At the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket in Las Vegas, a panel of distributors, dealers and service providers spoke about how they are focused on handling distruption.
Scott Gates, senior director and general manager at Ryder; Bill Long, president and COO of the Automotive Aftermarket Supplier Association; Bill Nolan, chairman and CEO Power Brake & Spring Service Co.; Matt Treadwell, general marketing manager at Paccar Parts; and Buzz Warner, dealer principal at Warner Trucks fielded questions from Tom Kraus, president and COO of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, John Blodgett, vice president, sales and marketing at MacKay & Company, and the audience.
When asked to name one disrupting force in the truck parts aftermarket all members of a panel of aftermarket executives said technology whether on the vehicle, in the shop or in back office.
These technology changes are shortening the shelf life of employee skill sets. Gates told the audience it is critical to find people with an aptitude for technology and to continually train them. Nolan says, “We work in conjunction with our suppliers. We need their support. Product training is critical because products are changing so quickly.” Nolan has developed what he callas a reverse mentoring program. “Instead of providing mentorships for millennials, we did it in reverse to see how we could tap into their innovation and understanding of technology.”
Treadwell says, “It is our responsibility to work with our suppliers to get training for our dealer employees.” Warner says training must start with the fundamentals. “You have to make sure your employees understand the fundamentals first. Then we have a program that helps move them through the ranks.”
Talk then turned to the growth of e-commerce with Nolan saying he thinks e- commerce is the price of admission for anyone who wants to be in the parts business. “It is essential that we have what our customers need. Even though we have digital [options for ordering parts] if they need to talk to a person they can. This is still a relationship business and it will always be.”
Gates says Ryder has been using e-commerce for 19 years, but over the last 3 years the company has seen 30% year-over-year growth in that sector of its business. “Customers want to know what they are buying, how much you have, when they can get it, and they want to access that information in multiple ways.” “
He adds that businesses need to be careful not to “lose relationship because then you are just selling widgets over the internet.”
Treadwell agrees and says that e-commerce is “not a replacement for relationship; it is compliment.” He says when customers order over “ run of mill stuff on line, it allows [other members of your staff] to spend time solving problems for customers.”
The panel was also asked about how concerned they were with new entrants coming into the market from outside the industry. Nolan summed up the sentiment of panel members “To combat that distributors need to get good at technology before they get good at our parts.” He believes current market players have the advantage.
Treadwell admits that some new entrants “ have a great technology tool and are doing great things with distribution,” but adds that he is proud of the dealer and its ability to meet customer needs by delivering parts multiple times a day.
The panel also had advice for business in the independent aftermarket. Gates says, “If you are out to just sell parts you are not going to grow. You need to engage in consultative selling, understand [the customer’s] pains points,” and provide solutions.
Nolan says Power Brake & Springs’ mission is to solve problems and keep its promised. “A customer calls because he has a problem and wants advice about the right part for the repair.”
Treadwell says, “It is all about vehicle uptime, our fill rates are gong up every year and we have added $900 million dollars in parts inventory to makes sure customers are taken care of within hours.”