Auto parts players synch-up in Chicago

August 2, 2004


If your car breaks down, you expect your mechanic to have the parts to fix it pronto. That's top of mind for the folks who manufacture, distribute and install auto parts as they open their Aftermarket eForum at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare today.

Their objective: find better ways to use technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency in a market worth $248 billion according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, hosts of the event.

"The eForum is a good thing," says Tim Ford, president of Chicago's J.C. Whitney, which grew out of Warshawsky Co., founded in 1915 at State and Archer. Today, J.C. Whitney is the leading automotive aftermarket parts provider on the Internet, according to Ford, and the top auto parts Web site according to

Nearly 40 percent of Whitney's business is conducted over the Internet, though Ford says he still mails out tens of millions of paper catalogues.

"Until recently the automotive aftermarket was the last safe harbor for technology Luddites," says Jerry McCabe senior vice president at Dana Corp., a $9 billion player in the auto parts market, with facilities in Naperville and McHenry. "The big problem with auto parts is inventory."

McCabe will be one of the star speakers at the eForum. He will report on an experimental program that integrates auto-parts manufacturer systems with their distributors.

"We're trying to come up with an industry-wide way to do e-commerce," says Scott Luckett, vice president of technology standards for the association. "We want to get everyone on the same page in ordering parts."

The event will attract a who's-who of the automotive aftermarket including manufacturers like Federal-Mogul and Cardone Industries as well as parts distributors and service providers like AutoZone, Carquest, Napa Auto Parts and Pep Boys.

Why hold the e-Forum in Chicago? "The honest answer," quips Luckett, "great steaks."

ShopperTrak counting blobs

Digital video recorders make it easy to zip past commercials. That's causing advertisers to look for new venues. One solution: place advertising in shopping malls. The problem: counting the people viewing the ads.

Jan Davis, CEO of Chicago-based ShopperTrak, has the solution. Her company places video cameras in shopping malls, retail stores and casinos. The cameras use a smart chip and a sophisticated mathematical algorithm to zoom in on blobs of people. They give accurate headcounts without violating individual privacy.

"The camera's just look for blob size. No faces. There is total anonymity," says Davis.

Davis' team recently returned from the Worldwide Audience Measurement conference in Geneva, Switzerland. She says ShopperTrak's approach received a warm reception. "We have over 30,000 cameras installed worldwide," adds Davis, whose technology measures blobs in Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico and the Mideast.

Canadian bacon for Spyglass

Doug Colbeth sold Naperville-based Spyglass for $2.5 billion in 2000. He still lives here, but his latest tech venture, Webplan Inc., a software company serving the manufacturing industry, is located in Ottawa, Canada.

Why Ottawa? It's the incentives. Colbeth reports there's a 50 percent tax credit on product development salaries. Canada has supportive immigration policies, and its embassies host events to help him enter overseas markets. Ottawa hosts events for hi-tech companies to leverage experiences.

Finally, he says, the Canadian government provides hi-tech employees with a $750,000 tax exemption on the sale of hi-tech company stock.

Murray Hardie, trade commissioner in the Canadian Consulate here says, "Canada has the best R&D tax regime in the G7." He says Colbeth might have old data on the capital gains exemption, which is a mere $600,000.

Colbeth plans a Midwest sales office in Chicago.

Bits & Bytes

Gordon Reichard Jr., vice president of marketing for Aurora-based Westell Technologies, reports his company's modems will be used by the Associated Press for Athens Olympic coverage. ... Will Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's call for "investment in technology and innovation that will create the good-paying jobs of the future" spur Gov. Blagojevich to articulate a tech agenda in Illinois?... Morton Grove native and Maine East alum Alan Cohen is heading west as the new chief marketing officer for Napster.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners