At the retail level, fleets are spending $30.4 billion a year on parts for Class 6-8 trucks, school buses, trailers, and container chassis, according to MacKay & Co. That’s a big number, and fleets have a myriad of choices when it comes to where to get the parts they need to keep their vehicles in good operating order.
E-commerce is gaining ground, but interestingly, according to MacKay research, much of the online parts purchases are being completed on the websites of heavy-duty distributors, while truck dealers account for another 15% of online sales. The elephant in the room of most online purchases, Amazon, is getting 14% of heavy-duty parts purchases.
From the interviews I did for this month’s cover feature, Shifting Patterns Of Parts Distribution on page 46, I learned that where once online purchases were typically used for hard-to-find parts, today fleets are using the internet for stocking parts and repeat orders. The internet just seems to make those things easier and more efficient.
But perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the MacKay data was the fact that one reason fleets say they don’t buy online is that they don’t want to lose the relationship they have with their local dealer or distributor.
Given the complexity of today’s trucks and all of the new technological developments taking place in the trucking industry, it seems that fleets still want someone who can help them navigate all the choices available when it comes to replacement parts.
It seems like every day there are more options available, from OE branded replacement parts to parts that carry the component manufacturer’s name to all-makes parts offerings to private label parts. It can be confusing for fleet parts buyers to make sure they get the part they need. MacKay has done survey work on fleets buying habits when it comes to branded vs. non-branded parts. It seems the farther away you get away from the engine, or the less critical the part is for the safe operation of the vehicle, the more likely a fleet is to select a value line product.
John Blodgett, vice president of sales and marketing at MacKay & Co., says given all the choices a fleet has, “the last line of defense a fleet has [in proper parts purchasing] is the person selling the part,” whether that is a dealer, distributor, or online parts seller. A fleet manager has to make sure that person clearly understands which part works best for the application. If someone is looking for a widget and is told there is one for $100 and one for $75, the natural inclination might be to choose the cheaper part. “But the fleet needs [a parts seller] that will go through the process of trying to figure out where the truck is in its life cycle, what the application is and what is the best fit,” Blodgett says.
That’s part of why fleets have forged strong relationships with their distributors or dealers, even when there are other avenues for getting parts. “Fleets have some level of expectation that someone is making a decision about the quality of the part before selling it to them,” he adds.
Technological and regulatory changes are not going to go away. In fact, when it comes to technology, the pace of change is likely to accelerate. Rick Reynolds, president and owner principal of Peach State Truck Centers, does not see things changing between dealers/distributors and fleet customers, even as we are seeing a generational transition in leadership at many fleets.
“Relationships will still be important. While purchasing behaviors may change, because of the complexity of how a truck is engineered and the absolute need for the truck to be rolling so a fleet can make money, there always will have to be interaction with people.”