Panelists at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue talk about what keeps them up at night.
 - Photo by John G. Smith, courtesy Today's Trucking

Panelists at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue talk about what keeps them up at night.

Photo by John G. Smith, courtesy Today's Trucking

As uptime becomes increasingly important for truck owners, suppliers and distributors of aftermarket replacement parts discuss the challenges in meeting fleet customer expectations.

“No one buys parts because they want to buy parts,” said Stefan Kurschner, senior vice president, aftermarket at Daimler Trucks North America, during a panel discussion during the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in Las Vegas. “They buy because they need a part, and everything is being structured around turning around trucks in 24 hours.”

Carl Mesker, vice president of sales, Americas, at SAF-Holland, said product availability can be an issue for heavy-duty parts distributors. “They can’t stock an entire product line and have to tailor their inventory to the fleets they serve,” he said. “But they also have to have those C products available somewhere.”

Availability of those slower-moving parts is area where the supplier can help, he said, adding that parts suppliers need to have the right distribution points to ensure product availability.

There is a wide variety of vehicles on the market, explained Mike Harris, senior vice president of sales and branch operations at Fleet Pride, with some customers having older vehicles that they may choose not to spend a lot of money on, and others having newer trucks. “Product assortment plays a key role in making the aftermarket competitive. You have to be close to the customer and add value.”

In these days of e-commerce, “adding value” can mean having the knowledge and expertise that fleets aren’t going to get from the typical online order.

But that also means one challenge for distributors and suppliers is making sure they have those knowledgeable people. “Customers need to have someone they can trust are competent,” Harris said. “We need a robust pipeline of a talented, diverse workforce.”

Mesker emphasized the need for suppliers to provide training, including online certification for parts people. He explained that he has been “amazed at how in-depth distributors and dealers are with their customers. They do a better job [of keeping fleets informed and trained] than I can as a supplier.”

E-commerce and truck parts

“Amazon is selling my product and I do not sell them direct,” said Walt Sherbourne, vice president, marketing at Dayton Parts. However, he said, he does not believe Amazon will replace traditional distribution, because “they do not have the expertise at the counter” that ensures the customer gets the correct part.

On the other hand, heavy-duty truck parts suppliers are increasingly getting into the e-commerce business themselves. “As a supplier,” Mesker said, “we are reinventing our e-commerce site for the third time to include images and to adapt to industry standards.”

But that won’t replace know-how.

“A digital platform makes the aftermarket an interesting place to be,” Kurschner said. “But we have to remember that we still have customers who like fax machines. We have to serve both types of customers.”

The panelists agreed that ultimately the customer determines where they will buy a part. “Amazon has found a niche in transactional sales,” Mesker said, “but sometimes [a fleet] needs consultative sales,” and that is where the distributors and dealers have the expertise.

Sherbourne concurred, adding, “Customers will make the decision about where to go and who will fulfill the product to give them what they need. The channel that fulfills customers’ needs best will win, and that changes day to day and market to market.”

Panel members were quick to point out that digitization does not mean the end of relationships. “Relationships will still be important,” Mesker says. “The media you use and the way you communicate may change. Technology can enhance relationships, and online chats can enhance relationships, not dissolve them.”

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