresses many industry questions like channel share, replacement rates and macro level vehicle maintenance trends as well as very category specific questions regarding parts failure, consumer demographics and DIY/DIFM trends to name a few. This is unique data that is highly respected by customer and industry peers.
Our syndicated Technician and Repair Shop Survey annually surveys 5,600 repair shops. It provides a detailed profile of shops, including number of vehicles being serviced, number of repair orders (ROs) written, the average value of the ROs, number of bays, number of technicians and other information. In addition to the demographics, it helps us understand the technicians view of the 60 plus parts we track and the brands they use and the volume of these various parts they install each month. This study has been conducted monthly since 2000, and provides invaluable information to auto parts manufacturers so they can better understand their customers.
In addition to our parts and service and technician research, we also produce studies focused on accessory usage and consumer needs related to accessories and in-vehicle technology. Our New Vehicle Accessorization Study, which samples more than 20,000 new vehicle buyers and our Automotive Accessory Product Planners Notebook, which samples 8,000 consumers, provide a deep dive into accessories, looking at brand awareness, penetration rates, product usage and needs and many other detailed aspects of the accessory market. It helps manufacturers better understand what consumers buy, why they buy it, their expectations of certain features and functions and many other details regarding this important market.
What types of custom research are available from IMR?
Custom research is created on-demand for clients. Our research is automotive-focused and can provide perspective from either the consumer and or technician point of view. This allows companies to get beyond behavior and truly understand the motivations of their customers, whether technicians or consumers, to create and better implement business and marketing strategies.
We’ve done research projects ranging from product innovation and development to customer decision process studies to simple market pulse studies. These studies typically focus on gaining more detailed insights that go beyond behavior and get to the key issues affecting our clients. Because each of our customers come to us with different research needs, no two studies are truly the same. Ultimately, though, we use our automotive market and research expertise to deliver cost effective and high quality research.
You recently announced a new research tool for digging deeper into the DIY segment. How do these insights help aftermarket companies in making or refining their plans to reach this group of automotive buyers?
Our parts and service research has a lot to do with identifying and tracking behavior as it relates to parts purchases and vehicle maintenance. With 188,000 plus vehicles and their owners in our sample this gives us a very large base of DIY consumers, as well as DIFM consumers. Since we have this base of DIYers in our sample we can then segment them by the vehicles they drive, the parts they buy, the places they shop etc. Since we already have them identified through our panel, contacting them to do research is very easy and cost effective. Finding these consumers in the general population is typically hard and depending on what you want to study can be even more difficult. Ultimately, this new tool gives our customers quick, easy and cost effective access to these consumers.
Can you give us other examples of how companies are using your research to make better decisions?
One of the most important things our research is accomplishing is to help companies track market and category trends. They can understand such things as industry parts volumes and service events. Plus, they can profile consumers and their parts purchasing and vehicle service habits and profile technicians and their parts purchasing behaviors, brand preferences along with the needs and challenges they face.
In addition, companies are using our data to understand vehicle dynamics in relation to parts replacements, along with geographic dispersion of parts replacements and service events.
The data has helped companies evaluate new lines of products to create new opportunities, manage their product categories efficiently, develop marketing strategies and ultimately gain a competitive advantage.
You provide data to a number of industry associations. How is it used and disseminated by these groups?
Our data is used by both the AASA and AAIA. We are the primary sponsor of the AASA Status report and our parts and service research data is used extensively in this publication. The AAIA publishes our replacement rate data and some of our accessory research in their annual Factbook as well as some of our data regarding crash parts in their annual Collision Repair report. In addition, some our data is used in the econometric model that helps the AAIA, MEMA and SEMA determine the size of the aftermarket.
You recently reached an agreement with Edmunds. What can you tell us about that?
We recently signed a contract with Edmunds to develop repair data on the U.S. vehicle population. Launched in 1995 as the first automotive information website, Edmunds.com is the premier online resource for automotive consumer information. They currently publish four websites that empower, engage and educate automotive consumers, enthusiasts and insiders. Repair data that IMR collects will be used by Edmunds.com to enhance the already existing content they publish on new and used vehicles. Many of the details are still being developed and cannot be discussed at this time. However, the combination of IMR’s data and Edmunds’ vehicle expertise and existing content will allow consumers to be more informed on their potential vehicle purchases than ever before.
Can you share with us any specific plans you have for growing IMR’s business?
As we move into 2008, you’ll see the announcement of some new research products. Some of these are geared toward new segments of the automotive industry and others are expansions on our existing research involving consumers and technicians. I think that the automotive industry is really embracing fact-based decisions and these new products will allow us to help these companies go beyond basic market and category insights.
Where do you see the North American aftermarket headed in the next five years?
With the aging vehicle population, I think the aftermarket will be a good place to be over the next five years. However, global sourcing will make the market for parts more competitive than it is already. Vehicle quality has had a direct affect on the mix of repairs that are occurring in the market which bodes well for the maintenance and light repair item manufacturers in certain categories. The changing repair mix towards more maintenance and light repair items not only effects parts manufacturers but tool and equipment manufacturers as well. I think one of the more interesting things to watch over the next five years or so is how the demographics of repair shops and the actual technicians change.