Posts Tagged automotive

What Will Winter 2019 – 2020 Bring?

Winter 2019 2020 v2 Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

If you read the recent “Farmers’ Almanac’s Extended Forecast 2020” article on the outlook for the coming Winter in North America you’d have seen that it’s predicted to be what the self-proclaimed provider of “perception, experience, and common sense” is calling a “Polar Coaster”. Their forecast for this Winter anticipates that we will experience bitter cold from the Rockies to the Appalachians. A forecast likes this tends to be great news for the retail automotive aftermarket as weather extremes are a key driver whether you’re in the Emergency Roadside Service (ERS) industry or the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry.

For 201 years the Farmers’ Almanac has been providing seasonal weather predictions and this Winter the worst areas for cold and snow include the Northern Plains, Great Lakes Region all the way to the Northeast. The prediction indicates that the worst weather could take place from late January through early February.

Winter weather often brings feast or famine to the automotive aftermarket depending on whether it’s a colder or warmer season. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a manufacturer of products used by the automotive industry’s that operate in the aftermarket, a company distributing replacement parts into markets across North America or a retailer providing services to the end user, the spikes in opportunities that cold weather extremes bring includes probable logistical and supply issues. Potential issues that extreme cold, ice and snow brings can include keeping plants open and fulfilling increased parts orders, keeping delivery vehicles on the road getting those products to the retailers who also have to deal with scheduling repairs that come along with the increased opportunities.

With the current historically low unemployment rates that we’re seeing across North America an extreme Winter also will bring additional stress due to difficulties finding those qualified to manufacture, distribute and provide repairs that consumers and businesses alike will require. Currently there are numerous examples of difficulty finding and keeping qualified technicians in both the AGRR and ERS industry’s. In the AGRR industry a glass repair or replacement can often be deferred for some period of time, but weather extremes effect on automotive batteries will drive volume spikes in jump starts and replacement opportunities putting strains on companies that provide services in the ERS space.

So if the Farmers’ Almanac prediction turns out to be accurate for Winter 2019 – 2020, has your company planned and prepared its best so that you can take care of your customers parts and service needs? Those who have done the best job planning before any extreme cold, ice and snow appears will be the ones able to capitalize on the opportunities that are available.

Just sayin’.

 

* Photo by Vel Vesa on Unsplash

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The New Normal

Today the competitive landscape in the auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry in the United States was dramatically altered. We saw this morning an announcement that Safelite, the largest company in the space, purchased the second largest company. As the clear market leader Safelite was perhaps 14+ times or so larger than TruRoad Holdings. By acquiring the companies that make up TruRoad and bringing them into the Safelite platform the gulf between Safelite and the possible number two AGRR company Glass America is even more gigantic.

You’d have to believe that auto insurers, fleets and even consumers would have a strong interest in ensuring that competition continues to exist for AGRR services. Insurers and fleets especially would have interest in seeing a strong national competitor emerge to keep pricing and service levels in check considering the market share Safelite controls. The prospect of building a true competitor and all that would be required to compete against Safelite in the marketplace would be an incredibly daunting task and in my opinion is highly unlikely considering the new competitive landscape in the AGRR space with Safelite acquiring TruRoad.

Baseball player and coach Yogi Berra was once quoted as saying when asked about the chances of the New York Yankees winning a pennant race one year, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” I’m sorry to say that competition in the AGRR space might be over. Welcome to the new normal.

Just sayin’

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Telling It Like It Is

After a 29-year career, Johnny Miller retired this past Saturday from his job as a golf analyst for NBC Sports and the Golf Channel. Before he took the role as an analyst sitting in broadcast booths located on the 18th greens of golf tournaments, Johnny spent 28 years as a PGA golf pro. As a golf analyst, he was known for his blunt commentary of the play of professional golfers whom he critiqued. Johnny’s style was to never hold back on his opinions while offering positive or negative comments of a pros play. There were a number of pros who often didn’t appreciate Johnny’s comments on their play, but the television audience appreciated the honesty and teaching moments he provided to amateur golfers with his golf analysis. During Johnny’s career he covered 355 golf tournaments in 33 states and 14 countries around the world. Among those tournaments were 29 Players Championships, 20 U.S. Opens, 14 Ryder Cups, 9 Presidents Cups, 3 Opens (British Opens) and 1 World Olympic (Rio). I trust that Johnny will enjoy his retirement and hope that there is someone willing to step into his big shoes and continues telling it like it is.

In business, leaders should surround themselves with people like Johnny Miller who are unafraid to provide:

  1. advice or critique of a potential strategy or tactic under consideration,
  2. views on key promotions or new hires to supplement leadership teams,
  3. opinions on the value of new products or suppliers and
  4. views on potential acquisitions or divestitures being considered, just to name a few.

