By Jon Owens, AAP Group Publisher, Babcox
During a recent e-mail exchange on the topic of e-cataloging with a friend from a large WD, my friend pointed out that he was losing an estimated 15 percent of sales due to parts not being listed in the most current and (supposedly) up-to-date e-catalogs. After some dialogue back and forth about whom is to blame and why, he suggested a solution that struck a chord with me.
To summarize his idea: The entire industry should collectively agree to abolish all paper catalogs and earmark the entire amount saved to upgrading and updating the current e-catalogs. It makes perfect sense to me, so much so that I’m going to begin a crusade, starting with this column. I challenge all of the top 100 parts manufacturers and suppliers to the U.S. automotive aftermarket to cease printing all paper catalogs after December 31, 2008. Customers can keep existing printed catalogs for back referencing as long they need them. All manufacturers and suppliers can print as many paper catalogs as they’d like, or as required by their customers, throughout 2008. All customers and resellers agree to drop all requirements for paper catalogs from their suppliers effective January 1, 2009. Can we do this?
Is this crazy? Absolutely not. Is this idea wrought with too much common sense to succeed? Absolutely! But, regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, at least I can say I tried.
If this challenge were to succeed, then many “next steps” would need to be identified and prioritized. I realize that. But, first and foremost, all heads on the supplier side and all heads on the customer and reseller sides must nod in agreement that they are all willing to accept this challenge. I think we can get that accomplished by the end of the first quarter of 2008. Here’s a simple plan: The Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) will hold its very first national conference in late February in Orlando, FL. During the conference, AASA could set aside 15 to 20 minutes for an all-inclusive general session to discuss and debate the merits of abolishing paper catalogs forever. The goal would be to formulate an “official” request of their customers to collectively end all printed catalog requirements effective January 1, 2009. (To learn more about AASA’s 2008 Vision Conference, click here.)
Upon agreement, AASA could then take this “official” request to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) meeting in April in Bonita Springs, FL. There, AASA could present its request to the members of the Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association and any other AAIA segment affected by this. Then, AAIA and its various segments could discuss and debate the merits of the AASA proposal, and hopefully come to the conclusion that indeed they could forgo the requirement of printed catalogs forever, effective January 1, 2009.
One way for the AASA members to get this concept sold to its collective customers is to assure that 100 percent of the dollars formerly budgeted for catalog printing would be reallocated to data management processes within their organizations. By doing so, they would show their customers that they are truly committed to building a robust, accurate and fully functional product information database, from which current, accurate and comprehensive e-catalog data and updates can be produced on a monthly, weekly even daily basis. That’s how fast and efficient technology can work. I’m sure we’re all aware of that, right?
This challenge sounds easy, but I’m not so naive. I know what the primary hurdles are (can you say “trust”?). However, I’m a glass-half-full type of guy, and I bet if we at least dedicate some time to discuss this topic at upcoming industry conferences we might see some movement toward an agreement. Maybe then we can collectively begin to put a full court press on the OEs for all of the detailed VIN information we need.
As a dyed-in-the-wool aftermarketer, a guy can dream, can’t he?