Understanding the DIY Mechanic: Why Peering Into America’s Garages Matters to Advance Auto Parts

Macro-trends stemming from societal or technological shifts are important, but those arising from large economic swings can be even more pressing. As it goes, the collapse of the economy in 2009 brought about new opportunity in the DIY auto repair market. Not only did this seesaw effect give rise to a growing market, the addition of online sources and chat rooms made it easier for so-called “at-home mechanics” to grease the skids for their more-reluctant online counterparts.

While secondary data on the aftermarket consumer is fairly easy to find, the stuff that compels a loyal customer to remain loyal, and a new DIYer to select one retailer over another, can’t be found in percentages alone. Understanding who your customers are—and how their spending and behavior change over time—is a necessary measure.

According to Magnus Wahlstrom, Manager, Customer Research at Advance Auto Parts, “In a perfect world, segmentation research is highly effective, but the past decade has not been perfect. Consumers are constantly balancing knowledge and prudence, and retailers have to find themselves in that continuum.”

With over 5000 stores across the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Advance Auto Parts keeps the wheels turning for hundreds of thousands of drivers in North America. Yet, research over a six-year period showed that the makeup of its DIY customer was changing—particularly within the segment Advance’s outreach efforts was most concentrated. With migration in and out of the category, Advance needed to determine if its strategic foundation was in reality a moving target.

Beyond establishing a multi-year i°Community to engage with hundreds of automotive DIYers more personally, results from a milestone study conducted with 5,000 DIYers enabled Advance to merge self-reported behavior with relevant and timely enterprise data. Combining the results with actual purchase and repair history painted a more accurate picture of its target customer, allowing the company to recalibrate its 80/20 strategy.

Moving forward, Advance will continue to immerse internal stakeholders in its quest to understand the impact of external factors on its customers, while feeding its intelligence with incremental research on specific vehicle and repair types, shop spaces, and the DIY mindset. This newfound agility will help them navigate market twist and turns, while fueling their strategy for the road ahead.