Those willing to be vocal and share their opinions even when they may not be appreciated are, in my view, one of the most important traits of your most valuable employees. Leaders should be able to surround themselves with those who are unafraid of telling it like it is. By the way, just because they share their views doesn’t mean that their ideas are correct and as a leader you have to follow them, but I would suggest you should still listen.

I’ve greatly valued, even more importantly highly respected, those that I worked with who readily offered their views of a strategy I wanted to follow as either a good, bad or how it could be improved upon. I would suggest that leaders recruit those willing to be like Johnny. So I’d like to say to those like Johnny in my career like Ernie, Charlie, Byron, Mark, John M., David (RIP), Larry, Kevin, Alan, Rick, Ronnie (RIP), Adrian, Louis, Sandy, Nate, Chuck, Jeff, Heather, Terry, Chris, Steve M., Bre, Darshan, Rodney, Warren, Rachel, Ros, Brendan, Robert and Steve K., thank you each very much. (There’s many, many more I could thank.)

Over the years many pros who initially were angered hearing Johnny’ negative televised critiques of their play later grew to appreciate and value his unvarnished reviews. To those whom I worked for who took my suggestions or comments poorly over the years I offer my apologies. But I hope you’ve grown to appreciate those telling it like it is that may surround you today. Leaders incapable of allowing direct reports who work for them that are willing to provide unvarnished advice or critique of critical decisions that are being considered aren’t, in my opinion, going to get the best from them. You might also be at risk losing them to a leader that actively seeks those willing to offer their views.

Just sayin’.

Johnny Miller

Silverado Country Club, Napa Valley, California

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Vehicle Miles Driven Improving?

You may have seen statistics recently relating to the increase in miles driven in July 2014 versus July 2013. Seemingly great news for any business in the retail automotive repair industry as miles driven is one of the key drivers that affect the industry and any increase is a positive indicator. As shown on the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration web site[1],

Travel on all roads and streets changed by 1.5% (4.0 billion vehicle miles) for July 2014 as compared with July 2013.”

Region

Total Travel

Percentage Change

North-East

38.3

0.0

South-Atlantic

55.4

2.4

North-Central

61.1

1.3

South-Gulf

53.4

2.2

West

58.6

1.3

o    Estimated Vehicle-Miles of Travel by Region – July 2014 – (in Billions)

o    Change in Traffic as compared to same month last year.

Great news it would seem. The governmental web site further shows that,

Cumulative Travel for 2014 changed by 0.6% (10.1 billion vehicle miles).

That sounds like continued improvement and more great news for the industry, but perhaps not…..

In the Thursday, September 18, 2014 edition of the USAToday™ a small graph was shown in the USA SNAPSHOTS® section on the front page with the header “USA’s driving stalled” (click link). According to Advisor Perspectives, the organization that provided the information shown on the graph, miles driven in the United States:

 

 “Adjusted for population growth, January to June miles driven this year are down 8.5% since 2007 peak”

 

Down 8.5%! That certainly isn’t great news for automotive retailers. You can read the article titled “Vehicle Miles Driven: A Structural Change in Our Driving Behavior“, that was written by Doug Short for Advisor Perspectives that was the source of the information on the declining number in its entirety by following this link (click here). The article takes an in-depth look at how miles driven are being affected by gasoline prices, changes in driving behavior, the effects of an aging population, unemployment trends and changes in the ways we interact with one another due to ever changing improvements in communication technologies.

 

Miles driven, along with weather and the economy are the three key drivers[2] for the automotive retail industry. How have these three key drivers been affecting your business? Based on Mr. Short’s perspective on miles driven, automotive retailers will have to rely on improvements in the economy and favorable weather to offset a real decrease in miles driven to help drive growth. You’re going to need to take greater advantage of your push and pull marketing strategy to attract customers.


If you have a desire to continue to grow your business (and who wouldn’t) into the future; it would seem advisable to work hard on ways to differentiate and separate yourself from your competitors. The decline in the miles driven has certainly had an effect on volumes to date and will unquestionably continue to influence the automotive retail industry going forward. With declining miles driven the opportunities for replacing or repairing damaged auto glass, for collision repairs, for tire replacements, oil changes, etc. will also obviously continue to decline. It’s critical for smaller retailers to find new ways to attract customers just as the large market leaders aggressively pursue those same customers with name brand awareness campaigns. Now is not the time for complacency.

 

Just sayin’.

