When I first started covering the truck parts and service industry in 1982, the aftermarket was relatively straightforward. Some fleets did all or some of their own maintenance and repair. They got parts from truck dealerships or independent parts distributors. The balance of service work was done in bays at truck dealerships or independent service providers. The system worked fairly well.

Even back then we were talking about wait times for service and technician shortages. But a lot of other things have changed.

Where there once were many independent parts distributors, we now have several groups of affiliated distributors who have banded together. When first formed in the 1980s and 1990s, groups such as Vipar Heavy Duty, HDA Truck Pride and Power Heavy Duty gave independent distributors buying power with suppliers. Through the years, they have morphed into much more than that, and now provide a host of benefits to their members.

The members themselves have changed, as well. Many of those parts-only distributors are now offering some service, and both Vipar Heavy Duty and HDA Truck Pride have developed special programs with repair garage affiliates.    

There are now a host of relatively large regional distributors who provide targeted parts and service coverage in a specific geographic region.

The industry also has seen the emergence of FleetPride, which rolled up parts distributors into its corporate structure to become the largest distributor of heavy-duty parts in the U.S.

While all this has been going on in the independent channel, things have changed on the dealership side, as well. Today there are fewer single-location truck dealerships. What we have seen instead is the emergence of dealer networks: multiple locations owned by a single dealer. Truck OEMs continue to push for fewer owners with more locations.

And we also have seen the growth of many dealer-owned parts-and-service-only locations. Add to this the fact that most of the truck makers now offer all-makes parts programs, and it seems clear the OES channel may finally be catching on to the importance of parts and service.

And let’s not forget the emergence of remanufactured parts. Once the providence of small local businesses, remanufacturing has now been embraced by many large parts suppliers.

There also has been encroachment by non-traditional truck parts distributors, such as Grainger, into the truck parts distribution business. And technology has enabled parts sales over the Internet, which cuts across territory lines.

So the relatively simple aftermarket of the ‘80s has become a rather complicated one. You now have more choices than ever for your parts and service needs.

It would be easy to make those choices if there were one channel or solution that was obviously better than all the others.

But there isn’t.

For all the changes that have taken place in the truck parts and service aftermarket since I first started covering it, one thing has remained the same: Fleets are looking for partners who understand their businesses, can keep their trucks on the road, can fix them quickly and correctly when they break down and who can help them operate efficiently. It doesn’t matter if that person is down the street or across the country.

Choose wisely, because who you partner with can have a big impact on your bottom line.

Editor’s Note: Every other month, Denise will use a column in HDT to offer information and insight designed to help fleets make choices. As the former executive editor of Successful Dealer and Truck Parts & Service magazines, Denise has covered both the OES and independent aftermarket channels for decades. She shares her insights on what fleets need to know about the aftermarket in a regular column and maintenance features. Covering truck parts and service 31 years, since 1982.