CHICAGO The 15th annual Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium kicked off today in Chicago, under the theme of "Aftermarket Next: Insights on a New Generation of Customers & Employees."
The net proceeds of the event will benefit the GAAS Scholarship Fund, which helps contribute to the education of young people pursuing a career in the automotive aftermarket. GAAS Scholarship Chairman Pete Kornafel provided an update on this year’s scholarship program and candidates at the start of today’s event.
Kornafel said there were 375 scholarship applicants this year, up from 349 last year, and 70 percent of the applicants qualified for more than one award. After meeting yesterday, the Scholarship Committee has determined that 81 $1,000 scholarships will be awarded. In addition, five $2,000 scholarships from the Breslow Foundation will be made to U.S. students, and eight GAAS scholarships will be made to Canadian students.
"We always have a huge number of deserving candidates,” Kornafel told GAAS attendees.
Following Kornafel’s update, the day’s presentations began with three aftermarket service veterans tackling the topic of "How Automotive Repair Service Chains Are Gaining Traction in Today’s Market." The session was moderated by Barry Soltz, president, AMRA/MAP.
Panelists were Joe Biggie, vice president of strategy and development, Just Brakes; Larry Magee, chairman, CEO and president, Bridgestone Retail Operations; and John Warzecha, senior vice president, franchise business development, Midas Inc.
At left: Barry Soltz, president, AMRA/MAP; Larry Magee, chairman, CEO and president, Bridgestone Retail Operations; Joe Biggie, vice president of strategy and development, Just Brakes; and John Warzecha, senior vice president, franchise business development, Midas Inc.
Magee said the repair business is a fragmented one.
"No one has the lion’s share," he said. "It’s a very low-interest business. No one’s going to get up in the morning to find the latest Bridgestone tire. It’s not a very sexy or glamorous business to begin with."
Among the factors impacting his business: "A penny rise in gas prices takes $1 billion out of consumer spending," he said. The rise in commodity prices affects everything the repair business does, he added.
"Everything we do is petroleum-based and commodity-based," Magee said. "A lot of things keep me up at night."
Warzecha said he’s seen consumers change their behavior a little bit.
"They’ve been a little more assertive," he said. "They’re extending the maintenance cycle a little. Now they’re waiting until it’s a safety issue to have repair work done. We’re seeing a consumer who’s more value-conscious and less patient."
In the stores, the age-old problem of finding and retaining good, qualified technicians continues, he said.
"And they’re aging," he added. "We’re looking for more career-oriented technicians in our stores."
Biggie sees a consumer who is more informed than ever before, with the availability of information that permeates life. "We’re basically working in a problem-oriented business. Consumers only come in when they have a problem," he said.
"With miles driven down and new technology, we’re seeing the brake repair life-cycle being extended," he added. "Previously, work was done at 25,000 miles. Now we’re seeing vehicles at 90,000 miles.
Other presentations scheduled for today include:
* Chinese Aftermarket Outlook, with Timothy Weckesser, Ph.D., president and CEO, Sino Consulting
* Turnaround Growth & Survival Through People, with Jim Wright, chairman & CEO, Tractor Supply
* Polk Inventory Efficiency Awards, with Mark Seng, vice president, R.L. Polk & Co.
* Gen Y: Shifting Away from Cars, with Mike Cooperman, senior director of marketing, J.D. Power Web Intelligence
* Winning the Consumer Products Battle: How Today’s Small and Large Companies are Succeeding Through Innovation, with Sandy Brawley, president, GameChanger Products
* Supplying 2 a nu gNR8N — Are You Ready for What’s Now? Innovations in Marketing & Branding, with moderators Jeremy Denton, director, programs and member services, AASA and Theresa Spera, director, programs and member services, AASA; and panelists Richard Alameddine, vice president marketing and engineering, Tenneco Inc.; Jim Brown, director of global marketing services, Honeywell Consumer Products Group; and Alicia Smales, vice president of marketing, Snap-on Tools.
Stay tuned for more highlights from GAAS 2010 in tomorrow’s edition of aftermarketNews.
AMN Editors Amy Antenora and Mark Phillips contributed to this report.