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New York (CNN Business) - Amazon is gunning to sell more car parts. But it will run up against fierce resistance from a small army of firmly established companies already doing just that.
One of them is Advance Auto Parts. Advance has designed a vast logistics network to deliver parts to auto mechanics and do-it-yourself car owners right away. "Independent garages have got to get that car fixed as fast as possible, or you're not going to them again," said Charlie O'Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody's. "They measure delivery times in hours and minutes, not days." Speed isn't the only factor separating Advance (AAP), AutoZone (AZO) and O'Reilly (ORLY) from Amazon (AMZN). These companies have sharpened their focus on service, helping guide customers through repairs and the technical auto parts market. Wall Street believes in the companies' long-term durability: Advance and O'Reilly's stocks have outpaced Amazon's this year. Amazon's moves into car parts
But Amazon looms. The company started the Amazon Automotive store in 2006 and has been adding services ever since. "Amazon's auto-part retail business is becoming too big to ignore," MoffettNathanson analyst Greg Melich said in a report last month. It has recently accelerated efforts to sell car tires, batteries and accessories. The company struck a partnership with Sears that allows customers to buy Sears tires from Amazon and get them shipped to Sears Auto Centers around the country for installation. Amazon expanded a tie-up with Pep Boys earlier this month for a similar service at 1,000 of Pep Boys' stores. Amazon also has an agreement with Monro Muffler Brake. "We're pleased with the customer response to our Ship-To-Store offering," Amazon's director of automotive Adam Goetsch told CNN Business. Amazon is adding more brands to its website and trying to get customers familiar with buying parts online. During the Black Friday and Cyber Monday stretch Amazon promoted car battery jump starters and wiper blades for the first time. They're 30% off until December 1. Goetsch said the most popular automotive products among Amazon customers this holiday season included jump starters, wiper blades, cleanings kits, and RV accessories. That makes sense because more DIY customers are shopping online for components and accessories that they don't immediately need to repair their cars. Amazon may want to sell more hard parts, like engines, crankshafts and flywheels. Online sales of components like brakes and fuel systems grew 29% in the past year, according to data from NPD Group and Rakuten Intelligence. "These categories have historically been challenging for the typical consumer to shop online for, but this task is getting easier," NPD analyst Nathan Shipley said in a report. But those hard parts sales remain in Advance's wheelhouse. Lightning-fast delivery
Advance may seem like an unlikely company to thrive in the digital era, but the old-school car shop has taken steps to prepare for Amazon's encroachment. Advance has close to 6,400 stores — some of them under banners like Carquest and Worldpac — and 54 distribution centers that put them close enough to its customers to make same-day or next-day delivery a snap. It has also built larger "hub" stores in higher-traffic markets that keep more items in stock. The company makes around 58% of its sales to technicians at garages, service stations and auto dealers, who often don't know what parts they'll need until the day begins. Rapid delivery is critical. Advance Auto Parts has bult out a rapid logistics network to meet customers' parts needs. "There's a huge need for inventory availability and quick delivery out there," said Seth Basham, who covers the industry at Wedbush Securities. Although Amazon is looking to find retail partners, it would need to acquire an auto parts seller with similar distribution capabilities to be able to match Advance's same-day network. "You're not going to use Whole Foods to deliver auto parts to a garage. A brick-and-mortar presence is critical here," O'Shea said. Auto parts experts
Advance offers expert solutions in a complex auto parts market, something Amazon can't provide. Staffers consult with customers to find the right products, and Advance offers training classes and posts on YouTube to help DIYers with repair jobs. Amazon is known for its variety, but Advance sells a wider range of national brands, private-labels, and original equipment from manufacturers. "The garage owners love this model," O'Shea said. "You need somebody that has deep knowledge and knows the parts catalog backwards and forwards." Adding to its advantage, Advance has close relationships with auto parts suppliers. Many manufacturers are wary of selling through Amazon because they worry that it would help the company learn the business and one day take it over. Analysts say carrying hundreds of thousands of different parts is ill-suited to a company without deep experience in the field. Amazon might have trouble stocking and selling bulky physical components and batteries — new engines, brakes, and exhausts — which are specific to a car's make and model. On the other hand, selling car parts and batteries make up 65% of Advance's total sales. But the company will need to keep adjusting its prices to keep up with Amazon's relentless focus on providing value. A MoffettNathanson analysis found that Amazon's prices were 29% lower than traditional competitors on 30 top-selling items. Advance risks losing its edge with such a wide pricing gap. A new Walmart deal
But Advance should get a lift from its newest partner: Walmart (WMT). Advance struck a deal last month with the world's largest retailer for a specialty store page on Walmart's website. It believes the tie-up will allow it to increase its visibility online and reach more DIYers. Advance may see selling through Walmart as safer ground than Amazon. "I don't know that Walmart wants to start manufacturing auto parts," O'Shea said. The Walmart partnership is key because it will bring Advance into Walmart's 2,500 auto care centers around the country. Leveraging Walmart's store footprint will help Advance expand same-day delivery as competition intensifies and Amazon finds ways to speed up parts delivery. "The biggest challenge Advance faces is still the online channel. That's the concern investors have out there," Basham said. "How quickly do solutions by online players develop to become more material threats?" Source: https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/29/business/advance-auto-parts-oreilly-autozone/index.html
Auto parts retailers have been spared from sharing the same fate as Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us and so many other companies rendered redundant by Amazon. About 80 percent of AutoZone's business comes from people repairing their own cars with the other 20 percent coming from professional mechanics. Amazon's gaining traction in stealing away some of the consumer market. Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images An employee, right, helps a customer change a license plate bulb outside an AutoZone store in Princeton, Illinois. Amazon has crushed many iconic American companies, but auto parts retailers like O'Reilly and AutoZone have managed to fend them off.
Stores that sell car batteries, mufflers and other parts are facing new pressure since Amazon started selling auto parts. Big retailers like Walmart have also jumped into the fray, in part, to compete against Amazon.
So far, auto parts retailers have been spared from sharing the same fate as Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us and so many other companies rendered redundant by Amazon.
For years, the $130 billion business selling aftermarket auto parts was one of the steadiest segments in retail, with mild cyclical fluctuations and slow trend of consolidation, MoffettNathanson analyst Greg Melich told CNBC. The segment even managed to make it through the recession reasonably well, as drivers repaired instead of upgrading their cars.
But pair of warm winters and a variety of other factors in 2016 and 2017 took a toll on the segment, just as Amazon and Walmart stepped up their efforts to grab market share. Now there is an oversupply of sellers in a market that has been experiencing slower demand, and may see slower growth in the next few years, Melich said.
"The battle of the titans between Walmart and Amazon is only just starting," Melich said. "The smart companies are doing what they should do, which is lean into the more service oriented part of the business on the commercial side."
Amazon pulls in about $6 billion in annual sales from "do-it-yourself" auto parts customers and is partnering with Sears to sell tires.
Walmart has also stepped up its game in the segment over the last three years, even at the expense of profit margins, Melich said.
In 2018, MoffettNathanson expects Amazon and Walmart to have a combined share of about 23 percent of the "do-it-yourself" market — with Amazon at about 8 percent and Walmart around 15 percent. Just 5 years ago, the two retailers had up to 17 percent of that market.
The more a retailer serves consumers, the tougher it will be for them to compete against Amazon.
About 80 percent of AutoZone's business comes from people repairing their own cars with the other 20 percent coming from professional mechanics. About 60 percent of O'Reilly's sales comes from the do-it-yourself consumer market with mechanics making up the rest.
The split is reversed at Advance Auto Parts with 40 percent of its revenue coming from consumers. Just 25 percent of the sales at Genuine Parts, which owns NAPA, comes from people popping their own hoods to fix that troublesome rattle.
"Amazon is obviously more of a risk to an AutoZone which does a majority of their business in DIY," Jordan said. He added that AutoZone is making a big push into serving commercial customers where there's more potential growth.
The increasing technical complexity of cars means it is ever more difficult for ordinary customers to service what they own.
That bodes well for sales of parts on the commercial side. More sophisticated parts cost more money. A halogen headlight for a 2005 Jeep Wrangler might cost $15, but a new headlamp on a luxury vehicle — the sort that can swivel to follow the shape of the road — might cost hundreds of dollars, Jordan said.
So far, Amazon has not been able to crack the code of the commercial auto parts business. Parts sellers need a mind-boggling degree of inventory — enough parts for the wide array of cars on the road, Jordan said.
It also does not yet have enough points of distribution around the country to replicate what auto parts stores do for commercial customers, and it might not be the best use of their resources right now to invest in that, Melich said.
Of course, he added, that could change in just a few years. Amazon didn't have a strong grocery distribution network, that is, until it bought Wholefoods Market.
Advance Auto Parts CEO Tom Greco on Tuesday said the company plans to bring in outside help to compete against e-commerce giant Amazon.
“So when you talk about Amazon particularly, we’ve had to recruit some people into the company who can really help us compete vigorously against formidable competitors like Amazon,” he told FOX Business’ Liz Claman on “Countdown to the Closing Bell.”
The company is trying to engineer a business turnaround by using its savings from the tax reform bill and is taking steps to step up its e-commerce program.
“We’re investing in e-commerce and our technology programs because we know that’s going to be important,” Greco said. “We certainly made big investments in customer service because the experience that our customers have both online and in the stores is critical and then in our people.”
According to Greco, one of the biggest focuses of the plan is to incentivize its employees.
“Overall, we have a plan that is going to invest significantly back in our employees,” he said. “We have front-line employees all over the country who are really important for us. We want the very best parts people in the business working for Advance.”
After President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%, companies began giving incentives to their workers including salary hikes to $1,000 bonuses.
As a part of the auto parts retailer’s turnaround strategy, the company introduced a stock ownership program that provides its top-performing employees with stock options.
“We actually introduced a stock ownership program for them for our top performers so that they can earn stock in the company,” he said. “We feel that is a really good retention move for us, and it has dropped our turnover significantly.”
The online market for after-market car parts, by some estimates expected to top $10 billion in the next few years, represents an interesting opportunity both for established retailers that could grab market share as consumers move online—and companies like Amazon, that will look to grab those same shoppers.
Investors have been sensitive to the threat Amazon presents for a while now. Early last year, when news broke that the company was targeting the market, sector stocks took a tumble. Is it useless to resist the oncoming behemoth?
Perhaps not. In a Friday report, Raymond James analysts reviewed some of the major players’ sites, comparing those of Advance Auto Parts, AutoZone, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Amazon and privately-owned RockAuto. By their measures, Advance holds up best.
ILLUSTRATION: RAYMOND JAMES “Advance’s and O’Reilly’s websites offer a slightly more attractive alternative to Amazon’s,” the analysts wrote, “particularly for DIY customers that are either 1) looking for useful browsing features, 2) seeking information on parts, or 3) wanting to buy online and pick up in store.”
More generally, investors seem to like the business. Earlier this month, Credit Suisse predicted improved sales in 2018 and a boost from tax reform. And on Friday, JPMorgan called it “one of the best sectors in retail,” adding Advance to its “Focus List” with a $138 price target on the shares, about 12% above current levels.
Activist investors targeting auto-parts retailers are taking hits to their investments, and Amazon isn’t helping.
When hedge fund Starboard Value LP disclosed a stake in Advance Auto Parts Inc. in 2015, it said the stock, then at $171, could more than double. The retailer’s shares have instead nearly halved since then, after warning weak sales will continue for an industry that’s also drawn interest from billionaire Carl Icahn. Advance Auto’s peers O’Reilly Automotive Inc. and AutoZone Inc. also have also plunged this year amid disappointing demand.
Perhaps the biggest bogeyman weighing on the shares is Amazon.com Inc., which sent shockwaves across the retail industry in June with its $13.7-billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc. The online juggernaut has also been making inroads with autos, launching a car-research site and a parts marketplace last year. While car-part distributors -- with their technical expertise, trove of components and ability to quickly deliver to mechanics -- are more insulated from e-commerce than other retailers, though they’re not invincible.
