Steve Bieszczat was appointed senior vice president, automotive and marketing for Epicor in October 2012. In this role, he has responsibility for the company’s automotive aftermarket electronic catalog, systems, data warehouse products and services in both North America and Europe. Bieszczat has more than 25 years of experience with Epicor, primarily in the automotive, electrical, hardware and home center, lumber and building materials and specialty hard goods markets. In addition to his automotive aftermarket responsibilities, Bieszczat has responsibility for Epicor retail distribution solutions.
In today’s Executive Interview, Bieszczat discusses the critical role of modern software solutions in a successful distribution business, and offers up his thoughts on the role of e-commerce in retail today.
Many jobbers and distributors are still relying on software that was developed back in the early 1990s. What are they missing out on in terms of features that could save them time and money?
It’s true that many independent jobbers are still using older, less powerful solutions, but we have seen a strong, sustained trend toward new technology among distributors and multi-store businesses in order to improve their overall efficiency and competitiveness. When you think about the characteristics that separate today’s most successful aftermarket businesses from those that are at a competitive disadvantage, many are related to modern technology. For example, a modern business management system can help you dramatically improve operational efficiency, implement more cost-effective inventory practices and drive faster response to new sales opportunities. You can increase customer loyalty through tools like online statements and automated delivery and dispatch services and by arming your sales team with a world-class eCatalog. Technology is a powerful differentiator that can help two- and three-step distributors and jobbers increase sales, improve margins and attract new customers. But without these tools, chances are you’re working harder month after month simply to maintain your current level of business.
It seems like many business owners are afraid to take the plunge because a new system represents a significant investment. Can a solutions provider like Epicor point to tangible, measurable benefits to help convince the distributor or jobber to make that investment?
Investing in new technology is one of the most important decisions an aftermarket business owner might make in a given year. When we are contacted by a distributor or jobber, we begin a very carefully structured discovery process that helps our team identify the unique competitive and operational challenges facing that business, while also providing a roadmap through which the business owner can understand how he or she will benefit from a technology investment. We recently asked 200 Epicor customers about the type of payback a distributor or jobber can anticipate from new technology. Our users reported that a business can expect a 10-percent sales increase, on average, as well as a 3 to 5 percent gain in gross margin. More than 70 percent said their system helps reduce returns, and 80 percent said it helps increase customer loyalty. So, ultimately, the distributor or jobber can see that their investment can more than pay for itself while helping to re-energize their business for long-term growth.
E-commerce is revolutionizing the sale of consumer goods. Do you expect it to have the same impact within the aftermarket?
E-commerce is already having a significant impact on the aftermarket, but the benefits are being felt most at the business-to-business level. For example, there are some 23,000 distributor and jobber businesses that are now connected with more than 170,000 installer locations via the Epicor Internet AutoParts (IAP) e-commerce solution. We’re seeing consistent annual sales growth of 25 percent or more, which demonstrates that installers overwhelmingly prefer to source parts and related products via e-commerce-enabled traditional wholesalers. There’s no denying that certain aftermarket products will be sold at increasing volumes via business-to-consumer e-stores, but we expect traditional distribution to continue to be the industry’s predominant sales channel. Aftermarket wholesalers are exceptionally good at supporting installers through very high service levels, competitive prices and trade credit. These characteristics will continue to drive the growth of their businesses over the long-term as they leverage the power and efficiency of IAP and Epicor’s other e-commerce solutions.
Many manufacturers and distributors say that the aftermarket’s success is ultimately in the hands of the front line professionals who look up and sell parts and those who diagnose and repair vehicles. How do Epicor’s solutions make these professionals more efficient and effective?
Having the right information at the point of decision – whether it’s the parts counter, service desk or an e-commerce solution like IAP – is a critical competitive tool that ultimately enables our industry to provide the quality, convenience and value demanded by the motoring public. Modern electronic catalog solutions integrated with point-of-sale systems at the distributor and service dealer levels enable front-line professionals to almost instantly capture key vehicle information, which in turn unlocks virtually all of the content – including product images, TSBs and other information – needed to facilitate a fast, efficient and accurate repair.
We’ve heard a lot of news recently about Epicor’s growing portfolio of business intelligence solutions. How do these benefit participants in the aftermarket value chain?
Our Epicor Vista business intelligence solutions are helping manufacturers and distributors rapidly move beyond traditional category management by tracking and analyzing actual parts lookup and buying activities at the point of sale. Now, rather than basing your production and stocking decisions largely on VIO data, you can determine which parts on those vehicles are being replaced, at what rates, and which brands are being looked up and sold most often for those applications. Distributors can also create customized “market basket” assortments by vehicle, across categories and brands and specific to each store location – all based on factual down-channel intelligence. This level of business insight has long driven the success of mass-market retailers, and it’s now quickly becoming a reality in the aftermarket distribution community.
The industry is becoming increasingly interconnected, thanks in part to technology. Epicor is taking that to a new level by connecting car dealerships to aftermarket distributors via the Epicor Parts Portal. How will this benefit the industry?
This is another great example of the power of B-2-B e-commerce. The vast scale of Internet AutoParts and our other electronic connectivity, estimating and sourcing solutions is very appealing to vehicle dealerships, which are increasingly reliant on aftermarket parts and supplies for their own service bays as well as their used-car operations. Traditionally, they haven’t been able to source aftermarket parts through their dealership management systems, which has limited the growth of this sales channel.
Now, by using the Epicor Parts Portal and our integrated electronic catalog, the dealership employee can quickly look up, price and source virtually any part that’s on the shelf at most aftermarket distributor locations. Dealerships love the convenience and reach of this solution, and it is now driving sales growth for aftermarket distributors who are part of IAP.