 

complacent brands

Courtesy of TomFishburne.com


 

 

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – Rube Goldberg Machines and Business

I was recently sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and for 30 minutes I stood mesmerized watching an amazing sculpture designed by George Rhodes known as a ball machine. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen one of these ball machine sculptures. The first one of Rhodes designs I saw was in the late 1980’s while walking through a terminal at Boston Logan Airport. I remember almost missing my flight watching and listening to the sculpture. This Rhodes sculpture at another airport attracted young and old alike. The sculpture really doesn’t serve any practical purpose, but is an intriguing piece of kinetic art. It’s hard to pull yourself away from watching all that is going on – a sculpture that often uses a combination of drums, cymbals, gongs and depending on your point of view makes either a virtual cacophony or euphony of sounds.

In a way these sculptures remind me of a Rube Goldberg machine. Wikipedia defines a Rube Goldberg machine as follows:

“A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task in a very complicated fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg (1883–1970).”

An Example:

Rube Goldberg Guinness World Record by Purdue Society of Professional Engineers

________

Rube Goldberg and Business

While watching the steel balls that roll endlessly though the intricate Rhodes sculpture I started thinking about examples of how some businesses work effortlessly and continuously in a similar endless fashion. Businesses that provide the same exacting levels of customer service and delivery of a product (or products) over and over again that are a key to success. Some businesses have developed very simple processes to find success while other companies tend to overcomplicate processes in an attempt to achieve success.

While at the sculpture I was holding a Starbucks coffee and that company certainly comes to mind as a business that invariably delivers both simple and very complicated orders efficiently and effectively. This Seattle based company that got its start almost 40 years ago has today become the largest coffeehouse with over 23,000 locations in 64+ countries. I just order a Venti black coffee when standing in line at Starbucks. I can never tell if the barista is happy or somehow saddened by my straightforward order. A Huffington Post blog titled “The Most Obnoxious Starbucks Drink Orders“ details some of the complicated orders at Starbucks such as a ‘Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato, Sugar-Free Syrup, Extra Shot, Light Ice, No Whip’. Now that order would be a challenge to any barista fulfilling Starbucks “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mantra. It makes me smile when I hear someone standing in line ordering a similar concoction. It really doesn’t matter where in the United States or the world you place your order; Starbucks seems to always deliver the same level of consistent service regardless of the local. The company has obviously spent a great deal of time and effort in perfecting the delivery of consistent levels of service, but it all seems pretty simple to the casual observer ordering coffee. Everyone knows that you’re going to have to wait a bit when ordering one of the “delicious, handcrafted beverages” mentioned earlier versus my Venti black coffee order, but those who order the complicated drinks don’t mind. They know they are going to be rewarded with a delicious drink made to order by a barista that has perfected his or her craft. In plain sight the platform seems pretty simple. Do you think that behind the curtain there resides a Rube Goldberg machine? Doubtful.

Can you think of other businesses which deliver products consistently in a simple straightforward manner? Maybe FedEx, Amazon.com or even MacDonald’s could come to mind. Fortune Magazine lists 50 of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” and the top 5 are:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon.com
  3. Google
  4. Berkshire Hathaway
  5. Starbucks

I’m sure you’d agree that each of these companies is the polar opposite of a Rube Goldberg.

I’ve worked in a business or two that have taken great steps to simplify business processes through employee training and the use of technology in an effort to reduce back office costs that keep company investments focusing on people and growing the platform. And I’ve worked in a business or two that seems compelled to use a Rube Goldberg machine mentality. I think that those who insist on making simple processes overly complicated could find greater success by streamlining operating procedures, but as long as shareholders are pleased with the return on investment, changes in operating styles aren’t likely to happen. In a highly competitive industry companies that are overcomplicated ultimately could be disadvantaged versus others in the same industry that have found ways to reduce the Rube Goldberg machine mentality.

Do you know of businesses in your industry which operate more like a Rube Goldberg machine (deliberately over-engineered or overdone to perform a very simple task)? I’m sure that you do. Noted management doyen Peter Drucker is quoted as saying:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

It has to be frustrating for people who work for companies that use complicated procedures or policies in an industry where other companies have found a simpler way of delivering the same service. I’m sure you can come up with some examples in your industry.

So, what’s it like at the company you’re working? Does your company operate more like an Apple, Amazon.com, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and Starbucks; or does it operate more like a Rube Goldberg? Imagine the potential for those companies that operate using a Rube Goldberg machine mentality that pivot to find a better way to provide the services or products they offer. If you look at your company and think you see an area of the business that might resemble a Rube Goldberg machine, perhaps you should seek ways to make it a little less complicated. Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Just sayin’.

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