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Forecast 2021— Limited visibility, cloudy demand with a chance of marginal ROI

Here are seven precepts upon which you can build your three-year planning vision

I am a firm believer that visions of a bright future are injurious to those who see nothing but the troubles of the past. Learn from history … sure. But wallow in it … Why?

The dumpster fire this past year will clutter the beaches with the bones of many survivalist price cutters and marginal players, both dealer and independent. Those that temporarily escaped the volume collapse won’t survive the savage new rules of financing.

Bill Wade, Wade&Partners

Anyone planning to be around for the next three years needs to be able to meld demographics of our workforce with fleet age curves … consolidation of end users with even more disruptive technologies.

Prediction is an ever-tougher game now … Look at those from 2019!

A positive outlook doesn’t mean a Pollyanna view of universally easy living right around the corner. Ours is a complicated business — sometimes unnecessarily so.

But here are seven precepts upon which you can build your three-year planning vision:

  • Size alone is not a strategy … nor is a footprint. Geography is falling victim to the virtual availability of product specialization and customer-centric policies and investments. Even NAPA, Grainger, FleetPride or Ace Hardware are only as effective as local branches make them.
  • Fee follows function … discounts again become discriminate. Suppliers will no longer pay rebates simply on group volume without some proof of marketing effectiveness. Distributors will have to differentiate and recognize the real value of their growing, healthy customers and begin to ignore the insignificant (but historically favored) few.
  • Information is the ultimate pop code ‘A’. As technology deepens; real value can only be created by those who can plumb its secrets. Even tire thumping has given way to RFID solutions. For the independent channel to remain effective, it must upgrade virtually every system … on-vehicle diagnosis, parts availability technology training and customer service.
  • VIN tyranny splinters. The dealer who has VIN access today has had a leg up — but only on one line of equipment. As serial numbers become more prevalent at the sub component level, access to an Allison or Remy or Hendrickson serial number info will far outstrip the value of the IH or Peterbilt factory VIN.
  • War declared by European OEMs. We’ve been waiting and now it is here. The influence of Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and other offshore manufacturers (CIMC?) on a tightly controlled vehicle life cycle will cause a real assault on the profits leaking into the independent aftermarket. Can you spell ALLIANCE?
  • Tuángòu explodes. This is really the trendy name for ‘Groupon” and similar end-user discount purchasing schemes. Once local fleet managers realize that this bad consumer pricing idea has lowered their personal costs on everything from movie tickets to skydiving lessons, they are bound to bring the idea to work. OUCH!
  • Net conquers gross. Forget about operating averages and gross sales or profit levels. New analytic programs will force all survivors to be able to connect with both suppliers and customers for no-nonsense discussions on ways to eliminate (not spread or redirect) costs in this channel.

There are other trends which seem likely … suppliers joining ranks to minimize shipping and customer service costs; groups becoming significant direct importers; and the Internet creating chaos in the channel that we still can’t quite put our collective fingers on.

Perhaps Lou Holtz had it right: “Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. They know that the best way to forecast the future is to create it.”

If we don’t, who will? COVID is offering us a blank canvass.


Bill Wade started Wade&Partners in 2003 as a consultant specializing in worldwide vehicle parts aftermarket and industrial distribution. Previously, he was CEO of Durakon, FAG/INA Bearings, CR Services/SKF. Wade states that he lives in a barn and has taught the finer points of shark fishing (and cooking) to three children and eight grandchildren. He can be reached at bill.wade@wade-partners.com

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