Economic crisis presents opportunities for wholesale distributor to nurture customer relationships and build new business
Ventura, Calif.—In these challenging times of the pandemic, Matt Porter also sees opportunity for West Coast-based distributer Fast Undercar to engage with the company’s independent installer customers, as well as to grow business.
“It’s allowed us to connect with our customers on a different level,” said Porter, head of sales and marketing/franchise relations for Fast Undercar — Powered by Parts Authority, a wholesale distributor of automotive aftermarket undercar parts to professional installers along the West Coast and Idaho.
“People now have a little extra time to talk and are open to discussing their business, what they’ve done and where they think they’re going to be in the coming months. We want to know what’s important to them — the calls can become very personal.”
Fast Undercar’s core customer is the independent installer, who might not always have all the resources available to them, especially during the coronavirus, Porter said.
“Our initial message to the shops during the first wave of the pandemic was to make sure they knew they were deemed an ‘essential business,’ and they had a right to be open.”
Fast Undercar then proceeded to inform shops of best practices, including everything from how to wipe down and properly sanitize a vehicle to maintaining employee health.
With eight corporate facilities and 21 franchised locations, Fast Undercar has the advantage of assessing the pandemic’s impact among the various different regions it serves.
“Some shops are nervous,” he said. “The one-man shop who doesn’t have employees and knows how they are going to approach this situation has less worries than shop owners with three to five techs. Numbers are down for them and it’s a scary, difficult time.”
There is optimism in the aftermarket, however, but he said it varies depending upon who one speaks with because “we’re all wired a little differently.”
On one end of the spectrum are the strong shops that know their customer base well. “They were able to reach out to let their customers know they were open and book appointments in advance. Then there are shops that ‘sat back’ who were more reactive — they’re the ones we see having challenges.”
During Fast Undercar’s conversations with shops, they can relay what they’re hearing from others and share what they’ve learned as to how different shops are approaching current circumstances, Porter said.
“They might be competitors, but during these times we all have to work together to move forward.”
Supporting franchises through the crisis
Fast Undercar developed strategic plans as the coronavirus approached, which incorporated work-from-home options where necessary, Porter said, including its outside sales forces, which hasn’t been in the field for three weeks.
“We focused on the health of our employees, some of whom are older and elected not to work due to the pandemic. Our drivers are on the frontline.”
It’s also been imperative for the company to give its franchises a full understanding of small business assistance programs, most notably the PPP, and what’s available to them, as well as how they can capitalize on them, he said. “Most who sought to apply for PPP have done so, and are now waiting to see how it plays out.”
While sales staff has been grounded from their usual efforts in the field and have been having phone conversations listening to shops’ concerns and issues, they have also shifted gears to steer attention toward establishing new business relationships.
“Fleets for Parts Authority have always been a bit of a shining star and there’s a need as most are still out on the move. We have competitors who might not make it through this, so there’s possibility to prospect for new business and sales.
“There’s opportunity in every situation.”