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Executive Interview

AMN Executive Interview: Talking Trends, e-Catalogs And e-Commerce With Epicor’s Scott Thompson

In today’s AMN Executive Interview, Scott Thompson, vice president, Automotive, Content and Analytics, Epicor Americas, shares his insights on the evolution taking place today when it comes to technology and aftermarket parts distribution. Technology is changing at near-lightning speed and Epicor has made some tweaks to its product offerings as a result.

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Amy Antenora has served as editor of aftermarketNews since 2002 and has worked in the field of journalism for two decades. A graduate of Kent State University, Amy also earned her AAP designation from Northwood University's University of the Aftermarket in 2009.

In today’s AMN Executive Interview, Scott Thompson, vice president, Automotive, Content and Analytics, Epicor Americas, shares his insights on the evolution taking place today when it comes to technology and aftermarket parts distribution. Technology is changing at near-lightning speed and Epicor has made some tweaks to its product offerings as a result. Read on to learn more.

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Let’s talk about customers and their tech usage today. As a whole, we’re seeing faster and faster adoption of mobile technology both in the bays and at the counter. What are your thoughts on this? How does Epicor stay on top of these trends?

The rapid, widespread adoption of mobile technology is happening because it brings value to the customer. And a critical part of that value comes through the information, or “content,” that is accessed through mobile devices.

We’re seeing mobile technology make a positive difference at the distributor and jobber levels, where outside sales teams are using tablets in conjunction with Epicor apps to increase sales and loyalty among shop accounts. We’re also seeing it at the shop level, where service writers and technicians have instant access to all the critical application and part information – plus labor rates and other valuable content – right at their fingertips. We’re even seeing shops leverage this data before the consumer exits the vehicle; a shop representative might be using our app to capture the VIN so they have accurate application information as well as OE-recommended service intervals. This is helping shops differentiate themselves from dealers and other competitors through the use of comparatively inexpensive technology.

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The next step in this evolution will be the application of predictive analytics to the consumers’ service experience. Our customers can tell consumers, for example, that most owners of a given vehicle also have rotors replaced when doing brake jobs. Or, we can show them the incidence of a given part failure, such as a hub bearing. The bottom line in all of this is the value provided to the end customer, who doesn’t necessarily relish the opportunity to leave their vehicle at the repair shop. Therefore, the shop’s ability to streamline the process and identify and complete related services is key to customer satisfaction and loyalty. Mobile technology and the data and connectivity that drive it are exciting opportunities for distributors, jobbers and shops alike.

We’re hearing a lot today about using data and analytics to better understand the customer, widely utilized in a number of major industries. The aftermarket, however, hasn’t quite wrapped its arms around this concept yet. How can aftermarket manufacturers and distributors benefit from data and analytics, and how can Epicor help?

The aftermarket is much farther along than you might think. Every major program group is now leveraging its own data warehouse – built with support from Epicor – to make better buying, pricing and merchandising decisions. Big Data is now driving decisions at the supplier level and among aftermarket channel partners. Many of our customers are leveraging this insight to strengthen their relationships with shop accounts. Shop owners can absolutely benefit from knowing which types of services are being performed most often in a given area, as well as parts consumption trends by application both on a local basis and nationally. This critical market intelligence helps reduce inefficiency and waste and helps position trading partners for increased success.

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Epicor recently made some changes within its suite of e-catalog products to provide users full access to all modules. Why was this change made and how is it benefiting your customers?

I think we can agree that having immediate access to accurate, detailed product information is key to the aftermarket service experience – and this experience largely determines customer satisfaction and loyalty. From our perspective as the “inventor” of the aftermarket e-catalog, we have observed over the years that parts distributors and jobbers who deploy our full range of Epicor e-catalog content at every point of sale (POS) are almost invariably the ones who are most successful in their respective markets. For example, the employees of one of our distributor customers wear shirts that say, “Let me guess… you couldn’t find it anywhere else.” The fact that this business is known for being able to find parts more efficiently and effectively than its competitors is an incredible advantage – one of several that comes with having the best and most complete content at the POS.

