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 Robert Roos, president of National Pronto Association.
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?
You are absolutely correct…we certainly never saw this one coming. As the year began, we were focused on executing our 2020 plan and navigating through the volatile tariff situation.
Ironically, working on the tariff issues is where we first heard of the coronavirus in China.
I remember planning for our winter board meeting in February and debating whether the virus was even worthy of discussion. Once it became clear that a pandemic was at hand, we quickly shifted our collective efforts at the Pronto headquarters level to provide our members with as much information and business analysis as possible. We were all forced to make decisions with no real historical information and for a short time, our focus was more on understanding the changes necessary to keep businesses safely open and less on growing sales. Sadly, we were forced to postpone our annual spring membership meeting, which has now been rescheduled as a virtual event in August. Luckily, the downward spiral was short-lived as we quickly ramped up daily and weekly communications utilizing existing communication portals and a variety of online meeting platforms.
Has the coronavirus pandemic inspired your organization to make any permanent changes to the way you do business?
We believe that the pandemic has shown us all different ways to accomplish the task at hand while providing needed support to our members and supplier partners. We are confident that post-pandemic we will continue to utilize many of the virtual support platforms we adopted and are currently using. Learning to work remotely, meet virtually and adapt on the fly will be beneficial in many areas of our business planning process for years to come. However, I will add that nothing can permanently take the place of the face-to-face, person-to-person business relationships our industry enjoys. I look forward to the time when our Pronto and Federated members can meet in person with our vendor partners to plan for our future success.
As the economy re-opens, how quickly do you think we’ll bounce back to where we were prior to COVID-19?
I am happy to report the great majority of the Pronto members are well on their way to pre-COVID-19 numbers. We were extremely fortunate that the negative impact of quarantines and stay-at-home orders were short lived for most of our membership. The quick response of the Auto Care Association in helping to have our industry deemed as “essential” provided invaluable in helping to minimize the overall impact of the downturn.
Sales bounced back fairly quickly and as we head into summer, most of our members are now posting numbers that point to minimal lingering effects of the virus. We still have some significant ground to make up for the lost sales in March and April but the overall outlook is positive.
How have you worked with your program partners during COVID-19 to assist frontline workers or the communities in which you do business?
First, let me say how grateful we are to have received such outstanding support from our members, professional service centers and supplier partners throughout this situation. We have teamed up to initiate local programs to help front-line workers all over the country, and have offered other support like free oil changes and discounted vehicle repair services. Members have delivered meals to hospitals, care centers, donated time and money to charities like the Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation (AACF), and generally supported community events nationwide.
How do you feel the pandemic and its effect on the economy will influence the outcome of the presidential, congressional and senatorial races?
This is a great question, but without a crystal ball, it’s difficult to be certain. It goes without saying that the recent events our country has experienced will have a large influence.
As we continue to recover, the strength and condition of the economy over next 90 days and the status of a vaccine for COVID-19, will have an impact on most voters’ decisions.
What’s on your organization’s agenda for the second half of the year?
Certainly, the Pronto group is looking forward to a “fresh start” for the second half of the year. As I mentioned earlier, we have our annual membership meeting in August, albeit virtual this year. Our fingers are crossed that we can attend the annual AWDA/AAPEX event in November. And, of course, we will continue to watch the pandemic closely as well as the rate of recovery or change in the business climate. If recovery continues on its current path, we will look to build momentum heading into 2021. We have had so many programs and promotions put on hold this year and everyone is anxious for the opportunity to get back to the basics of selling auto parts.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d just like to add that I am proud to work in an industry that has proven so resilient during this pandemic. As an industry, we have worked hard over the past few years to increase the public awareness of what we do and the value that we provide. If there is a “silver lining” to this COVID-19 cloud, I believe it is that more people value what we do and seen the aftermarket in a better light.