I recently needed a new pair of athletic shoes. Not that I'm particularly athletic, but I took a spill last year and my orthopedist said I need to wear good, supportive shoes to avoid continued knee and ankle problems. My 5-year-old New Balances weren't cutting it anymore.
Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief
Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

I could have gone to Discount Shoe Warehouse or Dick's Sporting Goods, or done some research and ordered online. But instead I went to The Trak Shak, a local business with three locations in the metro area.

The Trak Shak has a reputation in my area for being the place for runners to buy shoes. I quickly saw why. The woman helping me watched how I stood and walked in my stocking feet, looked at my current shoes, asked me a few questions, diagnosed my over-pronation (basically flat feet) faster than the orthopedist did, and boom, brought out the perfect shoes. I tried on two pairs, and agreed that the pair she thought would be the best was the winner.

I spent well over $100 for those shoes, plus another $30-something for inserts - definitely more than I would have spent with those other options. But I was happy to pay it - because I was paying not for the shoes, but for the service. Not only did I get a product I felt confident was exactly what I needed, but also I didn't waste a lot of my valuable time researching different models, running around to different stores and trying on shoes, or ordering online only to have to waste time going to the post office to mail back ones that weren't comfortable.

What does my shoe-shopping have to do with truck parts?

In this issue, you'll find stories about the dealer vs. distributor situation and the ongoing consolidation in the heavy-duty aftermarket distributor business with FleetPride's recent acquisition of Midway Truck Parts. These articles point to the need for independent distributors to find ways to compete, to offer truck fleets and owner-operators something they can't get at their dealer. Like my shoe store, in many cases, great service and in-depth knowledge is one way to do that.

Not that some truck dealers don't offer good service. As Navistar's Michele Calbi says in the dealer-vs-distributor story of her time at Swift Transportation, they knew which dealers could get them the parts they needed fast, and had them on speed dial.

On the other hand, I recently interviewed leading truck dealers nominated for the Truck Dealer of the Year award from the American Truck Dealers association and our sister publication Heavy Duty Trucking. One of them told me that while finding and keeping technicians is always a problem, finding good parts counterpeople is even more so.

Sure, these days you can look up parts numbers on the computer. However, to provide really good service, the kind that makes you stand out, you need someone who has the in-depth knowledge that goes beyond those bits of data. And while the truck makers provide tons of training for their dealer technicians, he told me, there's virtually none for the parts people.

It's exactly this kind of in-depth knowledge and service that traditionally has been a strength of the indepedent aftermarket. If that's indeed your strength, think about how you can build on it and nurture it. If your great parts guys are getting near retirement age, make sure you've got some sharp young people working with them to learn and grow. And you can have the reputation for being the place to go to buy running shoes ... er, truck parts.

You can e-mail Deborah Lockridge at dlockridge@truckinginfo.com. Find her online on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/deborahlockridge.

From the April/May 2011 issue of HDAJ.