As I write this, I am 35,000 feet above the ground, flying to visit a company that will specialize in supplying Daewoo, Hyundai and Kia OE replacement parts. These models are now being sold in significant numbers around the country and we are already experiencing a lot of demand for replacement parts for them.
The earliest import parts specialists focused their energies on British models like MGs and Triumphs. Later on, the European Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen models graced our shores and presented another opportunity for import parts specialists. When the first Japanese models arrived, the import aftermarket reacted slowly, because the quality of these vehicles left a lot to be desired and many thought they might not survive. But that was then!
Today, Toyota is the second largest car company in the United States and it has been suggested that it will surpass General Motors at the top spot in the industry by 2010. I guess they survived, as well as Honda, Datsun / Nissan, Suzuki, Subaru and all of the rest of the off-shore models that the "Big Three" dismissed.
We don't doubt the success of anything anymore. So now, when we start hearing requests for replacement parts for Korean-made vehicles, it's time to start lining up our sources. This is important, because the demand for parts for Korean vehicles will precede them being offered by any traditional domestic manufacturers. As import parts specialists, we need to be ready to go, before the "other guys" even start thinking about it.
That is how we have done it since the beginning - always being first-to-market with new import applications in our respective markets. Our import specialist installers depend on this and so do our domestic competitors!
Being an import parts specialist doesn't allow you the luxury of sitting back and waiting for a traditionally domestic manufacturer to offer up a part you need now. It means recognizing the need early, finding a reliable source and going after it. Every detail of form, fit and function must be met, and then competitive pricing is a bonus.
The supplier I will be visiting with has been in business for more than 50 years. Although the company has never done business in this country before, they have a solid reputation for consistency and success in Central and South America.
Since Korean OE production previously consumed nearly 100 percent of all Korean parts production, aftermarket replacement parts for all Korean models have been difficult to source, even for some of the new-car dealerships. For this reason, it is important for import parts specialists to become involved in sourcing replacement parts for these models as soon as they are available.
A successful import parts specialist is never about being a "me too," it is about going out on a limb and being original. After all, many import parts specialists had to start their businesses back in a time when "Buy American" was all you ever heard and import specialists were definitely "foreign." When I was a kid, 40 years ago, a neighbor who bought a foreign vehicle was looked down on by everyone else in the neighborhood. It was un-American to buy a foreign car.
The last decade has gotten all of us pretty much used to the mergers of U.S. and Japanese car makers. Ford works with Mazda, GM with Toyota and Chrysler with Mitsubishi. It's all become so common now, that we don't give it much thought anymore. That is, until a whole new line of vehicles surfaces from a country that is relatively new to selling vehicles in the United States. Korea is that country today, and I now understand that China will soon have an entry. If the sale of models produced in China is as successful as their brake rotors - look out!
During the thirty years of my career that preceded selling import parts, I never once remember trying to out-Chevy, or out-Ford a part from a competitor down the street. We always just assumed that our supplier, Standard Motor Products, would offer a new part about the same time that Borg-Warner or Echlin did. That kept everything nice and simple for us and for all of our competitors up and down the street. The parts business was just so easy back then.
Parts proliferation has now overwhelmed the entire aftermarket and I am not nave enough to believe that the problem is not as great for domestic suppliers as it is for import specialists. All of us are threatened. But for the import parts specialist, it is an increasing concern, because we make our living way out there on that limb I described earlier. A lot of our parts don't come through traditional channels of distribution. That means they don't come with traditional return policies either. When we guess, we better guess right.
Well, we're about thirty minutes away from landing in Miami. I have a very enthusiastic expectation for visiting this supplier, because I am well aware of the potential for stocking replacement parts for Daewoo, Hyundai and Kia vehicles.
If our meeting goes well, I know we can be offering these parts to our installers and retail customers within a few weeks. It will be a lot of work, but the new sales they will generate will be worth it.
I love being an import parts specialist! Where else do you get the opportunity to make cutting-edge decisions about a line of entirely new products for a series of vehicles that are new to this country? Yesterday Japan. Today Korea. Tomorrow - China? The fun never stops!
Oh yeah, did I mention the challenges of accepting responsibility for making a wrong decision? Not to worry, there is always E-bay for the mistakes.
Have a terrific month!