Northwest leaders weigh-in on developments and issues facing region’s aftermarket
The Auto Care Association’s Auto Care Factbook indicates that the automotive aftermarket is currently a $392 billion industry and is expected to reach $433 billion in 2021. And with that comes the growing pains of challenges and opportunities. Today’s issues for repairers may sound familiar, but are now more imperative than ever to address. Northwest industry leaders shared what’s being done in the region, from tech training and legislative affairs to the ever-changing landscape of parts distribution and trade tariffs.
Perspectives from the Northwest
ASA Northwest (ASA-NW) finalized the Independent Technicians Automotive Committee (ITAC) in late 2018, and we expect to be piloting this automotive technician apprenticeship program over the next 12 months, said Jeff Lovell, AMAM, president and executive director of the automotive trade association.
“This program took five years to develop as it touches all aspects of the industry and we had to meet all of the education system’s requirements before it was approved and registered by the Washington State L&I and its Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council,” he said.
Lovell praised the efforts of the ASA-NW Education Committee, under the chairmanship of Butch Jobst, AMAM, of Aberdeen, who also serves as the ASA-NW chairman of the board. “Getting the ASA-NW/ITAC apprenticeship program registered was on the top of my list, and we feel it will transform the industry in many ways,” Jobst said.
Lovell added, “We will continue to expand our training opportunities across the region as well in 2019. Our Automotive Training Expo (ATE), designed and implemented by ASA-NW to train and educate industry professionals, has been extremely successful over the past 10-plus years and we are expanding it to Spokane to meet the high demand for training.”
That event, ATE-East, will be held Oct. 4-5, and will offer management and technical sessions for those across eastern Washington, Idaho, and beyond. Both ATE events will offer timely training for all phases of technical issues that include ADAS and other emerging vehicle advancements.
Another program that has demonstrated success is the “Don’t Drip & Drive” campaign that was created to address the significant source of pollution in the Puget Sound region and beyond, Lovell said. “The Washington State Department of Ecology, the agency that designed the program, recognized that some 9,200 tons of petroleum-related compounds are released into the environment each year with 6,100 tons being motor oil and other drips from vehicles.”
Dozens of ASA-NW shops are participating in the consumer program that offers free leak checks.
NATA membership shows growth
It was another great year for the Northwest Automotive Trades Association (NATA), said Cathi Webb, executive director. “NATA grew by 40 members, due in large part to our very successful SAIF (Oregon’s Workers Compensation program) and Health Net of Oregon health plans.”
Webb said member shops are all busy with scheduled workloads, but like many repair facilities in the nation, most shops are searching for qualified new employees, especially technicians.
“Margaret Ragan of our staff works with all the high schools and colleges in Oregon to encourage students to look into the variety of segments in our industry as a career choice,” she said.
On April 27, NATA and ASE are hosting a roundtable for more than 100 teachers, counselors, parents, students, and industry leaders to come together at the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville to discuss how we can help each other generate interest in our respective industries and explain the positive benefits of automotive careers.
The State of Oregon has passed numerous bills that have, or will in 2019, affect NATA membership, Webb said, adding that staying abreast of new laws and regulations is a key reason to belong to a trade association. “NATA has a lobbyist, Darrell Fuller, who helps us keep our members aware of new legislation. For example, HB-4087-A is a new possessory lien bond statute for all automotive repair facilities and Oregon is requiring a bond for any business that files a lien. Along with other new laws, NATA is working diligently to help our members understand the ramifications of new regulations in order to remain compliant.”
Retail and wholesale parts overview
The independent jobber business was fairly steady in 2018, said Tim Trudnowski, president of Parts Wholesalers, Inc. in Spokane, an employee-owned entity that operates Automotive Jobbers Supply (AJS) and Motion Auto Supply stores in the Inland Northwest.
“Being in business 69 years and the only 100 percent employee-owned business are huge positives for us,” he said. “Last year we increased our retail marketing at our stores, upgraded our website and will capitalize on that in 2019, but had some issues with product fill rates that we have not experienced before.
“Also, the trade tariffs have forced some large price increases like never before, and the changes in Washington with minimum wage and paid family leave have put pressure on businesses. With historic low unemployment rates in Washington and Idaho, finding and retaining full-time staff is becoming more challenging.”
During 2019, he said continued work on profitability and having proper inventories at stores will be priorities, as well as reviewing overlapping inventory. “Online retail sales will continue to increase in 2019, and that puts more strain on retail sales. The Big Box stores will continue to force us to offer the best customer service possible, allowing us to do things locally they cannot do.