Recently, I was asked by Valspar to speak to a group of their people. Not an unusual request for me, but the location was San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had never been there, so I jumped at the chance.
The day I spent in the Puerto Rican market was very eye-opening. The market is very different from ours here stateside. Of course, it is part of the U.S. and there are about 3.5 million people on the island. There are about 2 million cars. Cars never leave the island due to a duty that’s imposed on them when they enter, and one-third of the car parc is Toyota. The fleet is very aged, and there are only about 60,000 new vehicles sold each year – about half of what it used to be.
The automotive aftermarket is very intriguing. There are more than 400 independent jobbers as well as more than 100 of the U.S. Advance, Zone and Pep Boys locations. The DIY market is enormous, and everybody is a mechanic. The other interesting component of the market is that there is a very large bring-your-own-part-to-your-repairer market.
I had the pleasure of visiting two different independents. B & V Auto Parts was very progressive. Stringent inventory practices and a large area for display between the counter and the doors. They even have an area to resurface brake drums and rotors. It felt very U.S.-based parts supplier.
Our second stop was very different. It is located in two old houses, and they knocked out doorways on each floor. Expreso Auto Parts does an incredible Internet business. They have an entire room of people dedicated to constant social media and selling parts.
As different as these two were, there were similarities. Each carried a good-better-best product lineup, but the difference from the U.S. is that when you look at the shelves, there might be 15 different manufacturers within each segment. All parts are numbered with one person’s numbering system, but there is no brand consistency. I noticed one segment that had a particular brand’s numbering but not a single example of their product. This is driven by the extreme price sensitivity in the market.
While the PR market is an extension of all of us in the U.S., it is certainly different. The contrasts were stark. I really appreciated the glimpse into it for the day. I am not sure if it’s a look at the future or the past. Either way, it shows the flexibility and creativity of the aftermarket and a great reminder of our ability to adapt and keep the fleet rolling.