I will survive

May 9, 2011

The universe expands and contracts. And within the universe some stars glow steadily bright and some supernova into an intense light before fading dim, then dispersing in space or collapsing into a black hole.

So it is with the business world. And especially within the automotive world in general and within our aftermarket world in particular. And especially since the recession of the past few years forced many businesses to contract to a much tighter business model or forced some to shutter their doors. And, thus, many in the automotive industry at large, for one, and the aftermarket industry, for another, found themselves looking to the left and right to see who was still standing.

If this sounds dramatic — and so it has been — excuse the editorial license. Events shape the world, whether it’s across the oceans or across the town or across the street.

By the beginning of this year, the recession showed definitive signs of easing: fewer people idled from their jobs, some businesses actually hiring, new-vehicle sales on the upswing and consumers, while still a bit cautious, spending more of their discretionary dollars. That certainly helped the aftermarket.

But then the domino-effect of the popular uprisings in the Middle East and northern Africa fueled the still fully unexplained rise in domestic gas and diesel prices. (By the way, the Interior Department reported about this time last year that there were 3,500 drilling platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone; except for the BP disaster, that would have left 3,499 in operation. The United States imports about 37% of its oil from Canada; then comes our oil from Mexico, followed by Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela. And, too, we still pump out our own.)

In March, came the real catastrophe, the natural disasters and nuclear-power plant breakdowns that fell hard upon Japan. Those events began — and continue — to directly affect so many parts of the automotive world.

Add to the Japan and Middle East events the new-housing-starts nosedive and Wall Street’s bull-bear-bull-bear-bull rides, and within a matter of weeks these events all played a game of economic chicken with businesses and their consumers — events that will reverberate into the summer. A setback, yes, but already the business world has regrouped and is moving steadily forward again, and the pace will quicken.

The aftermarket business universe may have contracted and grown smaller, but, being elastic, will stretch wider again, despite natural or man-made adversities, fuel pricing schemes and Wall Street roller coasters.

If you’re reading this, and you’re an aftermarket retailer/installer, then congratulations, you’re a survivor, you’re elastic. But surviving is only part of your story. Growing — and growing stronger — is the other. In many recent conversations I’ve had with people in our industry, their comments have pointed out that business, at worst, is flat, at best, growing stronger. One supplier, for example, told me his problem was keeping up with orders. And a pair of shop owners noted they’re seeing signs of new competitors.

Now, then, is the time to build on your business, be more creative with sales, train staff to better serve in the shop, on the phone and in the work bays, and partner more with suppliers that can best serve your needs.

Yes, you will survive — because you are a survivor. And you can thrive.