In the interview: Guido Berkefeld and Kristin Steinhorst from AIC Germany.
AIC offers a comprehensive range of automotive spare parts that are in line with the value of the vehicle. In this way, the company ensures that even vehicles for which repair with original parts would often not make sense for cost reasons remain operational. Jürgen Liebisch founded the company more than forty years ago, in 1975, and today it has grown from a small business with two employees into a medium-sized company with worldwide operations. Since 2004, automotive parts have been sold under the company’s own label, AIC. The product range is constantly being expanded. The company now stocks more than 12,500 articles in over 100 product groups.
We met Guido Berkefeld, Managing Director of Jürgen Liebisch GmbH, and Kristin Steinhorst, Head of Sales, in the company’s state-of-the-art European high-bay warehouse in Glinde on the outskirts of Hamburg.
Guido Berkefeld: AIC literally means “Automotive Industrial Components”. We stand for innovation, quality and, of course, tradition. We have developed into a dynamic problem solver. We try to understand the problems of our customers and offer tailored products and services for the IAM.
TecAlliance: What is AIC Germany’s vision?
Kristin Steinhorst: First and foremost, we are there to solve the customers’ problems and to take a market-oriented approach. This means that our primary aim is not to put our AIC brand in the foreground, but to offer market-driven and customer-oriented solutions. That is the vision we have. We do this with the most efficient logistics possible.
TecAlliance: What does AIC Germany produce, i.e. which products are in your portfolio?
Kristin Steinhorst: We now have over 12,500 products and over 100 product groups in our range. These are primarily articles that achieve a very high demand in the market and in workshops. Many products come into our range because the customer wants them. It is an alternative that is in line with the times. This means that when the warranty on original vehicle parts has expired, we come into play and try to provide an attractive solution for the end user.
TecAlliance: AIC Germany is showing a steep growth rate. What are the milestones you’ ve been able to record in your history so far?
Guido Berkefeld: The company Jürgen Liebisch GmbH or the AIC brand has now been around for over 45 years. We started with two employees and ended up with almost 60 employees in Hamburg with three warehouses at the administrative site. The location has become too small. In 2015, we were able to build a new building here in Glinde with all the possibilities that come with a new building and that was a very important milestone for us. After that, we could really take off with our own brand. In 2019, we also further expanded our logistics centre to offer our customers even better service. That alone shows how strong the growth is. In the meantime, we also implemented an automated warehouse in 2019. We completely overhauled our merchandise management system in 2018. Anyone who has anything to do with merchandise management knows exactly how much work goes into renewing the system. We are proud of it today because it is the basis for digitalisation. It brings us a lot of efficiency and a bit of the future. We became an ATR member in 2019 and are now also a member of TecDoc. In 2020, we have added new distribution partners to our product portfolio and will take care of the OE parts portfolio.
TecAlliance: Speaking of the future. Where do you see AIC Germany in the next five years?
Guido Berkefeld: Well, I see AIC very close to the customers. That is our driving force. We will continue to try to be a dynamic problem solver. We will keep responding to all the needs of our customers. That means we will be able to deliver everything to customers from a truck shipment to a postal parcel. We want to put this in context by saying: “We have our own brand “AIC”. But we are equally capable of producing your own brands”.
In the same way, we envision forming an “aftermarket umbrella” with other partners, bringing other brands such as Iwis or Dunlop into the equation to deliver a complete package to our customers. If we can do all this as a team, then we will certainly be in a very good position in the next 5 years.
Kristin Steinhorst: To react to the consolidations in the aftermarket, we are currently revising the product groups. We have acquired the PMA tool from TecAlliance and during this we are of course also trying to bring the product groups that we have into broad market coverage and to cover them country-specifically. This will give us a broad and future-oriented position for the international aftermarket in the coming years.
TecAlliance: How important is the topic of “globalisation” for AIC Germany, or what priority does it have for the company?
Guido Berkefeld: It is a high priority for us because we of course see our growth opportunities abroad. You can’t close your mind to these topics. On the contrary, we see great opportunities in global change processes. We accompany this and try to adapt to the new circumstances and situations. We believe that we are very successful in shaping this process.
TecAlliance: Which growth markets are particularly important for you?
Guido Berkefeld: First and foremost, Central Europe is important for us. We will also try to prove ourselves in Eastern Europe, as well as on the North American continent and perhaps one day in Asia.
TecAlliance: Is a local presence in the markets important for you or do you simply operate here from Glinde?
Guido Berkefeld: Currently our strategy is to operate out of Glinde. We don’t plan to work with branches and in a decentralised way, because we want to have a certain flexibility. But of course, we have strong customers and strong local partners who can then take over these tasks.
TecAlliance: That means that TecAlliance’s presence in the individual growth markets is already a great advantage for you?
Guido Berkefeld: It’s a great help for us because it gives us a certain level of awareness and one or two pieces of information that we can then pick up and use accordingly.
