Incoming IAAF President Graham Knight has called for greater communication on all levels of the aftermarket. The annual IAAF conference gave a perfect opportunity to call on the market to come together and saw a range of speakers updating the industry on where it is and where it’s going.

Chief Executive Brian Spratt took the chance to update members on changes in the market and incoming legislation. He talked about the ignorance amongst consumers when it comes to the care of their car, and reiterated the importance of customer service in the independent automotive aftermarket: “There’s a real problem with the way people are dealt with,” he said. “Customer requirements must be both understood and met.”

Spratt also criticised the Motorists’ Forum which was created after the decision to stick to 3-1-1 intervals with the goal of ensuring consumers were assured of better standards in the future. Spratt dubbed the Forum illegitimate and said was populated by cronies.

Next, autoPOLIS Managing Partner Dr John Wormald tackled the question of who has the most compelling service for motorists, the independent garage or a franchise? He pointed out that dealerships are increasingly operating on reduced margins on new cars, which are oversupplied to the market, so they will try to rely more on service, repair and parts.

“Although it makes up just ten percent or so of their total turnover, spare parts for the VMs is a constant cash cow,” he said. More meaningful profits lie elsewhere for them. “It is margins on workshop hours rather than on parts that is keeping them alive.”

As profits on new cars will continue to be squeezed, dealers will be forced to chase more service and repair but raise their prices. That represents a significant opportunity for the independent sector which will always be able to beat them on price.

Main dealers are up to 70 percent more expensive than their independent counterparts, so the aftermarket has everything to play for.

Wormald warned against driving down of prices in the aftermarket, then: “The industry suffers the inevitable consequences of the endless price war they play with each other.”

On garages numbers, Wormald noted that although the independent sector has seen the fastest rate of decline in recent years, independent garages are still by far the most numerous in the marketplace.

Most people live less than two miles away from an independent garage, while the average distance to find a franchise is 14 miles, he said.

Mike Owen also updated members on the drive to digital radio, something he sees as a £600 million opportunity when taking into account the 30 million vehicles which will need to be converted.

Brian Spratt also chaired a lively debate on the subject of matching quality, referencing the cover story in last month’s edition of CAT.

“This is a nasty area. Some people might accuse me of being foolish for stirring it up, but I think this is something we need to face up to as an industry,” he said.

First Line’s Alan Wood, who also gave a presentation on some of his company’s quality control processes, said: “The processes are something that you can check, the problem is that the processes are only as good as you make them, you can make them the minimum quality and if you’re checking that in actual fact it means nothing.”

Suplex’s Andrew Graham said: “We’re six or seven years too late in tackling this – who actually issues the matching quality certificate? Self-certification? How good is that? It’s not policed.”

It was suggested that garages should be enforced to use appropriate parts, but Graham Knight said: “To try and tackle every garage is an enormous task. Garages and technicians are buying their parts from us. We can sit here and say how to should be done and say that this is everyone else’s fault, but it’s our fault. We supply the parts and it’s us that need to get our houses in order.”

At the evening dinner the annual IAAF award presentations were made and more than £6000 was raised for industry charity BEN.

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