Shifting from Apprehension to Acceleration

Monday, October 19, 2020

By Nathan Shipley, executive director, industry analyst, Automotive, The NPD Group

Like many of you, I have worked in the automotive aftermarket space for most of my professional career, which means I have attended the AAPEX show more times than I can count. The 2019 show seems like a distant memory at this point, but it provided us the opportunity to see clients, colleagues, friends, and even George W. Bush. At that time, a global pandemic was not even on the radar, but things like tariffs, e-commerce, private label, DTC brands, raw material costs, and other topics were top of mind for many of us. While many of those topics are still just as important today as they were 12 short months ago, 2020 has proved to be nothing short of an interesting year for all of us both personally and professionally. 

At the outset of this situation, I was at an internal meeting in NYC and that is when it started to get real.  My kids’ spring break was in mid-March, and it got extended by a week. A lot of us thought it would be a week or two and they’d be back. We all know how that turned out. But I also had grave concern for the aftermarket. Without giving it much thought, I told myself that people aren’t going to be driving anywhere and our industry is going to be hit very hard by this.

What has happened over the last several months has been nothing short of awesome for our industry.  As consumers found themselves under lockdown orders, our great industry was deemed essential and most of our stores and shops remained open. This is a much different story than many of the other retail industries that NPD tracks, where stores were forced to close almost overnight, leaving the ones that were barely hanging on to begin with quickly facing certain death. Consumers found themselves stuck at home looking for things to do. Home improvement projects came into the spotlight. As did projects in the garage. While the daily driver wasn’t going anywhere, it was easy to get out and detail it, accessorize it, etc., putting things like paint (+33%), body repair (+27%), and light duty shop equipment (+24%) at the top of the fastest growing category list through June 2020. Oh, and as we all looked for things to do with our families, ATVs, RVs, motorcycles, boats, etc. either were purchased or dusted off and brought back to life, resulting in sales growth upwards of 20% among products like marine/ATV oil and motorcycle oil in the first half of the year. And sales of all types of recreational vehicles have been literally off the charts over the last six months.

Our “Aftermarket 2021” presentation this year is going to be different than years past. First, it will be done from the comfort of my home office via webinar on Oct. 27 at 11 a.m. (EST) instead of a stage in Las Vegas. But the topics will be different, too. It will cover the trends that we have observed both in general retail and the aftermarket over the last six months, what those trends mean as we look forward to 2021 (and beyond), and how we should all be thinking about this year as a huge gift to the aftermarket from a consumer behavior standpoint. And while COVID-19 is no joke and has been a very real thing for a lot of people, it has truly been a steroid shot into the arm of the DIY aftermarket. 

Now, more than ever, I wish we were all headed to Las Vegas in a few weeks for our annual industry event. But, that isn’t happening this year, so virtual it is. I hope you can attend our session!