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Defining ‘jobber’ these days can be a squirrely affair

Can you define a manufacturer, WD, jobber, retailer or online supplier anymore?

The other day a group of us was standing at the proverbial online water cooler discussing how the aftermarket looks completely different today. Remember when jobbers bought from WDs, some of which were part of a program (i.e. NAPA, Carquest, Bumper to Bumper), who resold to an auto repair facility? 

All the while you also had Western Auto and other retailers. But for the most part they didn’t play in the “jobber waters.” They were considered the first WD/retailer direct to consumers and used catalogs.

Then, in the past number of decades you had “retailers” showing up, such as AutoZone and O’Reilly, who some would say shifted from the WD to jobber model and became a retailer. Others, like Carquest (Advance/WorldPac) and NAPA (Genuine Parts), are both a retailer with owned stores and independent jobber customers in their programs.

Now we also have auto parts online. The likes of RockAuto, CARiD and, of course, all of the programs and larger WD groups. The retailers are online, too. Not overlooking all of the specialty online sites such as JEGS & Summit for high performance and the various accessory sites. Just to show my age, I remember when you were working on a car and then went to the local auto parts jobber who knew you by sight and name, and always had the coffee pot perking.

I know I am missing many companies here. And I am not forgetting about OE dealers and their service part brands.

So, the many billion dollar question: Can you define a manufacturer, WD, jobber, retailer or online supplier anymore? Not even the people who define such categories can seem to make it less than muddy, and I fully respect these sources:

  • Jobber: A person who jobs; esp., one who buys goods in quantity from manufacturers or importers and sells them to dealers; wholesaler; middleman. — Collins Dictionary
  • Jobber: An installer/retail shop that purchases manufacturer goods at wholesale prices and then sells those products to consumers at retail prices. Also often referred to as a Retailer. — SEMA

And from the Auto Care Association, a terrific group and a really nice try …

  • Jobbers: Firms that sell more than 50 percent of their products to repair shops and more than 50 percent of their purchases are from distributors.
  • Jobber/Retailer: Wholesalers who also sell parts, chemicals and accessories to retail customers. Retail sales account for more than 50 percent of a jobber/retailer’s total sales.
  • Warehouse Distributors: Firms that sell more than 50 percent of their products to automotive jobbers or retailers.
    Wholesaler/Jobber: Firms that sell more than 50 percent of their products to repair shops and more than 50 percent of their purchases are from distributors.  

Confused yet? So is the market we call the aftermarket. There are no clean lines anymore. A manufacturer may make and hold product or sell direct, or the WD who is a retailer who is a jobber and online and may very well have specialty direct-to-user products. Now it would seem we have parts manufacturers and businesses that sell auto parts in various forms. The flow chart tower has flattened out into three very flat pancakes!

Here it seems like a great time to talk parts manufacturers. Just the other day a friend called me (yup, I have those) and we discussed wheel bearings he was installing on a project car. Knowing who the OE bearing maker was, he was surprised to see that his parts supplier gave him a bearing with a different manufacturer. He was wondering how that could happen.

As someone who was once upon a time on the manufacturer’s side of this deal, I went on to explain. In the bearing market there are over a dozen very reputable manufacturers. And lots of white box and generic branding. Like any good manufacturer, one must concentrate on those part numbers they probably make for OE/OES customers. And, maybe in the aftermarket if there is an application big enough for their particular style and type of bearing.

At the same time, let’s say “company A” is selling either the branded or co-branded line in the aftermarket. At the program or retailer level, they have no interest in carrying five different brands to cover vehicles on the road. So they say to company A that they must cover at least 95% plus of the applications. But what if they cover 50% with their current range? Tough for them. They must go to other manufacturers and purchase the other 45%+ that they need. This, as you know, is the reason you might take a part from a box just to find out it is made by one of their competitors. And that competitor is likely the OE/OES supplier. That is how an OES line such as ACDelco is able to offer six different oil filter choices for a Ford F150 5.0L.

The simple moving around of parts between manufacturers means that the programs, retailers and others are able to offer one brand offering 95%+ vehicle coverage. This also contributes to the flattening of the distribution chain. 

If one looks at a private label product, say NAPA or one of the AutoZone offerings, they source their line. Then, since every step of the distribution cake has flattened they all save money. Manufacturer/supplier packages in the private label then are able to ship directly to the end part purchasers/installers. Very few people touching the product, and very small warehouses needed.  And yes, I do realize there has been the continuing proliferation of parts for new models and changes.

Lastly, it is important to take a look at what really drives the non OE/OES market — the “Sweet Spot” of vehicle models. For maintenance products, the sweet spot starts with the introduction of a new model or application. But for everything else, it may be 5 to 8 years before anything is needed. The vehicle is under warranty for three years or more. And, the reliability has increased greatly in most areas (don’t get me started on EVs) such that many engines, transmissions and the lot will go to the salvage yard having never been repaired.

So, if we combine the flattening of the distribution chain along with the movement of parts at the manufacturing level and the changing demand curves for any given part, it is becoming increasingly hard to really define this market. 

We are in a unique spot in the evolution of this thing we call the aftermarket. Not necessarily fun for all of us, but definitely fascinating. And, it is the responsibility at all levels to mold this into a model that may be relied upon for the future generations.

At a young age, industry veteran Tom Langer started detailing cars for his family’s dealerships, which then led to work in the jobber and warehouse business, along with a machine shop and auto body shop. He held a variety of positions with an auto parts manufacturer for 10 years, and remained in the industry working with shops, warehouses and manufacturers in research and more. 

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