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On the front line, we’ve always complained about cheap offshore parts.

Then, too, who cares anymore? A part is a part. So cheaper is better, right?

Oh really?

It wasn't that long ago that we lived by the adage, “You get what you pay for.” So what has happened? 

We have always trusted the parts we installed on our customers’ cars because we trusted the quality and the manufacturer. The prices may have been a little bit higher, but it was well worth it to gain the trust of our retail customers for the long term.

There was pride in our professionalism.

Of course, cheaper parts were always available, and offshore manufacturers tried to infiltrate our markets by any means necessary. We knew that. 

But our markets were secure because our dominant brands left little room for foreign infiltration. It took a lot of work to get there and continuous work to maintain it.

Then began a chain of events that changed everything.

One would assume that the COVID-19 epidemic was responsible for everything that happened, but it was only the icing on the cake.

Yes, COVID was responsible for killing our supply chain, and because we, on the front line, were deemed an essential service, we had little choice but to acquire parts from alternative sources. Price and availability became our only choices. 

But that’s not the real story. 

The chain of events began a few years earlier. 

How Did We Get Here?

The Manufacturing Side

The competition in the manufacturing and supply system of the aftermarket is really messy, and it became messy well before COVID came along. The pandemic just accelerated the issues.

Let’s take a closer look.

Offshore companies slowly began entering our markets by offering us good supply and better pricing. Many buyers, not knowing the differences, took them up on their offers, reducing the market shares of our known brands. 

Our brands began seeing lower profits due to lower sales and rising operating expenses like real estate, raw materials, shipping, and labor. From an accountant’s viewpoint, cutting costs was the logical step.

The first step was to reduce staff levels, especially in non-productive areas like outside sales and service areas. They were replaced by websites.

Next, production facilities should be moved closer to the raw material sources, cutting costs to production, raw materials, and shipping.

That seemed to work.

Then Covid hit us, which affected the whole chain worldwide.

Everybody was in survival mode.

Many didn’t make it.

The Retail Side

Regardless of what was going on, our first and only priority was to properly repair our customer’s vehicles in a timely and cost-effective manner. So, price and availability, especially availability, became number one.

Okay, Covid is long gone, and the backlogs in shipping have been, for the most part, fixed. So, why are we still choosing offshore parts and not refocusing on our past trusted brands?

Is it because we no longer care?

I can see that.

So, why did we care before?

Here’s my viewpoint from the retail end of this industry.

Our brands sold us on the product features, quality, dependability, availability, and competitive pricing.

They continued to deliver through personalized support, training, tips, and marketing support.

They delivered their promises, and we gladly answered by becoming loyal brand customers.

It was a good partnership.

Their markets were secure.

One day, the reps stopped coming. We didn’t know why, but we were still loyal.

Then, their products started to fail, and we had no one to talk to besides our direct supplier. They tried to help, but their only solution was to replace the part with a duplicate, which also failed. 

The answer was to change brands.

Our supplier assured us that the cause and solution would be found. But after months, there was no response. We had since stopped purchasing that part of that brand and questioned that brand completely.

We later discovered that many facilities had moved to foreign markets.

AHA! Maybe that’s why the parts were failing: cheaper materials with no quality control.

Plus, they had abandoned us without further support, service, or training, giving us no reason to stay loyal.

That was the end of that brand relationship. 

So, the simple answer as to why we no longer care is because they lost our trust.

That was happening well before COVID came along.

And Here We Are 

Today, there is a major uproar against foreign domination in our North American marketplace, and our governments are working hard to reverse the damage. But there’s only so much they can do. 

Here’s the harsh reality.

We did this to ourselves.

I don’t see any clues that foreign companies forced their way into our markets. They were just there, waiting as alternatives.

We allowed it to happen. 

Regardless of who makes the products or where they were made, the final buying decision has always been with the customer (that's us). Our decisions have always depended on trust—trust in a brand and dependability. Price has always been secondary. General consumers, for the most part, do not know our brands and, therefore, show no loyalties. So, price is their only goal. 

In the repair industry, we are the customers on the front line. We make the decisions on behalf of our clients. We have a moral and legal obligation to do it right, and making wrong decisions can cost us our businesses.

So, we must trust the products we sell to our clients, but we feel we have been betrayed, and there’s no amount of money or Government intervention to force us to trust in products that we know will fail.

Trust can only be earned. 

That job lies totally on the shoulders of the manufacturers.

They will have to find ways to regain our trust. 

Can We Do Anything About It?

Most would choose the first knee-jerk solution of moving all production back to the home base and rehiring the army of representatives to rebuild the personal business relationships we once took for granted.

Realistically, that’s not financially possible for two reasons. First, every manufacturer is still licking their wounds from the damage COVID-19 created, and second, the restructuring of their companies, which was performed pre-pandemic, was a financial necessity to stay in the market.

Yes, some mistakes got us into this predicament. Recognizing and fixing them would go a long way to resolving the major issue of our market losing to outsiders.

Quality control.

When the products were produced here, quality and dependability were the priority. We took pride in that. What happened?

Logically, if any manufacturer built the same product with the same materials and exact specifications, there would be no difference.

Something went wrong. No, something is wrong.

A serious investigation must be undertaken to determine the causes of the weak links in production and generate solutions as quickly as possible. 

This is imperative!

There is no getting away from accountability. 

Marketing

Building brand awareness through advertising in the consumer world would be a priority if you were producing consumer products.

But this is commercial, not consumer.

Commercial marketing is all about building relationships, and that was the job of the past factory field representatives.

They were the direct extension of the manufacturer.

  • If there were issues, they would take control, find the source, and generate solutions quickly.
  • They would train us on product features and benefits over the competition, plus supply installation and sales tips.
  • There was also marketing assistance and sales incentives for those who proved to be loyal.

The manufacturer's message was, “You are vital,” “We support you,” and "We have your back.”

We need to find our way back to that relationship.

Without that, our North American brands have no advantages over any other manufacturer on this planet. We certainly no longer know the differences that determine our choices.

Here’s what is interesting.

Off-shore companies are not equipped for that level of marketing. They don’t want to anyway because they don’t need to. 

On the other hand, we need some convincing in our home markets.

Do we really want to rally around and support our home manufacturers? Of course, we do.

We all equally hate seeing our markets being taken over by foreign interests.

All we’re looking for from our manufacturers is the willingness and commitment to want to fight to regain our trust.

Brand loyalty and market dominance will naturally follow.

We did it before.

We can do it again. 

Then, too, they may be right. 

Maybe a part is just a part. So, price and availability are the only real choices.

 

The ball is in their court.

What do you think?