Around the Block
By Don Fedak
In Tough Times, It’s Important That We Promote A Rebuilt Engine Alternative
The Automotive Repower Council assumed that task and needs your support
In 1985, I submitted my first article to Automotive Rebuilder. The newly appointed editor, Dave Wooldridge, after subjecting my draft to a thorough review and adding some disclaimers, decided to publish "Some Cams Just Can’t." Dave has been very supportive of my efforts to report on engine rebuilding ever since. I was happy to continue to submit articles and columns over the years, not just because I enjoy pontificating on lofty matters such as engine design, metallurgy and remanufacturing, but because I applaud the editorial philosophy of Automotive Rebuilder.
Becky Babcox, Dave Wooldridge, Doug Kaufman, Jenna Bates and the whole Babcox crew continue to provide an invaluable service to our industry by hosting a forum for debate and discussion and a reliable source of reference for accurate and timely technical information. They have chosen to maintain the mission of a magazine that has been around for nearly 40 years, all the while including editorial content which tries to provide the answers to anticipated questions.
The fact that Automotive Rebuilder can celebrate so many decades of success in the face of so many changes in the supplier segment of our industry bears witness to the magazine’s successful philosophy – avoid fluff and produce a balanced magazine that readers can’t afford to miss. Except for ad copywriters, hardly anyone has the time for publications that contain nothing but ads. At the other extreme, printing and distributing the answers to your anticipated technical, business management and marketing questions is expensive, and the advertisers in Automotive Rebuilder certainly help to make that possible.
It has been a privilege working with Babcox editors, anticipating some of your questions in my "Around the Block" column. However, there’s a downside to this labor of love.
What continues to frustrate and puzzle me is that those who really need the information rarely seem to be aware of it. At the same time, most everyone else (business owners and managers who profess to be up-to-date) seem to be so busy that they take the time to become informed about a troublesome issue only after an irate customer has called and panic has set in.
To minimize the probability of panic attacks, I personally try to make use of every opportunity to become better informed, whether it’s via articles in trade publications, service bulletins issued by OEMs and parts suppliers or technical publications produced by our industry associations. I never cease to be amazed at how much I learn every time I attend a convention or trade show where I can network with suppliers and other shop people. Quite frankly, I consider lack of participation in any regional trade association meeting, without a signed note from your doctor or your mom, to be inexcusable.
If your peers take the time to select a speaker and organize a dinner meeting and technical presentation, why shouldn’t you take the time and make the effort to become better informed?
Ask Hans McCorriston. He could tell you a lot about apathy in the engine repair industry. For more than 25 years, Hans has served as an officer and director of the Automotive Machine and Parts Association (AMPA). Often, working single-handedly, he has organized meetings, managed the treasury and devoted more time and energy to AMPA than all other members combined. In view of his outstanding service and exceptional contributions, the executive board has honored him with the designation of life member.
For many years, AMPA has faced a strong and persistent lack of interest from the industry, and a dearth of member participation. Recently, the AMPA executive board came to the reluctant conclusion that all further activities should be suspended. It seems our global world is moving so fast that we no longer have the time to support local activities.
Here’s what confuses me, though: our industry is facing some big challenges, so shouldn’t we be increasing our collective efforts to improve things, rather than shutting down potentially helpful associations like AMPA?
Our industry has its share of high-volume operators who bear witness to the fact that the biggest shops are the most difficult shops to manage. If you can’t educate the customers who repeatedly screw up jobs, the easy way out is to give them parts and free labor, deny everything and hope you lose them to your competitors.
In my experience, once you exceed a critical size, putting out fires created by lack of information (or misinformation) can become the dominant activity of shop management, so much so that some days you hate to hear the phone ring. But at the same time, you may start to worry if the phone doesn’t ring.
If no one calls for an hour, do you pick up the phone to see if it’s working? And how much do you spend on extra lines and Yellow Pages advertising to make sure that your phone does ring and your staff has lots to do? Last year, our telephone expenses were more than 2% of gross sales, even though our directory advertising is very conservative. I could be wrong, but I believe the industry average for telephone service and directory advertising may be quite a bit higher than 2%.
Chances are, when your phone isn’t ringing, neither are your competitors’ phones. But why? People are still driving cars and trucks and wearing out their engines. And when it comes to engine replacement, there are still only three alternatives: install a new engine; a rebuilt engine; or a used scrap yard engine. Obviously, people are not going the rebuilt way in big enough numbers!
The good news is that to keep or enlarge your slice of the engine replacement pie, you don’t need to increase your budget for local advertising and promotion: you need to decrease it!
In our case, we took one half of one percent of our telephone expenses and made an investment that is certain to increase our business long term. We pledged this money for an international industry-driven organization and campaign to increase consumer awareness of engine rebuilding as a viable option. The success of the aftermarket cooperative of manufacturers, distributors, custom rebuilders and production rebuilders, formally launched during 1999, requires that everyone pledge an appropriate fair-share amount. It is called the ARC, the Automotive Repower Council, and Don Midgley (who can be reached at 419-734-4488) has been charged with the responsibility of collecting your pledges and putting them to good use.
ARC is increasing consumer awareness through the C.A.R. Show Network on radio, "Crank and Chrome" on television, news releases to more than 1,600 newspapers, developing a Web site (www.repower.org) and consumer awareness booklets. Future plans include the use of direct-mail marketing, educating installers, and undertaking a regional test market promotional initiative to measure the effectiveness of promoting the "repower" option.
Manufacturers and suppliers have for the past several years provided seed money and pledges to create ARC’s administrative structure and to begin to initiate its various consumer awareness programs for rebuilt engines and machine shop services. The time has come for the rest of the aftermarket team to step up to the plate.
Or, if you prefer, you can sit on your butt, keep checking your phone, and listen to the sound of silence.
Don Fedak is the owner of RPMS a machine shop located in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. You may e-mail Don at: email@example.com.