The Impact of Technology on WDs

Monday, May 20, 2019

Craig Meadows, Vice President Sales and Marketing, 4M Parts Warehouse, Cleburne, Texas

I started in this industry in 1996. The automotive aftermarket has changed drastically over the past 23 years. When I first started selling parts over the counter, someone could request a fairly popular part and you wouldn’t have to open a catalog. You could just walk to the shelf and pick it up. This still stands true to this day, but it isn’t quite that easy anymore. Simple parts like D52 pads and 3510 starters were top movers and covered a wide range of vehicles … well, not so much anymore. The challenge: As technology grows at an insane pace, the number of parts grows, and as a result, real estate has to grow as well. In the early 2000s, your inventory level could be what I would consider small. For example, you could have a store with 5,000 sq. ft. You had some space to add, not every shelf was full, and you could leave room for expansion when new numbers were announced. Today, your 5,000 sq. ft. store needs to be 10,000 sq.ft. Your 100,000 sq. ft. warehouse now needs to be 150,000 sq. ft. or bigger. 

The vehicle count on the road is at an all-time high. Vehicles are lasting longer and people are hanging on to their vehicles for longer periods of time. This is a great thing for the automotive aftermarket. Overall, the parts we are buying today are built better than they were 20 years ago. Technology improves every year. We aren’t selling as many radiator hoses, gaskets, engine parts, etc. that we used to. We are selling more sensors, variable valve timing (VVT), computers, emissions parts … I could go on and on. With improved technology comes new and expanded product segments, and they seem to be flooding our market. I mentioned VVT, but here’s another example: You could walk the show floor at AAPEX five to 10 years ago and Turbos were talked about at some booths, but mainly for diesels and high-performance applications. At AAPEX 2018, Turbos seemed to be everywhere. You could essentially walk down an aisle, any aisle, and see someone that had a line of Turbos. Why? Turbos are coming standard on gasoline vehicles. They run at an extreme RPM and the failure rate, when not properly maintained, can be very high. This is a product segment that most WDs will have to stock and we will see this segment do nothing but grow as more automakers are moving toward this technology to meet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) – Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ). As you can imagine, these units aren’t inexpensive. In fact, as a WD, just getting into this segment, you could rack up $50K – $100K in inventory and cores pretty easy and this number will only grow as more numbers are introduced to the aftermarket. Luckily, this didn’t come as a surprise, AAPEX offers forums, training sessions, and the ability to network with different channel partners at the show, and this can teach us what’s new and what is coming in the future. 

Speaking of what’s new and what is coming: Cars that drive themselves – something we watched years ago in a sci-fi movie … something that seemed so futuristic that it was unreal. Now, autonomous vehicles are in some major markets being used to taxi people around. The technology is here. So, what does this mean for the automotive aftermarket? As long as the owners of vehicles have access to their car’s data and as long as our independent repair shops and parts stores have access to service information and tools, we will continue to service all motor vehicles, even the kind that drive themselves. If you’re a professional technician, automotive parts professional, or serve in any capacity in the automotive aftermarket, look into Telematics. The Your Car, Your Data, Your Choice campaign is real and we need everyone’s voice.

In order to stay on top of the evolving technology, we have to network with our vendors and OE suppliers. We have to stay passionate and engaged, and most importantly, we have to take the knowledge we learn and pass it down to our customers, whether that be a DIY’er, professional technician, or the parts professional. AAPEX enables us to learn what’s new, get information on new products/product segments, and helps us prepare our inventories so we have the parts our customers need. I am excited about AAPEX 2019. See you there!

To register for AAPEX 2019, visit