Bob Nuss has truck parts in his blood. His dad was a truck mechanic in Rockford, Ill., while he was growing up, and eventually became a Mack distributor in 1959.
Nuss became parts manager in his dad's small dealership. "I can still write down the parts to overhaul a 1970 Maxidyne engine," he says.
Today, Nuss is president of Nuss Truck Group in Rochester, Minn., and the runner-up for this year's the Truck Dealer of the Year award.
The award from the American Truck Dealers association has been sponsored for years by the Journal's sister magazine, Heavy Duty Trucking. So each year I get to talk to the Dealer of the Year nominees about trends in their businesses and in the trucking industry at large. A recurring theme has been their increased emphasis on parts and service. This year, the general feeling was they would not have survived the recession without it.
Nominee Jay Ellison, president of French Ellison Truck Center in San Antonio, says dealers as a whole have become much more oriented toward the parts and service side of the business. And they're using technology to help.
"When I started in the business, we still used a hand card system for the parts inventory," Ellison says. "Now like everybody else, we're highly computerized as far as inventory and tracking our sales."
Nuss was a pioneer in selling parts online. His son, who was in college at the time, set up the website. The first night, they sold a clutch cable for an Isuzu truck in Puerto Rico.
Today, Nuss has a sophisticated online parts search system. "Say you've got a brake drum with 20 digits but you can only read a few numbers in the middle. You can actually put in those numbers, and that it's a brake drum, and this search engine will give you the part number." The system will show whether the part's in inventory, and if it has been superceded. And it's updated every 30 minutes.
There's definitely an increased emphasis on service. As nominee Ron Meyering, president of M&K Quality Truck Sales in Byron Center, Mich., explains, "The equipment's become so sophisticated that it's just not an easy scenario for a technician in a fleet shop of 30 or 40 trucks to be able to be well-versed in every area of that truck."
Truck Dealer of the Year Jack Saum, chairman of the Beltway Companies in Baltimore, Md., has put a strong emphasis on service, setting up a service network in the D.C. and surrounding areas where they are no more than 30 minutes from the customer.
Nearly all the nominees say they have responded to customer complaints that dealers can't get to their trucks in the shop fast enough. For instance, Saum's Beltway International shops promise that within four hours of the truck coming into the shop, they will send the customer a written estimate and time frame for the repairs. If they don't meet that four-hour deadline, the customer gets $100. Most of the other nominees have similar "triage" processes to quickly diagnose trucks and get the ones that can be repaired quickly in and out of the shop.
So how do you compete with dealers that are getting bigger and bigger and looking to the parts business as a key to their success? This month's cover story offers some ideas. In fact, that's really what Heavy Duty Aftermarket Journal is about, issue after issue, keeping you up to date on the latest technology, issues and opportunities to help you compete in the ever-changing marketplace.
You can e-mail Deborah Lockridge at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her online on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/deborahlockridge.
From the July/August 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Aftermarket Journal.