Aftermarket magazine’s anniversary

Published:  14 September, 2017

It’s 25 years since Aftermarket was first published. Here we look back at the history of the magazine, and the sector

The automotive sector has changed a great deal since Aftermarket started in 1992. Most of the vehicles that would have been coming through the doors of the average garage 25 years ago are long gone, and some of the companies that made those cars have also gone too.

In 1992, the Rover Metro was still very much in production. Due to the legislative environment of the time, most of the Metros being seen in the aftermarket would have still been under the Austin marque. Rover finally went under in 2005, and the Metro has gone from being one of the most common cars on the road to being a rarer sight than a Morris Minor. Other cars and brands have come and gone during the period All these changes had an impact on the aftermarket as specialists in particular brands would need to re-focus their businesses to reflect the new reality.

Most of the other mainstream manufacturers of the time are still with us. Many of the vehicle names from brands like Nissan and VW still around too, like the Micra, Golf and Polo. The actual cars are quite different though.


Diesel decades
Over the years the magazine covered the changing face of the car parc, and the shift in the innards too. In 1992, diesel cars were still relatively unusual in the UK, but within a decade they had become as popular as petrol engine vehicles. Aftermarket tracked the rise of diesel, and helped readers get to grips with the technology. Many technical articles over the years were dedicated to explaining how to understand and fix problems in diesel engine vehicles. Over the last few years the magazine has been tracking its travails too following Dieselgate. Today we cover the ever-increasing complexity of diesel engine vehicles as much as we look at what might ultimately replace them.


Part of the process
Then there’s the advance of vehicle electronics. This was a growing area in the early 1990s, and it’s a growing area now. The progress from single ECUs on the more advanced vehicles to the situation today where even the most basic cars are fully equipped with a host of systems has been dizzying. The magazine has been on hand to provide advice and expert opinion from a range of sources.

The make up of parts has changed too, mostly for the better.  Until 1999, asbestos was commonly used as friction material in clutches, automatic transmission and brake linings, and gaskets. The use of asbestos in these parts was banned from 1999. There was an exception for pre-1973 vehicles, which allowed these vehicles to continue to be fitted with brake shoes containing asbestos right up until 2004.


BER
Of course, probably the biggest change came through the 2002 Block Exemption Regulation (BER) that allowed independents to work on new cars without invalidating the warranty. This came into force in October 2003. Aftermarket was fully behind the campaign to get this change made for the benefit of consumers and the industry alike. Once in law, the magazine continued to back efforts by the industry to make sure businesses and motorists were able to exercise their rights freely. The Right to Repair campaign and similar activities received strong support from the magazine through the 00s and beyond as a result.

These are just a few of the broad trends. Every year would have seen a thousand stories told about the sector. Aftermarket was the messenger bringing them to the readers.


The founder of the feast
Aftermarket was founded by Bob Sockl in 1992. Let’s examine how it all began...

Sometimes a decision can be made by someone else that affects you in an extraordinary way. Losing your job can be a springboard to do something wonderful with your life. Of course it doesn't feel like that at the time, but why let that get in the way of a good story? After all, Aftermarket magazine owes its existence to a redundancy. Bob had worked his way up the media ladder over the years. By the early 1990s  he was in a senior role at publishing company Morgan Grampian. As publishing director on a number of titles covering the automotive sector, he had what appeared to be a good seat at the metaphorical table. Big job, big company, and hopefully big money. Sounds great doesn't it? Sadly nothing lasts forever, and with the UK economy tanking as the 1990s began, no one was immune from the threat of redundancy.

Some readers may shudder when they remember the recession Britain experienced at the start of that decade. Many people found themselves suddenly out of work in what was a bleak and at times particularly nasty economic period. Sadly publishing directors were no exception: "I got made redundant from Morgan Grampian where I had been in charge of Transport Week and Auto Trade."


New title
Bob, not being the sort to take things lying down, dusted himself off and examined his options: "I looked at the situation, and knowing the people I knew from my time at Morgan Grampian I thought I could put together a team, and start a new title.

"We quickly put together an aftermarket-knowledgeable team, and we created a replacement for the old Auto Trade magazine, where I had been publishing director. We created the new magazine. When it was first launched in 1992, it was called Garage and Bodyshop Products (GBP). That name lasted about 18 months, and then we decided to change it to Aftermarket. While the name did shift, the concept was solid: "The magazine was very quickly established in the market with the highest audited circulation of all the sector publications, over 30,000 copies a month."


