By Michael Willins
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- When the Panama Canal was constructed roughly 100 years ago, it paved the way for the Latin American country to become a commercial hub by connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This year’s Latin Auto Parts Expo served a similar function last month – serving as a focal point for auto parts trade in the region by offering buyers and exhibitors an opportunity to connect at the inaugural event.
Held July 9-11 in Panama City, the convention is organised by Latin Expo Group LLC, headquartered in Miami with an office in Panama. The show attracted nearly 200 exhibitors and buyers from throughout the region, including Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, the Caribbean Islands and elsewhere.
The Auto Care Association, formerly the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), served as a partner for the event attracting its US-company members to an Auto Care Pavilion at the Expo.
“This is the gateway to all of Latin America,” said Andres Castrillon, director of International Trade, for the Auto Care Association. “This is a great place to do business through. We wanted to support a show where our members could come and talk to buyers throughout the region.”
Castrillon said the show is a prime example of what the association is doing to help identify markets and potential markets for its US members who want to expand internationally.
“To do that effectively we really need to have an international footprint,” he said. “It’s tough to get partners and potential partners excited about our members if they haven’t heard of the association.”
Castrillon said the Auto Care Association’s executive committee identified Latin America as one of two areas of the world that they wanted to focus on. China would be the other.
“As more and more people are driving cars there, and China feels the global growth, our members want to know what role we can play in building up the Chinese aftermarket,” he said. “(Members) really want market intelligence. If you want to develop an export plan you have to know which markets to target, what the vehicle footprint looks like. If your parts don’t fit the vehicles in a particular market, that’s not a good export market for you.”
Roughly 50 members of the Auto Care Association took part in the Latin Auto Parts Expo to try to reach buyers in this emerging parts market.
Ernesto Sastre, director of business development/Latin America for WorldPac, considered the show an opportunity to build relationships and expand in Latin America and the Caribbean. In particular he sees opportunities for growth among mom-and-pop distributors, which are few and far between in the US.
“In the States it’s been lost for years now, but in Latin America there are a lot of family-owned jobber stores that are really big that we could do a lot of good business with,” says Sastre.
Daniel Moroles, sales and market development manager with the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance, echoed this sentiment. He said mom-and-pop locations in Latin America are more common, and many of them are unfamiliar with the program group concept as a business strategy.
Moroles and Kristel Perry, marketing services coordinator for the Alliance, conducted a seminar during the event to help educate distributors about the benefits of program groups. Alliance president and CEO John Washbish also spoke to the crowd, highlighting independent ownership and family connections that are part of the spirit of program groups.
“It’s a really new concept in this area, as it was in Mexico a few years back,” Moroles said, adding that his group presently has 12 members in Mexico. “It’s gaining a lot of momentum in Mexico and we expect the same thing to happen here.”
Latin America has not yet seen a lot of large chain stores, but Moroles expects that to change, just as it did in Mexico a decade or so ago.
Grissel De La Espriella, regional sales manager for Latin America and the Caribbean for A/C parts supplier OMEGA Environmental Technologies, considered the show a success in its first year.
“We’ve been quite surprised how many prospects we’ve had. In the first two days we were busy throughout the day. We have at least 50 prospects we’ll be taking home to follow up on,” she said.
Based in Irving, Texas, OMEGA produces compressors, evaporators, and condensers, among other items that drew a lot of interest at the show from buyers in Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador and Guatemala.
“It’s been good seeing existing customers again, and putting a face to customers we’ve been dealing with in email or by phone,” said De La Espriella.