Strength under pressure is a phrase that certainly describes both the heavy-duty trucking industry and the truck parts and service aftermarket. Acknowledging that strength, the theme for this year’s Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in late January was “Strong Like You.” Show organizers said they picked the theme because it demonstrated the industry’s resilience during the pandemic.
The event, along with Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue which kicked off the week, featured presentations, panel discussions and ample time for networking. While the overall theme was strength, I had some other key takeaways based on what I heard in both the formal presentations and in my informal conversations with attendees.
1. Communication is Key
No one wants to hear bad news, and no one likes to deliver it, either. But fleets need to know about problems so they can find solutions.
“You have to talk to us,” said Tom DePorter, senior director of fleet maintenance at Forward Air Corp. “Let us know what’s going on. If you are my supplier and you see a hiccup, don’t keep it from me. I want bad news as soon as you know it.”
Knowing about a problem as soon as possible gives fleets more time to make strategic plans on how to deal with it. Of course, communication needs to be a two-way street. Fleets need to provide realistic information to suppliers about their parts needs and not overinflate numbers.
2. We Need Transparency and Visibility
Material shortages are resulting in price increases, and those increases are being passed down the supply chain. Fleets want suppliers to be transparent in how those cost increases are developed. Mutual trust and integrity in the industry helps make that possible, according to Walt Frankiewicz, president of Haldex.
There also needs to be transparency throughout the supply chain as to where parts actually are, according to Ben Johnson, director product management at Mitchell 1.
Doug Dole, general manager, aftermarket product strategies at Meritor, said much the same. “We need transparency throughout the supply chain, from fleet to suppliers. [The problem] will get fixed, but it is important that we communicate inventory levels.”
3. Relationships Still Matter
I always hear people talk about trucking being a relationship business. For many fleets, the pandemic and workforce and supply-chain challenges reinforced their importance.
“The big learning that was driven home is just how important relationships are if you are trying to find a part, trying to get a truck into the shop, or trying to find someone to go out on road call,” said Mike McDonald, director of maintenance at Benore Logistics. “Having relationships were more important than ever during the pandemic.”
Shane Barnes, vice president of maintenance at PAM Transport, added, “It is essential that you have relationships not only with your OEM, but also with suppliers of all the parts you have on a unit.”
4. Flexibility and Agility a Must
DePorter pointed out that every day we are going to be faced with “something you did not think was out there.” He said fleets need flexibility “to roll with the punches.” And in trucking there will always be punches.
“If you don’t like disruption, you don’t want to be in this business,” said John Nelligan, senior vice president, Meritor. “You have to look at the people coming in that are building interesting products and learn from them.”