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Business and Management

The View From 37,000 Feet

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I had just settled into my seat in what I thought was the “back” of
the plane on my way to my second industry event in less than two
months. They were boarding by groups from the back of the plane forward
and my group was called early, so I thought being in the back was a
pretty safe assumption. After all, I passed 29 rows to get to my seat.
How many more rows and seats could there be?

And, yet a constant stream of people — children and adults, moms,
dads, businessmen and businesswomen, vacationers, military personnel
and even a couple of off-duty flight attendants kept trudging down the
aisle single-file, arms filled, eyes focused straight ahead on an
invisible horizon.

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As this endless processional continued, I began to wonder if there
was another jet-bridge at the back of the plane that was allowing
everyone to get off and then circle back for a second lap!

As it turns out, there was another whole section of the plane
behind me — I just hadn’t noticed. I couldn’t see it because I wasn’t
looking.

I think our industry is a lot like that, with most of us focusing
on what’s right in front of us, never realizing or recognizing just how
big the vehicle that carries all of us really is. In fact, I’m sure of
it, so I’ve decided to share a little of what I learned at the two
industry events I attended with you.

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If this Industry – with a capital “I” – were an airplane, it would be a very BIG plane!

How about $295 billion a year in sales? And that’s just our
Aftermarket. We employ more than 4.5 million people, almost as many as
the federal government. That’s more than the total employment of both
the insurance and real estate industries combined!

How big is that really? As Kathleen Schmatz, CEO of the Automotive
Aftermarket Industry Association likes to remind us, we’re bigger than
Beer, whose sales are a paltry $190 billion, providing only 1.7 million
of the nation’s jobs; Wine, with sales of $162 billion, supporting 1.1
million jobs, and Hard Liquor with sales of $100 billion, supporting
1.2 million jobs.

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All things taken into consideration, those of us involved in the
Aftermarket – Big “A” – represent a very respectable percentage of our
Gross Domestic Product as well. And, why not: with more than 245
million vehicles currently in operation, the vehicle population
actually exceeds the number of individuals licensed to drive those
vehicles for the first time.

It doesn’t seem to matter which side of the parts counter you are
on. As an industry, we tend to focus on the “immediate” — the problems
we face day-to-day, minute by minute. We lose track of the critically
important role we play ensuring the free movement of people, goods and
services across our nation’s roads and highways or the contribution
each of us makes to an industry that has steadily grown every year for
the past six years.

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We forget about the opportunities we have as well. Sure, vehicles and engines
may last longer because they are built better, and that means fewer
repairs: but, because they are built better, they are in service longer
– and, that means you and I may have more opportunity to service these vehicles and engines than we’ve ever experienced before.

Our industry may not be as “sexy” as some other industries. But,
how many of those other industries could survive without our parts and labor? How long do you think it would take before “they” – all of
them – found themselves stuck on the side of the road wondering where
we’ve gone or when we’ll be back?

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Sometimes things look different depending upon your perspective —
different at 37,000 feet than they do when you’re answering the phone
or on the counter or busy back in the shop. Sometimes we are too involved to consider whether or
not we are part of a greater “whole.” Sometimes the role we play is
obscured by the work we do and it takes backing away to really get a
sense of how big this industry really is, how it all fits together, and
perhaps most important, how and where we fit in.

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But, it’s still the same industry: the same incredible industry
with the same incredibly rich opportunities. You’ve just got to see
them before you can seize them!

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected].

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