Executives from the leading aftermarket retailers and warehouse distributors took center stage during the AAPEX 2021 Keynote Session on Nov. 2 to discuss opportunities and challenges facing the industry. While panelists covered several issues, they identified the labor shortage and the ongoing battle for Right to Repair as top concerns leading into 2022.
Panelists were: Tom Greco, president and CEO, Advance Auto Parts; Kevin Herron, president and COO, Genuine Parts Co., U.S. Automotive Parts Group; Gregory D. Johnson, CEO, co-president, O’Reilly Auto Parts; Bill Rhodes, president and CEO, AutoZone; Corey Bartlett, president and CEO, Automotive Parts Headquarters; and Sue Godschalk, president, Federated Auto Parts. Karyn Schoenbart, CEO, The NPD Group, moderated the discussion.
Before diving into the issues, panelists celebrated the return of AAPEX and the opportunity to again have face-to-face communication with colleagues and friends.
To address the labor shortage, Herron encouraged the more than 900 audience members to embrace the next generation of technicians, stay aligned with trade schools, change the image of technicians and create apprentice-type programs. Greco added, “Think about what’s gone on in the past 18 months … It’s a very different world now and we have to adapt to that world to get really talented people for the key jobs.” Bartlett summed it up, “We need to do everything we can to attract techs to the industry.”
On Right to Repair, which would ensure consumers have the right to choose where they get their vehicle diagnosed and repaired, panelists agreed the ongoing battle will require an industry-wide effort. While there may be a Federal solution to Right to Repair, executives suggested audience members involve family and friends in the fight, support PACs and develop relationships with members of Congress.
Executives also shared what they learned as leaders during the past 18 months. Godschalk said, “Never be complacent in your leadership role … As leaders, you not only have to be inspirational, you have to be compassionate, and at the same time, you have to push for performance.” Rhodes added he learned two key things: the importance of leadership courage – having to learn quickly and not always having all the facts – and the importance of making decisions that align with company values.
Even with the unprecedented challenges of the past 18 months, Johnson believes the aftermarket will emerge bigger than before the pandemic. “I’m very optimistic about our industry. Our industry is very resilient,” he said. Executives also expressed gratitude to the industry associations that worked diligently to get the automotive aftermarket deemed “essential” during the pandemic.
Other topics included the more than four million new DYI customers who entered the aftermarket last year and how to retain them, and the opportunities and threats electric vehicles present to the aftermarket. Panelists encouraged the industry to be proactive and prepared to service electric vehicles. Herron said, “I think you have to be excited about the evolution of the aftermarket. The industry is resilient and has made its way through many changes over the decades. It will absolutely look different, but there’s still going to be a consumer driving those vehicles and there is still going to be an automotive aftermarket 20 to 30 years from now.”
Although the industry faces several other challenges, including supply chain issues, disruptions and shifting consumer behaviors, executives said they are most optimistic about the aftermarket’s resiliency and forward movement, the amazing people who work in the industry and winning the Right to Repair battle.
The Buyer Panel discussion was preceded by the annual State of the Aftermarket presentation by Bill Hanvey, president and CEO, Auto Care Association, and Paul McCarthy, president and CEO, Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA).