O’Reilly Auto Parts is a huge national retailer and wholesaler in the $120 billion automotive aftermarket. The other player in this story, Affinia, is a $1.8 billion company that supplies customers like O’Reilly with filters, and brake components.
Both companies are involved in the demanding filtration business. In this market, end customers demand filters for everything from passenger vehicles to heavy duty trucks, to special vehicles and stationary applications. Filling every conceivable order would require several thousand SKUs, but no vendor like O’Reilly could carry more than the most popular 1,500 or so. “We don’t carry that” became a common response to potential customers.
Occasionally, an enterprising O’Reilly employee could call to ask if Affinia makes a certain part and order it. Eventually, we realized that by linking the Wix Filter systems with O’Reilly’s, we could offer O’Reilly’s customers easy access to any filter that we make. Working with my counterpart at O’Reilly, I helped start a campaign to share information between the two companies.
In the beginning, we faced enormous resistance to the idea of sharing information, because it just wasn’t done that way in the industry. No one wanted a customer or supplier to see their level and location of inventories. But we persisted because we could see the value of linking our information systems.
Even after the two companies’ leadership teams agreed to take a chance on more openness, the effort to link systems was very challenging. In the beginning, the errors came crashing down and it was a tedious process to fix them. Affinia and O’Reilly had no common language – their systems called vehicle models, parts, etc, by different names. But, we knew that this work was a big deal and pushed through the tough initial period, manually creating ways to link information together in a manner that had never existed before.
The outcome was beneficial to Affinia and O’Reilly. It is very tough to put a dollar value on the increased sales of either party or the cost savings by both, but all are substantial. Our efforts eliminated a number of redundant activities, resulting in significant savings. The real demonstration of the significance of this development is the ongoing expansion of initiatives to share more and more information.
Today, there is a tremendous amount of business done on the internet that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Now, O’Reilly can look into Affinia’s system, see if a part is in stock in enough volume to fill their order, order it, and have it drop-shipped to an O’Reilly store or even the home of a mechanic. The only people that need to get involved are at the ends of the transaction.
Affinia and O’Reilly were able to trust each other and begin to work as partners. This was a striking move away from the trend in the industry. We both benefitted by being first; everyone else is struggling to catch up. The gain to us was significant, even though we were very open about what we were doing.
What was really important was the change in the level of trust in the industry as a whole – it started with a handful of people seeing a small hole in a wall that they were able to chisel through to look at the other side. This experience shows how far things can go if two companies really work together.
-Jerry McCabe, J&B Service (Formerly of Affinia)
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