Abe Garweg is vice president of Innovation for CRP Industries. He joined CRP in 2002 as VP of product development and brings more than 37 years of experience in the automotive industry to his role at CRP. In today’s interview, he talks about CRP’s Innovation Council and staying connected to customers today.
Innovation is a popular buzzword we hear a lot today but it really means something at CRP. Tell us about the CRP Innovation Council and what it does.
The CRP Innovation Council members are a hand-selected group of top independent repair shop owners and technicians who work in all regions of the USA and Canada. These technicians and shops communicate regularly with CRP to help identify recurring repair and parts issues. Very often these shops specialize in European, Asian and/or domestic makes, and sometimes in a specific segment, such as chassis-suspension, drivetrain or hybrids. In all cases, these council members are professionals with great passion for our industry. They have an incredible desire to learn and mentor. Their focus is on quality and sustainability. We are honored to have gained their trust in our ability to create solutions for the new challenges they are experiencing in their shops every day. They also assist CRP when we need to validate that we are on the right path in the development of product solutions or even help us improve a solution prior to launch. In short, they’re an incredible resource and partner for creating solutions to service problems caused by new and advancing technology.
What are some examples of products and innovations that were the direct result of Council collaboration?
I can think of several innovations that were spawned by our council, some of which resulted in successful first-to-market products. Our Pro-Series timing kits is a good place to start. These kits were researched, validated and packaged to include all the parts a tech would need to do a complete timing belt service for a specific application. So, instead of wasting time looking up and ordering multiple parts, all the tech had to do was order one SKU to get the job done right. We’ve since applied the kit concept to many other developments and product categories.
A couple of years ago we tackled a labor-intensive BMW hose replacement that was causing fits for even the best techs. Our team innovated a repair solution that helped reduce what has typically been a 10-12 hour job down to just about 3 ½ – 4 hours.
During a training seminar for BMW technicians, we showcased several new parts prototypes in order to receive feedback. The BMW techs complained about the likely failure of a particular OE water hose that used plastic connectors. The technicians noted that the plastic would eventually breakdown and fail, and that if they were going to replace the water hose, they would not reuse old connectors. As a result, CRP developed a new water hose that incorporated a sturdier aluminum connecter in lieu of plastic.
Most recently, and a true bellwether for the future of our business, is the state of electric power steering or EPS. Our council has been alerting us to the high incidence of rack and pinion failures and the growing service issues experienced by technicians. These systems are very expensive to replace, and in some cases exceed the value of a vehicle, which may otherwise have many more serviceable years left. There seems to be very little, if any, innovation in this area and that has created a golden opportunity for our AAE brand and our state-of the-art remanufacturing capabilities. Our engineering team is currently evaluating steering systems with chronic failure rates, such as the Audi A4 Quattro and A5 Quattro EPS, to determine the specific cause of the failure and redesign the troubled component to eliminate the deficiency and increase the reliability of the remanufactured part.
What are some of the other ways CRP stays connected to technicians?
We support BIMRS, a group of independent BMW service shops, as well as several other independent service shop and technician groups. We also partner with customers throughout the year in repair shop focused events. Many of these events, which are being conducted virtually these days, give us “face to face” time with independent repair shops. These activities allow us to be a bit more social with our connection, and together we learn what’s happening and needed in the industry. We visit the technicians in their professional homes (shops) and listen and exchange ideas on a wide range of topics. We communicate by phone, email, WhatsApp, online meetings, and text messages as well as encourage the shop owner or technician to tell us what time and medium is most convenient for them. Much of this communication takes place in the “off hours” of the day.
Does social media play an important role for CRP brand awareness?
In a nutshell, yes. It’s a fast and efficient way to communicate our brand message to professional technicians and warehouse distributors. One of our most popular communication tools is our YouTube channel and our Inside the Brands videos. We are truly delighted when repair shops learn new information from our ITB videos. Some of these informational videos were a direct result of CRP Innovation Council member suggestions. In addition to our YouTube channel, we also utilize our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts to inform our customers of the latest innovations that are being developed by our team. Learning that many shops use our videos and social platforms to help educate their end-user customer on the necessity of a particular repair or service, is truly satisfying.
What are some of the key differentiators that set CRP apart from its competitors?
We understand that we are “serving our market.” CRP has learned the importance of remaining humble and actively listens to the challenges faced by shops and our industry as a whole. Take for example, the fact that while modern automobiles have rust protection that will help the sheet metal last for decades, other parts are not so lucky. Many of the technological components used in today’s vehicles have become incredibly costly and experience a higher incident of failure. So much so, that relatively new cars are often sent to the junkyard over the cost of a repair. One response we have had to this phenomenon is our investment in the remanufacturing of electric power steering systems or EPS. EPS racks often cost three to six times more than the hydraulic racks of the previous models. By remanufacturing these expensive components, we can help shops perform more repairs and keep the vehicles on the road longer. Our Innovation Council has identified a number of these remanufacturing opportunities, and our goal is to improve our long-term sustainability of today’s vehicles. We want to be ‘the service-market partner’ for creating the solutions caused by advancing technology.
What are some of the innovations and trends coming down the pike in the next 3-5 years that CRP is keeping a close eye on and why?
The changing technologies that we are seeing as up and coming opportunities have to do with the OE’s challenge to reduce emissions and meet fuel consumption goals. Specific examples include the use of different technical fluids with longer change intervals, the trend toward AWD/FWD ubiquity, and smaller, direct injected, turbo or supercharged engine technology. For part solutions, we’ve seen the replacement of aluminum components with thermoplastic (PPS) on certain parts, as well as the use of electro-mechanical components to replace mechanical components, such as electric water pumps and electric A/C compressors, as trends impacting the aftermarket. From start-stop systems to hybrid car technologies, we see many unique opportunities worth exploring. CRP will focus on the problems we can best provide solutions for. We are proud to have our Innovation Council as well as our key industry partners to collaborate with our team on these issues.
How has COVID changed the way you do business? Have you seen any efficiencies or processes that were implemented as a result of the pandemic that you intend to keep in place?
Our Innovation Council members, customers, and valued supply partners are located throughout North America, so in-person communication since the start of the pandemic has been limited. Many shops in the 20-200 mile radius are still willing to meet with us in-person, as we are very respectful of both their safety and time. While we do not see them as often as we would like, we have been innovative in how we communicate. We recently launched a “Virtual Roadshow” for customers and have experienced a lot of success with those meetings. We found ways to have extremely productive virtual meetings within our own CRP teams as well. Of course, we are looking forward to the day when we can meet in person and shake hands again. Our internal willingness to improve, adapt, and overcome has never been stronger. Only time will tell which of these newly adapted strategies will become the new standard in a post pandemic world.