In the July issue of AMN magazine, our cover story featured mid-year distribution group updates from leaders of the aftermarket’s top program groups. This week on AMN we will share one of the featured leaders’ interviews. Today we sit down with Sara Griewing, MSJ, Creative & Marketing Manager for Automotive Parts Associates.
As the year began, a global pandemic probably wasn’t on your radar. As the pandemic escalated, how did you your organization adapt to the changing business environment?
The possibility of a global pandemic was a major concern for us at the beginning of 2020. In mid-January the news reports of the outbreak’s spread and China’s response, as well the potential health risk from those fleeing the country (on cruise ships) to avoid the lock-down was a key topic of conversation for us and as we prepared to embark on our SunSplash Caribbean Cruise with our shareholders and their customers the last week of January. Fortunately there were no reported cases on the Harmony of the Seas upon our return Feb. 2, but our concerns for the safety of our guests were not unfounded as reports surfaced that week of confirmed cases on the sister-ship Anthem of the Seas that was in the adjacent port slip to ours in San Juan, Puerto Rico, just days before, leading to mandates preventing cruise ships from docking.
We immediately began evaluating the risk to shareholders and suppliers for our upcoming annual shareholders and suppliers conference that was to take place March 18-20 in San Diego. With health organizations struggling to learn the novel coronavirus for safety recommendations, we continuously monitored the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control websites for the most current information to evaluate our strategies and working with our hotel and offsite partners with proactive measures to ensure our stakeholders good health. With information and recommendations constantly changing, along with pandemic projections and mandated travel bans, we ultimately decided to cancel the event the week before.
While the situation is improving it is still constantly changing, therefore we have continued to
communicate health and safety resources and best practices, up-to-date information for essential businesses and industry-related resources from the moment we began and adjusting our strategies in early February.
Has the coronavirus pandemic inspired your organization to make any permanent changes to the way you do business?
We are always focused on the best interests of our shareholders, so we will continue to adapt as needed to maintain a strong foundation for them regardless of a global pandemic. Since we are a not-for-profit organization and give everything back to shareholders after operating expenses each year, we are always evaluating more efficient ways of conducting business to maximize those returns. We are already adept at staying flexible as the aftermarket industry continues to change – if permanent changes are required to maintain the health and safety of our shareholders, we will do what needs to be done.
As the economy re-opens, how quickly do you think we’ll bounce back to where we were prior to COVID-19?
Since businesses in the automotive aftermarket industry were considered an “essential business” and remained open to keep needed vehicles safely on the road during shelter-in-place orders, I believe this industry has an advantage to bounce back a lot quicker than others.
The common sentiment from the shareholders I’ve talked to is that things are already improving, and some their businesses are completely back to normal. Aside from supply chain-issues or shortages hindering the flow of replacement parts, now that businesses are opening back up again and people are venturing out, there’s progress toward recovery.
How have you worked with your program partners during COVID-19 to assist front-line workers or the communities in which you do business?
As a core value, supporting the communities where our shareholders live, work and play is an important part of APA. HQ does not stock physical product for donations, however, we encouraged shareholders to donate stock of face masks and other supplies that were medically appropriate to local hospitals and health departments. We are very proud of those that donated excess stock to help those on the front lines and challenged other local businesses to do the same.
We had prepared an official statement to the White House to revoke the Defense Production
Act order on blocking the 3M Company from exporting N95 Respirators to Canada, in support of the 138 Canadian businesses that belong to the APA family. The health and safety of the business owners, employees and customers in Canada are just as much a priority as they are in the United States. Fortunately, the decision was reversed the next day and our partners in the North were able to get the supplies they needed.
How do you feel the pandemic and its effect on the economy will influence the outcome of the presidential, congressional and senatorial races?
Without making a political statement in one way or another on behalf of APA, as our shareholders are a diverse group made up of all races, back- grounds and political ideologies; the pandemic is definitely a major cog in the political machine this election
I just read an article by the Pew Research Center on how the right and left are moving even further apart with COVID-19 concerns, with metrics showing how more Republicans believe that the worst is over, in relation to voting for more stimulus packages. As far as the economy and incumbents, it all boils down to if voters on both sides feel like enough was done for the greater good regardless of the economic impact or if too many rights were tread on that adversely affected the economy. If the voters feel they were under-served by their elected officials, then their opponents may have a fighting chance. With the election only a few months away, and the constant changes regarding the pandemic, there’s so many variables that could swing the election either way, especially if a vaccine is released by then.
What’s on your organization’s agenda for the second half of the year?
Our banner program service centers are running a summer consumer rebate promotion on July 1 for ride control components. We are also rebranding our banner program from Professionals’ Choice Auto Service Center to APA PRO Auto Care with a fresh new look and features to be announced later this year. We are working on two consumer credit card financing options and have a new fleet fuel discount program for shareholders, and our popular Harley-Davidson giveaway promotion will begin in August. As health and safety recommendations continue to change, we are proactively exploring options for our annual conference in 2021.