Given this fact, we re-engineered the structure and pricing of our e-catalog offering to allow users to access comprehensive bundles of content at every counter position. Previously, we had priced our products on an “a la carte” basis by module and terminal, which made it more difficult for some users to realize the full value of our products. With our new approach, we are helping users grow sales and strengthen customer loyalty with every transaction at every decision point within a store or online.

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When it comes to technology products that companies invest in, many times we hear, “We bought the software/program etc., then never really did much with it.” We don’t always fully utilize what’s available. In your opinion, why is this? How can that be changed?

Every business investment, whether it’s in technology, additional inventory or a new delivery vehicle, should be tied to an anticipated financial return. How will I benefit from replacing my outdated business software? What will be the payback be of a B2B or B2C e-commerce store? Why should I automate the management of my delivery vehicles? Business owners should challenge their technology providers to answer these questions and then ask them to help build the roadmap to achieve the desired benefits. With this level of support, you can be confident your investment will improve your overall competitiveness.

Tell us more about the “Find Your Next 20 Percent” program launched by Epicor late last year.

Many distributors and jobbers are substantially underperforming due to the state of their business technology. With this fact in mind, we decided to assign a very realistic target for these businesses to shoot for when considering a technology investment. Whether they know it or not, that 10- or 15-year-old business software is probably costing them a great deal of money every day in terms of added labor, increased inventory, reduced margin and possibly even lost sales. By investing in a proven, modern solution developed specifically for the aftermarket, these businesses can easily achieve a 20-percent combined improvement across multiple performance areas. Yes, you need to write a check to access these benefits, but they can start paying you back on an immediate basis.

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We had a recent case where a customer was able to reduce his inventory spend and increase service levels simply through the improved sales and inventory visibility of his new Epicor software solution. We have dozens of recent users who have reduced labor expenses while selling more parts to significantly more customers. We have customers who will tell you that their gross margin increased almost immediately after dropping their outdated software. We even had a customer who had one of his stores burn down, yet with our help and the extensive functionality of our software, he was able to quickly transition all operations to another store without many of his customers even noticing the change.

Each of these, and literally scores of other success stories, demonstrate the powerful bottom-line benefits that come with the investment in a top-quality, aftermarket-specific technology solution. While the Epicor “Find Your Next 20 Percent” concept identifies a specific payback target, the truth is you can gain far more than 20 percent in terms of increased efficiency, stronger sales growth and margins and greater customer loyalty.

The first step is simple: You simply have to recognize that your outdated technology is holding you back. Once you accept this, it’s a question of where you want to take your business over the next five, 10 or even 15 years. The right solutions provider can help get you there.

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Epicor recently has made several announcements regarding the improved turnaround times for new part numbers being added to the PartExpert e-catalog. In fact, more than 90 percent of new numbers are now being published in five days or less. How is this being accomplished?

We for years have explained that one of the secrets of the status Epicor e-catalog holds as the de facto industry standard is that we simply won’t push out data without verifying it is both accurate and structured in a way that maximizes user efficiency. The quality of our e-catalog products is of vital importance to professionals who look up, sell and install replacement parts. We know this because most leading automotive aftermarket distribution organizations rely on Epicor rather than other data providers. And so do industry-leading e-commerce websites, which speaks volumes about the differentiated value we provide.

Needless to say, applying this level of care to millions of parts files can take time, but we have made huge strides in recent years in increasing our speed to market. Thanks to our investment in a technology known as “Net Adds,” we are now validating and publishing manufacturers’ new part numbers in well under a week in most cases. This data is then available through our automated weekly Epicor Dynamic Updates e-catalog refresh. I encourage distributors and jobbers to take advantage of these free weekly downloads. Simply contact your Epicor representative for information on how to connect with our server.

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