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Major suppliers braced for Omicron

The two major auto aftermarket parts distribution networks reckon they’re ready to surf the Omicron wave, which is expected to wash through New Zealand over the coming weeks.

Both Repco and Bapcor have invested heavily in building up their stocks and organising their delivery systems to ensure disruption is kept to a minimum should large numbers of people be forced into isolation during this next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

GPC Asia Pacific New Zealand head Jonathon Maddren said the Repco and NAPA Autoparts branches around the country have access to record levels of stock, built up over the past year. He is not anticipating massive disruption to workshop orders.

“Unlike supermarkets, our products have a stable shelf life and don’t always need replenishing daily.

“The New Zealand trade doesn’t need to stockpile or be unduly concerned. We have a long-term pipeline of supply and GPC are committed and confident that they can minimise the threat of interrupted supply. We are more committed than ever to supporting the New Zealand automotive industry with more stock, available faster in 2022 and beyond,” says Jonathon.

The national network of over 100 branches provides plenty of backup should large numbers of staff become ill. The company also has a range of plans in place to deal with disruptions among the couriers and freight companies, he adds.

Learning from Oz

Bapcor NZ head Martin Storey says the Australian divisions of the company have experienced significant disruption caused by the sheer numbers of staff forced to stay home in isolation. “They weren’t all sick, but many were close contacts, or were looking after family members.” He says on one very large distribution site, 70 percent of the team were off work at the same time.

Bapcor owns the BNT Group (incorporating BNT, Autolign and Truck and Trailer Parts) and Martin says a lot of thought has gone into preparing for the next few months. Extra stock is being held in the country, the Auckland trade distribution centre has been split into two shifts, and additional inventory has been sent out to the larger branch sites. Freight and courier operations are being closely monitored and tweaked as the situation changes.

He is expecting some disruption as freight drivers and others in the supply chain become ill. “But this will be somewhat offset by all the preparation, and there will also be many customers who will be sick or in isolation – which you would think will impact on the demand for servicing and repairs.”

Managing staff shortages

Martin Storey, like many employers, is expecting the rising inflation, possibly as much as six percent this year, to impact on wages and product prices.

“There is such a labour shortage that people have a lot more power to negotiate for starting salaries or pay increases. I expect companies will be identifying their most critical people and putting cotton wool around them to keep them in place.”

He is concerned that as the world opens up, fully vaccinated Kiwis are starting to leave on their delayed OEs or heading to Australia for work. When the borders fully open, Martin expects this trickle of departures to become a flood, but it won’t be matched by an incoming deluge of overseas workers.

“Government is not listening to industries and their concerns about the restrictions on work visas and immigration – so things are just going to get worse.”

He says he knows of a substantial strawberry grower who planted just half his usual crop this year because he knew he wouldn’t get pickers.

“Among our 570 staff, I have 40 vacancies. Normally we’d have around 10 or 12.” BNT has two new branches opening in Cromwell and east Auckland this year. He is expecting to find it difficult, and expensive, to find team members for the Auckland site; Cromwell less so.

Responding creatively

Automotive equipment and training supplier AECS is just one of many in the industry struggling to keep and find staff. Owner and director Herbert Leijen recently sent out an email to his clients around the country asking for patience while he tries to build up his staff members to meet the growing demand for his services.

In the meantime, he’s a bit short-handed and wants his customers to know there may be delays in responding to requests for diagnostic help, equipment deliveries and training spots.

“I am offering staff more flexibility, and have bent over backwards to make the working conditions as good as I can, but it’s not been enough,” he says.

Herbert is offering more training online and is promoting diagnostic tools as one way for workshops to increase their efficiency – taking less time to resolve and repair many jobs.

He believes employers will need to get creative to make themselves attractive to new recruits.

“I think part of the problem is that the lockdowns have made some people want to spend less time at work and get more work-life balance.”