TAPPAHANNOCK, Va.– Adversity sometimes leads to opportunity and to many businesses serving the automotive aftermarket like FDP Friction Science, last year’s pandemic-impacted economy fueled a solid year for the multi-generational family-owned brake manufacturer from Tappahannock, Va.

During a recent lengthy interview with The BRAKE Report, John Carney, vice president of sales and marketing, explained how the pandemic provided a series of three tailwinds for the aftermarket in the United States and resulted in a strong year for FDP Friction Science.

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“The stimulus certainly did help our industry,” he said. “There are huge amounts of what we call deferred maintenance. Somebody needs to get something for their car — they need new tires, they need new windshield wipers, they need new brakes — they just don’t have the money at the time to do it. The stimulus provided the money to get those repairs done, which was a tailwind in our industry.

John Carney, Vice President, Sales and Marketing

“The second thing that was a big tailwind was time. Often people can’t be without their cars for two or three days. During the pandemic, they were working from home, now they could do it. They could drop off the vehicle at a local repair facility and say, ‘I’ll be back Thursday.’ They could now get those repairs done.”

He also pointed to a 2020 uptick in the do-it-yourself segment of the aftermarket.

“The third thing that was a boom for us was a resurgence of the do-it-yourselfer, the DYI market. People were home during the pandemic. They couldn’t go the movies, they couldn’t go to stores, they couldn’t go to restaurants and they were looking for things to do. They could buy [parts] online, and have it delivered to a local store. They could use e-commerce and have it delivered to them. They could go on YouTube and look at a ‘how to’ do brakes and they could go in their driveways and fix their own brakes. They were getting out of the house and they were saving money.

“And all those things combined led to a boom in the automotive aftermarket during the pandemic.”

Carney pointed to the Big Four (aftermarket retailers: AutoZone, NAPA, Advance Auto Parts and O’Reilly Auto Parts) having record or near record years during 2020, propelled by the confluence of events outlined above.

With administrative and production operations in Virginia as well as research and development in New Jersey, the company’s 200 employees provide brake components [primarily] to a variety of aftermarket vendors through private-label arrangements.

Once a mainstay, FDP’s original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) business now represents about five percent of the of the 50-year-old company’s output.

“When we made the switch in the 90s [from OEM to aftermarket] there wasn’t a lot of money in the OEM business,” Carney explained about the company’s redirection. “The car companies were really trying to cut costs and the margins that were in the OE were shrinking.

“At the same time, the aftermarket was growing. In a good year you may have 15 million new vehicles sold into the U.S. The aftermarket will have a 250-million car parc. So, the size of the market is much larger.

“The other thing that happened is as the Japanese gained market share, the Japanese [manufacturers] have business relationships with their suppliers. So that portion of the OE market became locked out to, I’ll call it, legacy OE suppliers.”

“We still dabble in the OE side, it’s still probably less than five percent of our business, but when we made the transition, we felt we were transitioning to a larger, higher growth and, at the time, more profitable market.”

FDP Friction Science recently announced it was going to market brakes to the consumer under the Goodyear brand, a topic which will be covered in the next installment of The BRAKE Report interview with Carney.