Interview with Maciej Oleksowicz – President of the Management Board of Inter Cars SA
Another year full of unexpected challenges is coming to an end. How did he deal with them and what are the plans for the future of one of the largest distributors of automotive parts in Europe, i.e. Inter Cars? We are talking to Maciej Oleksowicz, President of the Management Board of Inter Cars SA, who is also the Strategy Director of the Inter Cars Group.
How did the company cope with the consequences of the pandemic, and in particular with supply chain disruptions or other problems that were caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine?
Naturally, the problems with availability also affected Inter Cars and our entire industry. In some areas these problems continue to this day. At Inter Cars, we took the decision quite early to build up high stock levels. Crucial in responding efficiently to the problems was what our company has been associated with for years – a multi-brand strategy and partnership with premium suppliers. At Inter Cars, we are guided by the idea, of wide product range availability to meet the needs of every garage. In many product groups, we have availability of complementary products, i.e. for the same vehicle and of similar quality, but from different suppliers. If one supplier does not have products for a particular model, other suppliers have the availability. The garage can carry out a repair, but does not necessarily have to use parts from the preferred manufacturer. Additionally, premium suppliers generally have better availability than the Asian manufacturers used in many distributors’ private brands. I would like to emphasise that, although we did indeed have availability at Inter Cars during the pandemic that was well below our standards, it was still significantly better than most of our competitors.
Inter Cars SA runs business activities in the CEE countries. Significant investments have been made there – distribution centres with highly developed logistics. How do these investments change the existing business activities?
Inter Cars’ operations in Europe already generate more than 50% of sales. In each country where we are present, our aim is to build stable sales and logistics structures in order to provide the highest level of service to independent garages. Today’s independent garages market needs both, efficient and fast logistics and full availability. Trainings, access to technical knowledge, software and appropriate tools are also of great importance. Only by building stable structures we are able to be close to the customers and respond quickly to their needs. This is our philosophy. It often requires a lot of investment and time, but ultimately guarantees a very stable position for many years.
Inter Cars warehouses:
The most important link in the supply of parts to the market is the garage, so what does the average garage expect from the distributors? Or is there a particular difference in the way garages approach business in different markets?
The independent garage throughout Europe has similar needs. Due to the diverse vehicle fleet, the required range may vary, but the overall needs are very similar. The first priority is always the availability of parts and their efficient and timely delivery. Predictability and trust are also important. If we agree that a part will be delivered at a specific time, it must be delivered. This is followed by the market price and all added values, such as access to a top-class parts catalogue, technical advice, trainings and various marketing activities and promotions.
How should garages prepare for upcoming changes, such as the increasing reliance on access to technical data, the development of electromobility or the increasingly common ADAS systems in cars?
This is a major challenge for the entire market, which is why we are working together with organisations such as the Polish SDCM and the European CLEPA and FIGIEFA to promote legislation that guarantees access to all the data necessary for diagnosing and repairing a vehicle. On the garage side, resilience to change is provided by education, investment in people and the equipment necessary to service modern vehicles. The suppliers we work with offer the necessary garage equipment needed for ADAS calibration and diagnostics for the vast majority of cars and machinery. I have repeatedly encountered the opinion that independent garages are better prepared for ADAS calibration than Car Makers’ garages, where often the relevant equipment is rented and the garage waits several days for it.
Inter Cars mobile training center:
How bad was the war in Ukraine for the company? The Inter Cars warehouse in Kiev was destroyed, along with its stock. How did the company react to this news?
The war, which is still ongoing, is first and foremost a tragedy for the people and involves a humanitarian crisis. In the face of the nightmare of the citizens that we know about, business problems are practically no issues. At Inter Cars, we have taken the decision to separate the two matters. Help and assistance to those affected is handled by the Inter Cars Foundation, which engages employees of our company, while managers are responsible for maintaining the business.
The beginning of the war was a general feeling of powerlessness, probably it was the first time I felt in such a way from the business point of view. We have ceded most of the decision-making to the local team, because they knew best on the ground what the possibilities, constraints and needs were and are. The destruction of the warehouse is of course a significant financial loss, but also a hindrance to logistics, which today operates in a temporary, not to say ‘guerrilla’ way. Our 3 largest branches have been temporarily adapted to receive deliveries from suppliers and to store more goods.
We have already accepted the loss and are looking optimistically into the future. We know that the whole of Ukraine will need efficient parts distributors and strong garages in the near future. It is through them that all the logistics, all the services and the society are kept running. We want to be part of the rebuilding of this country after the end of the war and the victory of Ukraine.
Collection for the victims of the war in Ukraine:
Inter Cars is known for its innovation, including initiatives aimed at mechanics, making their life easier. What plans does the company have for growth in this area?
I personally like innovation and in the coming year a lot of effort and conversations will be dedicated exactly to innovation and digitalisation. From small useful functionalities such as, the possibility to use your phone’s camera to read a vehicle’s VIN (from anywhere), which will make it easier to find the right parts in our new Inter Cars e-Catalog, to developing a search engine for automotive services and garages on the Internet. We are a partner for garages, offering everything they need in one place. In order to achieve this, we have launched the Inter Cars Marketplace platform, which develops our portfolio indirectly – connecting car mechanics and all companies and businesses interested in cooperating with them.
We want to move forward all the time and improve the quality of service. This has been proven by the award for the already mentioned Inter Cars e-Catalog, Innovators 2022, which was granted to us by the Wprost weekly magazine. We want to develop the automotive industry and give car mechanics space for growth. Without innovative and modern tools, this will not be possible.
Inter Cars training center in Czosnów:
I would also like to emphasise that we will soon improve even further the possibilities of contacting Inter Cars – we are implementing a new Contact Centre system and numerous organisational changes. We want everyone to be able to contact us, without waiting, through various methods of communication (telephone, chat, video, etc.).
In order to achieve synergy with a garage, you have to listen to its needs and know its current expectations. We have been close to garages for years and will maintain this relationship. The next solutions we will offer our customers will be a response and support for them according to our current guiding principle, which our organisation adheres to: Together we create, support and deliver.