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 Sue Godschalk, president, Federated Auto Parts.
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?
It is certain the way we had been doing business for most of our lives changed in the matter of a few days. Our headquarters location, along with each of our members, made the safety of employees and customers their first and foremost priority. Training employees to have a safety mindset was crucial. Wearing face masks and gloves, repeatedly washing hands and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces became the new normal. Fortunately, being classified as “essential” gave Federated members the opportunity for their businesses to remain open provided that specific guidelines could be met. These guidelines varied state by state, so it has been a very challenging time for each of our members.
In the early phase of the pandemic, our members closed their lobbies, but they still offered pickup and delivery service. Delivery cars had to be sanitized and drivers had to wear gloves and masks and leave their orders in designated areas at the customer’s place of business. In phase two, lobbies could reopen, but sneeze guards and markings for the appropriate social distancing had to be in place. Throughout the pandemic, our headquarters has continually kept in close communication and offering our support to our members, and in turn, our members have been communicating their concerns and sharing helpful ideas with each other during this unprecedented time.
Has the coronavirus pandemic inspired your organization to make any permanent changes to the way you do business?
It is never easy to change the way you do business, but the pandemic has caused us to look at many things that we had not put a lot of emphasis on in the past. For example, we have made sure that our employees have the capability to work remotely if necessary and have found more ways to make sure we are taking care of our customers. Federated members are fortunate to have the Federated Co-Man warehouse. When manufacturers were unable to ship adequately due to the pandemic, our members still had an excellent source of supply through the Co-Man warehouse. We have all taken a closer look at inventory over the past several months and although we could have never imagined the impact this pandemic would have, I believe we can definitely use this experience to be better prepared going forward.
As the economy re-opens, how quickly do you think we will bounce back to where we were prior to COVID-19?
It is hard to predict since it has been left up to the governor of each state to determine how quickly their state will reopen. Obviously, the areas of the country that have had the least amount of cases reported will bounce back more quickly than the areas that have had a lot of reported cases. Those areas will certainly be more cautious in reopening. Just last week we began to see much improvement in miles driven, and as the economy begins to open up and more people are returning to work, that is a hopeful sign that we are on the road to recovery. However, if a second wave of the virus hits, we could be right back to where we were in the later part of March.
How have you worked with your program partners during COVID-19 to assist frontline workers or the communities in which you do business?
At the onset of the pandemic, we started working immediately with many different suppliers to get adequate quantities of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer for our employees and our members, many of which were donating these items to first responders and front-line workers in their areas. The Federated Co-Man Warehouse played an important role in having these items available for our members.
How do you feel the pandemic and its effect on the economy will influence the outcome of the presidential, congressional and senatorial races?
It is my belief that people helping others during a crisis shouldn’t become political; providing assistance is the right thing to do. Today everything seems overly political, so the pandemic and its effect on the economy will likely influence the election at all levels. It will be up to each of us as citizens to look at how our lives and our businesses have been affected, and then research and evaluate how political leaders have performed on our behalf. It is vital that when performing our civic duty to vote, we do everything we can to make an informed decision.
What is on your organization’s agenda for the second half of the year?
Due to continued uncertainty, we are in a holding pattern for many of our upcoming events. The Group’s national meeting, originally scheduled for the later part of April in Dallas, was postponed and we are excited that it will now be held as a virtual meeting in August. The Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR race will still be held in Richmond in September, but whether fans will be allowed in the stands has yet to be determined. The popular Federated “Get Dirty with Kenny” events are suspended for the time being due to travel and social distancing restrictions.
We are currently working on many new programs for our members in addition to concentrating on several new IT enhancements that will provide more useful information to our members and allow them to reach out to more customers.
Anything you’d like to add?
I would like to offer my sympathy to those whose lives have been greatly affected by this terrible pandemic, particularly to those who have lost loved ones. Throughout this challenging time, I have come to appreciate many things that I admittedly took for granted. I have a new respect for medical personnel, first responders and those who put their own lives in jeopardy every day to help others. I have been proud to work alongside a group of remarkable and dedicated people on the Federated staff who have diligently worked to do everything possible to support our members during this trying time. I have been touched by Federated members and their support of first responders and medical personnel by supplying gloves and masks to those in their areas. For some, their work is so much more than “just a job” and I feel so fortunate to have those kinds of people on my team.