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R. L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry Looks at Lessons Learned from Past Technology Experiences

Inspired by the 2006 Aftermarket eForum that took place this month in Chicago, we asked some of the aftermarket’s technology experts to tell us what their companies do differently today in terms of technology, compared to 10 years ago, before the dot-com craze blew over. We wanted to know what lessons they might have taken away from that experience.

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AKRON, OHIO — Inspired by the 2006 Aftermarket eForum that took place this month in Chicago, we asked some of the aftermarket’s technology experts to tell us what their companies do differently today in terms of technology, compared to 10 years ago, before the dot-com craze blew over. We wanted to know what lessons they might have taken away from that experience.

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So, we asked them: How does your company approach e-business strategies today compared to 10 years ago? What did your company learn to do differently from past experiences?

Todd Campau, Database Administrator, Clevite:

“We were way behind the curve [in terms of the dot-com craze]. Now I think we’re more on the leading edge. We actually just did a web redevelopment about a year to a year-and-a-half ago. It was the first redevelopment we had done in about seven years, at least. We had done some refreshes but we basically followed all the templates and standards of our parent company, Dana Corp, so, it wasn’t really an aftermarket-focused website. It was more OE-focused with very basic content.

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“In the past couple years, however, we have expanded the site. We now have an online ordering tool, a flashier website with pieces for DIYers and enthusiasts, including messaging boards, flash pieces and some other line-of-site items that we think are important. I don’t think we’re trendsetters, but I’d like to think we’re more on the leading edge of technology now.”

Kay Chambers, Manager of Information Technology, Sloan Transportation:

“We’re much more careful about approaching initiatives as they relate to technology. [We’re here at the eForum] to collaborate with other partners, to learn and to network.”

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Nick DiVerde, General Manager, Shop Management Solutions, Mitchell 1:

“Near the end of the last century, Mitchell 1 had a close-up view of the many dot-com companies who attempted to change the aftermarket but failed because they didn’t improve communication or productivity for service dealers or parts providers. At Mitchell 1, our strategy has always been to use the Internet to augment or improve existing offerings to our shop customers and parts partners. If we can’t add value, products will fail no matter how catchy their domain names are or how highly optimized for search engines they are.

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“Today, each of our product lines takes advantage of the Internet to provide real, highly valued improvements to our customers that simply weren’t feasible with prior technologies. For instance, with our OnDemand5.com repair information system, initial installation or network setup is no longer necessary; users just go to the product Web site and log in from any computer. Additionally, both data and software updates are provided much more frequently with absolutely no action required by the customer. This is a tremendous improvement when compared to DVD- or CD-based systems. For the customer, added data and new features just ‘magically’ appear whenever Mitchell 1 updates the product Web site.

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“Mitchell 1 Manager and Manager Plus products now enable shops to check availability and order parts electronically from their choice of vendors, which improves productivity, ensures parts accuracy, and typically lowers parts acquisition costs. Mitchell1 CRM (Customer Retention Marketing) connects electronically with the databases of its shop management users to send postcards and email messages reminding motorists to return to the shop for scheduled maintenance.”

Tammy Williams, Information Technology Manager, Beck/Arnley

“In some ways, the automotive aftermarket benefited by not being early technology adopters.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t spend nearly as much time on e-commerce solutions as we did on developing strong back-end systems. One of the reasons the dot-coms didn’t do so well back then was that they didn’t have the strong infrastructures in place to handle the business the e-commerce front-end generated. Frequently, the e-commerce solutions were completely separate from the rest of the business, and didn’t necessarily follow appropriate standards.

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“Now, with the benefit of a strong, scalable infrastructure, Beck/Arnley’s e-commerce initiatives are integrated into every area of our business seamlessly. We can move forward with any and all new technologies, confident that as we do, we’re adding value for our customers. And at the end of the day, that’s the real reason for implementing e-business strategies anyway.”

Summary by Amy Antenora, editor, aftermarketNews:

Certainly, there are aftermarket companies in business today that were burned badly by the dot-com craze of the last century. And while many may today approach e-initiatives warily because of it, it seems that more so than not, companies are eager to move forward and learn from the lessons of the past.

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Technology is a necessary component in doing business in the aftermarket today and as a recent Babcox study shows, the Internet is used widely in business today. According to the Babcox Internet Study (2005), 35 percent of readers (counter professionals, tire dealers, professional technicians and collision shop owners) spend more than nine hours on the Internet each week. Nearly 70 percent of readers percent use the Internet to look up parts, while 51 percent of them use the net to research parts and equipment and another 50 percent use the Web for online ordering and looking up repair information.

Getting your company online is no longer just a flashy marketing tool – it’s a necessity –however, as both Mitchell 1’s Nick DiVerde and Tammy Williams of Beck/Arnley point out, a strong website is worth nothing if your basic products don’t add value for the customer.

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