New Zealanders love cars. The nation has always had one of the world’s highest car ownership ratios, even dating as far back as the 1920s. In 2017, there were 792 light vehicles registered in New Zealand for every 1,000 people, including children, which represents a 23% increase over the past decade.
While New Zealanders are more reliant on cars than ever before, the country also has an extremely wide variety of vehicles. Jonathon Maddren, Executive General Manager of GPC New Zealand, points out that this presents both challenges and opportunities for the automotive aftermarket parts industry.
“In terms of makes, models and variants, New Zealand has one of the greatest breadth of vehicles on the road. If you look globally at the number of vehicles appearing on the road in any country, there’s more and more variety, so it’s an industry that’s changing,” he notes.
“There has been a lot of market consolidation occurring and GPC New Zealand has been actively involved in that. We continue to lead the pack in that space so that we can meet the future needs of our customer base, because their needs are becoming more complex. Once upon a time, you may have needed 20 belts on the shelf, but now you need 200. The variety of vehicles is increasing exponentially and whoever masters that change best will succeed in the market.”
GPC New Zealand is part of GPC Asia Pacific, the largest automotive aftermarket parts supplier in Australia and New Zealand. GPC New Zealand owns Repco, Appco Auto Parts, Automotive Supplies NZ, Motospecs, Ashdown-Ingram, Sulco Tools & Equipment and ADL Autoparts. The company has 115 outlets throughout New Zealand, servicing both trade and retail customers.
"If you look globally at the number of vehicles appearing on the road … there’s more and more variety, so it’s an industry that’s changing."
Jonathon joined GPC New Zealand in 2009 and became Executive General Manager nearly three years ago. He believes the company has come a long way in that time and that GPC’s acquisition of the business in 2013 was an important milestone. “We’ve been able to take the learnings from the global leader in our industry and use that to really lift the performance of the business.”
Although the transformation has involved improving GPC New Zealand’s systems and product offering, Jonathon insists it’s the people who set the company apart from its competitors. “We have a great team and they genuinely care about getting it right for our customers, and that’s what’s important to our customers. It’s quite a complex industry, so being able to build good relationships and customer trust is really important,” he says.
“A lot of companies look for a magic bullet to help them grow, but as we looked at our business, we had the people but we just needed to work with them and give them the ammunition and tools to succeed. We knew our team had the right passion and engagement, so we’ve worked on harnessing that potential.”
GPC New Zealand has also focused on bringing some fun back into the business, as well as ensuring customers have a great experience every time they interact with the team. “Automotive is quite a fun industry because you’re helping people get their car running better or looking better, so it’s something people get enjoyment from,” Jonathon notes.
“We also refer to the way we greet our customers as ‘Repco mihi’, which is a Maori name that means to give a warm and welcoming greeting every time we see or hear from a customer. We think that’s helped to bring the business to life in a more humanistic way.”
In addition to building strong relationships with customers, the company also works closely with its suppliers. Jonathon believes this is one of the strengths that sets GPC New Zealand apart from its competitors. “We refer to both our customers and suppliers as partners,” he says.
“We have a great team and they genuinely care about getting it right for our customer, and that’s what’s important.”
“Recently, we had a leadership development course for some of our future leaders and we asked one of our key customers to come and present. He said something that really struck a chord with the team, which was that we should treat those partnerships like a marriage. We need to invest time and energy into the relationship, listen and seek to understand, and not forget that sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. So we’ve used that as a springboard for how to really get to know our customers and suppliers equally well, and how we can work together to build a strong, market-leading offer.”
Given that GPC New Zealand has 115 outlets around the country, as well as a strong online offering, the company is able to offer its supply partners unparalleled access to the market. “Our competitors typically have around half that number of stores,” Jonathon says.
“If we work cleverly together with our supply partners, we can cost-effectively get products in front of the customer better than anyone else. That’s certainly something we need to do in partnership together.”
As part of GPC New Zealand’s mission to deliver a market-leading offer, the company plans to unify its six trade and specialist businesses under the NAPA Auto Parts brand. One of the world’s most iconic automotive brands, NAPA Auto Parts is parent company GPC’s automotive brand in North America.
“When we talked to both customers and staff locally, it was absolutely unanimous that NAPA Auto Parts would be the preferred brand name to use,” Jonathon says of the change, which will be rolled out in the next two to three years. “NAPA Auto Parts is a real powerhouse in motorsport sponsorship, so it’s very well known to our client base. It will give us a market-leading range of products, as well as expertise within those branches that will be unparalleled.”
The NAPA Auto Parts business will service the trade workshop, mining, industrial and commercial markets across Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, Repco will continue to operate its proven dual trade and retail store format.
“NAPA Auto Parts will support Repco as well, because a lot of the products and expertise will be available to the Repco network and will help grow that business at the same time,” Jonathon says.
"We really like people to stay on in the organisation and have a career for life."
It’s obviously an exciting time for the business and Jonathon is positive it’s only going to get better. “We have a bright future,” he smiles. “It’s a real people game and, with a refreshed focus on the customer and a reinvigoration of Repco and the creation of a market leading NAPA Auto Parts business, GPC New Zealand is in really good shape. It’s an exciting place to be for good people to build a career around.”
There’s a big focus on career progression at GPC New Zealand. In fact, Jonathon reveals some of the management team started out in part-time roles. “We really like people to stay on in the organisation and have a career for life,” he adds. “We like promoting people through the organisation and helping to develop them, so we want to employ people who see that opportunity and want to be a part of something truly special going forward.”
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