“We fear an increased level of price transparency -- these companies either more aggressively price or promote their products to drive the same level of sales growth,” Seth Basham, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said of the auto-parts retailers. “I don’t think it’s a primary driver of what’s been hurting same-store sales in the industry this year, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a bigger impact going forward.”
The more immediate challenges dragging on the industry include economic uncertainty for low-income customers, higher gas prices and warmer weather that has eased the wear and tear on consumers’ cars, Advance Auto Chief Executive Officer Tom Greco said Tuesday.
Starboard’s view is that Amazon is a mild headwind -- at most -- to the industry, a person familiar with its strategy said. The New York-based hedge fund is pleased with Advance Auto’s efforts to cut costs and bolster its online presence and sees earnings improving early next year, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.
Further encroachment by online rivals could pose a threat to industry profit margins that are in excess of 20 per cent -- part of what initially drew investors like Starboard and Icahn to the aftermarket parts business.
With the average age of vehicles on American roads approaching 12 years, investors also are betting an older vehicle fleet will mean more repairs and parts replacement. To capture that expected growth, Icahn has strung together several companies that deal in automotive parts, including service and retail chain Pep Boys, Auto Plus and parts supplier Federal-Mogul.
For now, e-commerce represents a sliver of the $277-billion aftermarket parts business, according to estimates from Wedbush and the Auto Care Association, an industry trade group. Online sales were about $11-billion last year, with EBay Inc.’s roughly 40-per-cent share being the largest, Wedbush estimates. Amazon had about a 25-per-cent share, though it’s growing at a rapid clip, Mr. Basham said.
Amazon launched the Amazon Automotive store in 2006 and has been expanding its inventory since then. It’s added a parts-finder filter that lets shoppers enter the make and model of their cars to find the correct parts.
“We’re continually expanding our selection and improving the customer experience with things like our Part Finder, Amazon Garage and, most recently, Amazon Vehicles,” a company spokeswoman said in an email.
Icahn Automotive, which owns Pep Boys and Auto Plus, and Starboard declined to comment. Spokespersons for O’Reilly, AutoZone and Advance Auto also declined to comment.
In trying to assess the potential threat from Amazon and other online parts sellers like RockAuto and EBay, analysts are honing in on retailers’ exposure to the consumer-facing “do-it-yourself” market, as opposed to the “do it for me” approach in which retailers sell to professional mechanics. The do-it-yourself market could be more vulnerable because consumers who aren’t in a hurry to buy a new wiper blade or spark plug may go online to find the cheapest price.
The do-it-yourself segment already is lagging, according to the Auto Care Association, which estimates sales will grow at a compound annual rate of 3.8 per cent in the five years ending in 2017, compared with a 4.4-per-cent increase for the do-it-for-me market.
The slower growth also is a reflection of cars getting increasing complex and loaded with technology, which contributes to more repairs necessitating technicians, said Behzad Rassuli, senior vice president of strategic development at the Auto Care Association. Some bumpers, for instance, now are built with embedded sensors that need to be properly calibrated.
“The opportunity for the consumer to repair their own vehicle has been dwindling,” Mr. Rassuli said.
Mr. Icahn said as much when speaking about his acquisition of Precision Auto Care Inc. in June, the latest addition to his chain of auto-repair shops. He’s also planning to take advantage of higher utilization of cars driven by the growth of ride-hailing businesses, he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview at the time.
Greg Henslee, O’Reilly’s CEO, has said the impact of companies like Amazon will be limited because they will struggle to sell component to consumers who don’t know what’s wrong with their car. Online retailers “will continue to take a little bit of market share here and there,” Mr. Henslee said on an earnings call in February. “I don’t see them nearly as one of our most prominent competitors.”
Even if their expertise diagnosing car troubles offers some protection, traditional parts retailers still are under pressure to improve their digital experience, especially since a buyer will often go online to ensure a part is in stock before picking it up at a store.
Advance Auto is investing heavily in technology to ensure a “consistent experience every time, both in-store and online,” Mr. Greco said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday. He told analysts consumers will have a “faster and more frictionless experience” online.
If you’re a parts retailer, “you’re definitely concerned,” Wedbush’s Basham said. “You’re thinking about ways to defend your turf and to capitalize on the way consumers are changing their behaviour.”