Great relationships
While a few things changed, many of the elements that made Aftermarket a success were there from the beginning: "We had a lot of support from top aftermarket suppliers, people like Luk/Schaeffler, people like Ferodo and Mintex on the braking side, We had a great relationship with NGK which still goes on between the company and the magazine.

The team behind the title was vital to the success of Aftermarket over the years: "We had a very good team that worked well together. We were respected for the knowledge we had of the market we were serving. Over the years, there was an average of 11 people on the title. On the editorial side there was generally four permanent staff, and some contributors as there are now.
Sales wise we had three people, then accounts and yours truly who stuck his nose into every division there was.

"We were able to act as a sounding board for what people wanted to do, as the market changed we changed with it. I think the strength of any publication is its knowledge of the industry it is serving. This can be used as a source of information for new companies coming in. They can look at what's available in the market already, they can listen to conversations and this enables them to come up with a strategy.

"Publishers are very often the holders of bulk information. You don't have to find a consultant – you can find someone who's been in the industry for some considerable time at a magazine and ask them. The publishing business is a broad spectrum information source, and you can get a lot of information from publications covering any sector.”


Strength
While the title adapted with the times, it did not fundamentally change according to Bob:"Part of the strength of the brand was it didn't change in any great way. It was designed to be the number one information source in the industry. That's what we set out to create and that's what it became. We knew what we were talking about.” While the Aftermarket ethos remained stable, publishing changed dramatically as the 1990s became the 2000s and the internet rose to prominence:

"I think the one thing that is worth commenting on is the general change in business-to-business publishing, because we were very much a magazine with a website. Meanwhile, people were beginning to spend more and more of their marketing budget online which meant that the magazines in the marketplace weren't picking up the revenues they had been, so they had a change of direction. That meant we were working online too, hence the launch of aftermarketnetwork.com, now aftermarketonline.net."

There was more to Aftermarket than just a magazine though: "We also had the great benefit of course of also having a wide knowledge of the exhibitions business.

We were working with the SMMT as sales and marketing consultant for the Automotive Trade Show. It was rather like Automechanika, although without the German spelling."

Ultimately, the time came in 2015 when Bob retired and the magazine was sold to DFA Media. Looking back on what he created and the many years overseeing his magazine, Bob observed: "We were around for a great number of years. It became an established title. We clearly had a pretty successful formula which was consistent and we were good at what we did. We achieved our ambition, which was to become the number one book in the marketplace."


Wisdom
Aftermarket is very proud to work with a number of expert contributors who have shared their wisdom with the readership over the years.

One such contributor is business guru Neil Pattemore: "25 years ago, I was running a European diagnostics business that was one of the advertisers who supported the first edition of Aftermarket, in what was then a bound product card format magazine”.

“Over the intervening years, the magazine has grown to be one of the most respected sector publications and more recently, as an aftermarket business expert with a deep involvement in aftermarket related legislation, I have become a regular contributor. My direct involvement was to help readers understand and address the changing aftermarket sector as vehicle technology became ever more complicated, allied to increasing demands that not only focused on repairing vehicles, but also in how to run their businesses in an increasingly competitive and legislatively influenced environment. This was further supported by the creation of 'Top Technician' that recognises the best technicians in the country. "In the next 25 years, these challenges are likely to become even more important and therefore Aftermarket remains an important source of news, product information and business support – so maybe nothing has changed!"


A new chapter
In 2015 Aftermarket was bought by business-to-business publishers DFA Media, and a new chapter in the history of the magazine was opened. Commenting on the decision to buy the title, publishing director Ian Atkinson said: “It was an opportunity too good to pass up on. We were aware of the reputation the magazine and the owners who launched Aftermarket had built up over the previous 25 years. “We relished the opportunity to take on this mantle and work in such an important and thriving sector of British industry.”
    

According to Ian, the company is very pleased to be able to include Aftermarket in its stable of publications: “As well as having areas of crossover with our other titles, for example compressed air within our magazine Hydraulics and Pneumatics,  it is also fantastic to branch out into new areas.”


Watch this space
On plans for the magazine going forward, Ian observed: “I’m tempted to say ‘watch this space!’  Firstly, it will to continue to be the leading source of information for the automotive aftermarket sector but also to develop new, faster and better ways of regularly communicating with our readers. Also, going forward we see Aftermarket as a vehicle to help garages with hands on practical help in a greater way through workshops for example. Some form of ‘live’ version of Aftermarket is an obvious goal
as well.”
 

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