Talkin’ With Lou: John Towle, Executive Director, Performance Warehouse Association

Dec 2, 2009

Every August, we head out to Phoenix for the annual PWA Conference. Although the pictures we send home include a golf outing and a poolside party (at the “Oasis” water park no less), the PWA Conference is all business: Three grueling days of back-to-back sales, marketing and product meetings between the warehouse distributors (WDs) and the manufacturers. In fact, many of the sales and marketing programs you see are a direct result of the efforts of these PWA-Member WDs. On your behalf, the input from these WD’s leads to everything from increased sales incentives, better packaging designs, competitive pricing, product enhancements and much, much, more. John’s team (Roxanne and Juanita) continue to do an amazing job with this conference, but as I’ve learned today, PWA is more than an annual get-together in Phoenix; it’s a plethora of services including online sales training, dealer referrals, catalog listings, advertising services and more.

L.J.: John, thanks for taking some time out to catch up with me. It’s a busy time of year for all of us as we gear up for the selling season and I’m sure you swamped helping your WDs prep for another challenging year. First off, what exactly is the Performance Warehouse Association, PWA?

John: PWA is an organization of specialty automotive parts wholesalers joined together and dealing with management, financial and legislative matters.

L.J.: Your membership covers everybody from Speed & Custom Warehouse in Miami to Warehouse West in Renton, Washington and all of Canada. I’m betting nearly all performance retailers are already buying from a PWA-Member WD. Now, I just read on your website about a service to list these retailers, PAR Locator. Can you tell me a little about the PAR Locator program?

John: Parlocator.com was developed because many manufacturer websites were simply directing Internet users to mail order and Internet sellers and not to the local jobbers. PWA felt the need to help the jobbers by creating a database with jobber information which could be used by all PWA member manufacturers. PWA has received over 10,000 jobber names, and they are starting to see consumers coming to their local stores. This is a free service for all brick-and-mortar jobbers. All they need to do is go to www.parlocator.com and click “request to be listed,” and we will add them to our program.

L.J.: Cool idea, you also recently launched the PWA University program (PWAU), an exciting and in-depth online sales training tool. As a manufacturer, one of my biggest challenges is getting the right product and sales training info through the distribution channels. How do you see the PWA University assisting the performance retailer, and how can a performance retailer take advantage of the program?

John: PWAU is open to all WD salespeople and jobbers and retailers. They have access to assign lessons and take lessons online, and it’s absolutely free. PWAU requires User ID and Password which is available from PWA. And while this program is just starting, many manufacturers have posted lessons, posting is also free, and thousands of students have been taking lessons.

L.J.: It’s a robust program and your development team did an excellent job getting PWAU developed and launched. How exactly should a performance retailer take advantage of the program?

John: Thanks for the kind words. This Product Training program is sponsored by the members of PWA and is free to all jobbers, retailer, distributors and PWA member manufacturers. To sign up for this program or for more information, please contact PWA at (760) 346-5647 or email: info@pwauniversity.com.

L.J.: At the last PWA Conference in Phoenix, once again, the hot topic of Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) permeated throughout the meeting schedule. “Just look at Bose” or “MVP is the new answer.” Whatever it might be, it seems clear online retailers have found ways around MAP policies and MAP’s future remains uncertain. Where do you see the future for MAP pricing, and how will it impact the performance retailer?

John: While MAP is a very important topic, and many manufacturers now have a MAP program for some of their products, it’s not the final answer. On June 28, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an unexpected decision and overturned a 96-year-old ruling which should help pave the way for manufacturers to look at unilateral pricing programs. MAP, or some version of MAP, will continue to be a valuable tool for those manufacturers who are concerned about the value of their products and the overall distribution of those products.

L.J.: Makes me wonder if it makes sense for a jobber to augment in-store sales with online sales?

John: The Internet is here to stay, and every jobber should be looking at having their own website. Not just for the sale of products, but to tell the consumer where they are located and what products they sell and service. Sure, some will actually have a sales side but they should have at least a site that explains what they have to offer. Many online buyers still like to purchase products from local companies.

L.J.: I totally agree. So what will a successful WD in the performance aftermarket look like, say in the next five years?

John: I think they will look much like they do today. They will stock and deliver parts to local brick-and-mortar jobbers. Local and timely access to these parts is very important for many reasons. The Internet will still be around, and many traditional warehouse distributors have Internet programs in place for their jobbers, but there’s no question, warehouse distributors will do what they do best: distribute.

L.J.: And from the performance retailer’s perspective, what are the advantages to working with a WD?

John: There are many reasons to work with a WD. For starters, they can find almost anything they need for their customer within a few hours. Unless the item is a very slow mover, the retailer will be able to close the sale within a day. In most cases, mail order and Internet sellers can’t deliver by 10:00am the next day. Plus, the consumer can always get face-to-face help with the installation and the D.I.F.M. (do it for me) customers will have a place to do the work. Don’t count out the retailers.

L.J.: As you know, one of my goals at Performance Business is to give the performance retailer one good idea every issue-something they can implement today. If you were a performance retailer, what would you be doing today to grow your business and differentiate yourself from the competition?

John: I would be contacting PWA and finding out how I could register my employees in PWAU. I would put product training on the top of my list. I would also do what I can to become a better business partner with my local WD. Make sure you support them and they will support the retailer.

L.J.: So I see even the Super Bowl has a MySpace page. When will we see the PWA MySpace page?

John: (Laughing) Not sure if you will ever see PWA, PAR or PWAU with a MySpace page, but we are always adding helpful sections to our website. I would suggest that your readers visit www.pwa-par.org, www.pwauniversity.com and www.parlocator.com and see for themselves. If they are not visiting these sites often, they are missing out.

JOHN TOWLE , Executive Director, Performance Warehouse Association (PWA)

Favorite car: 
1962 Corvette

Last book read:
Beyond the Numbers(thanks Chuck Blum!)

Favorite place to drive:  
Anywhere without traffic(definitely not L.A.)

Person you’d most like to have lunch with:
Chris Kersting at SEMA. I think I could get him to buy lunch.