TecAlliance: How do you obtain information about market conditions?
Kristin Steinhorst: To be honest, we don’t make cold calls, but in most cases new customers come to us through recommendations. Often, we don’t have to become active, but the enquiries come in automatically. This is a very comfortable situation we find ourselves in. This makes it possible for us to move freely in the market. So, information and customer needs are brought to us.
TecAlliance: When we think of the export business, to what extent has TecAlliance helped you to expand it?
Kristin Steinhorst: Feeding our data into the TecDoc Catalogue was a very important step for us in sales. This allows us to cover a much broader audience. Many of our existing customers are also TecAlliance customers and could not explicitly access our previous data. They had problems with the data feed or difficulties accessing our data. Accordingly, the inclusion in the TecDoc catalogue has brought us a lot in terms of export business. We have received many new enquiries because the brand is simply more present in the new markets. That was an absolute win-win situation for us.
TecAlliance: We talked about the very comfortable situation of AIC Germany – which also speaks for the quality of the company and the products – and that is that customers become aware of you by word of mouth and basically approach you on their own. What would you say distinguishes your sales? What is special about it?
Kristin Steinhorst: Well, I think, on the one hand, it is a high degree of continuity that we display and many of our sales staff have been present with the customers for many years. That means we don’t have changing contact persons. As a result, our customers have great confidence in our sales staff. They know exactly that what is said has weight in the discussions and does not have to be clarified through long decision-making processes. We also guarantee a high level of availability. So, there is always someone available in our house. If someone is on holiday, another colleague is always involved in the issue and can answer questions accordingly. We act in a customer-oriented way. That means we react to every requirement the customer has and try to find the appropriate solutions.
TecAlliance: AIC Germany operates in different markets. We just talked about Europe, we talked about growth markets. How would you say this distribution differs in Germany, Europe, or RoW?
Kristin Steinhorst: Every market is different. The whole European and German market is already very different. We also have north and south differences – so the markets are already very different within Germany. Accordingly, the requirements in the rest of Europe and the rest of the world are also very specific. In Germany, for example, we have a very quality-conscious market. Price may not always play the first role there. In Eastern Europe, the focus is not necessarily on the brand, but on the actual product and the price.
TecAlliance: We at TecAlliance have observed that customer demand in the aftermarket is moving very strongly towards diversification in terms of product portfolio. How do you feel about this, do you notice this requirement or this pressure for diversification in the product portfolio?
Guido Berkefeld: Well, of course we notice the pressure for diversification considerably. We are also trying to adapt to it. We also had the topic of the trade market in mind. The stronger the urge for these specialities and niche products in the portfolio and the more diversification we have in our programme, the higher the vehicle coverage we can offer, the more comprehensively we can serve the needs of wholesalers and customers. In this respect, there is considerable pressure on us, but we are happy to meet it. We have made all resources available in the company and try to include everything that is feasible in our product concept. And that even goes so far as to follow the product cycle of the actual product. Not only from the point at which the independent aftermarket intervenes – that is, from year four or five after production or when the warranty expires – but that we try to intervene with the original products in advance. In this way, we make products available to the independent trade that they would not normally get.
TecAlliance: How do you estimate this development in the next five years?
Guido Berkefeld: It’s a trend that will certainly continue to grow and I also claim that it will become faster and faster. So, it’s also a race to some extent, and yes, we’re in it! We are trying to pass this race, which is currently still an endurance race, in a reasonable manner and we are confident that with our good team we will successfully master it – even in five years.
TecAlliance: That means your product portfolio is already very broad?
Guido Berkefeld: Yes. But we still have enough room for development and many new possibilities. I don’t think we’ll be at 10,000 articles in five years, but I could imagine that it will be many times that. We can certainly position ourselves much more broadly there and thus offer our customers considerably more in terms of service.
TecAlliance: How do you reflect the demand for a diversified product portfolio in your portfolio?
Kristin Steinhorst: On the one hand, we have acquired the PMA from TecAlliance. For another, a high delivery rate and availability are of course everything today. In times of increased container costs and long delivery times, we simply keep high stocks here. And we also have dynamic purchasing. This means that we react flexibly to requirements. We also have good product management. Our team is always on top of current issues. E-mobility will of course keep us all busy in some way over the next few years. What’s also special for us is that we don’t have any dummy articles in our programme. The articles that we feed into the TecDoc Catalogue are available in our programme and are also physically visible here in the stocks. I think that offers an enormous advantage.
TecAlliance: We have already mentioned the PMA several times. If you look at the time before the introduction of PMA at AIC Germany and afterwards, what has changed?
Kristin Steinhorst: Things have changed in that our processes are much more market specific. So, the fact that we can of course react directly to the current vehicle stocks in the respective markets is an enormous time-saver. It is no longer a manual search, but we can generate reports automatically and the time saved is simply enormous.
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