December 13, 2012
Continuing to expand its product line, markets served and customer base has allowed Parts for Trucks to continue to grow even when market conditions are soft. “When things get tough, having a diversified product range and diversified customer base really makes a difference, and I think was a big part of us getting through the recession,” says Paul Raymond, president.
Andy Raymond, vice president, administration, explains the Canadian distributorship has locations in both cities and rural environments.
“The urban environments have a heavy emphasis on construction, while the rural economies are more resource based.”
In addition, Parts for Trucks’ customers encompass small fleets, large fleets, construction companies, government fleets and utility companies.
Emphasis On Facilities
Parts for Trucks has moved to a number of new facilities in the past year and most recently moved into a new store in Newfoundland.
“We have a couple of other projects on the drawing board, which gives us momentum to continually improve what we offer to customers,” Paul says.
In fact, Andy believes Parts for Truck facilities have become part of the company’s brand. “A store that is pleasant to walk into, pleasant to do business in and that is a nice place to work is part of who we are,” he says.
Investing In IT
Facilities are not the only place where Parts for Trucks has made an investment. The distributorship has long invested in technology that helps it operate efficiently.
“We have invested well in our IT,” Andy says. “We haven’t really made any steps we regret. We have put a lot of money into our IT structure to develop it, and we still are developing it.”
Parts for Trucks invested in a variety of technologies before many of its peers did, and currently is working on implanting a mobile application that will be accessible through tablet devices. “We think we are quite progressive in terms of what we do [in the area of IT],” Andy says.
He is quick to add that they spend their money wisely. “It is important to spend the money well, but we don’t stand pat. We continue to keep up. We have a small IT staff, but they are very well trained and are a key part of our success.”
Relying on its product management team, reviewing its sales and working closely with manufacturers is how Parts for Trucks determines which new products to add to its inventory. Andy says the distributorship is seen by suppliers as an attractive place to market products so they are approached regularly to consider a new product.
Through participation in VIPAR Heavy Duty as well as attending HDAW, CVSN and HDDC, the Raymonds say they can keep up to date on product developments.
“Our customers want to hear about new products from us,” Andy says. Part of the reason for the warehouse expansions was to allow more parts to be stocked.
“Much of the growth we have experienced in the past 15 years has been from expansion of our product lines,” he adds. “There are some key products in lubrication, electrical and fuel that we weren’t selling much of 10 or 15 years ago that have become key product areas for us today.”
Paul says the distributorship has worked hard at addressing obsolete inventory. “As lines are identified as no longer making sense, we try to return what we can. Rarely do we drop a line entirely; some just wither away. The key for us it make sure we get that inventory out [of our warehouses] so it does not become obsolete.”
Andy sees proper inventory management as a key issue for all distributors and adds, “We endeavor not to make any inventory decisions by accident. When we stock something, we stock it deliberately.”
Parts for Trucks uses what the Raymonds call a highly sophisticated inventory software package to set ordering levels, but also does a fair amount of non-stock business to satisfy customer requests.
The company also uses a central warehouse for many of its products, and some products with limited demand may not be stocked at an individual store, but they will be in the warehouse where they can be shipped overnight to the location that needs them. The 30,000-sq. ft. warehouse was set up in 2009, and work is processed with bar codes and wireless input devices.
Keeping Them Trained
While the size of its territory complicates the training process for Parts for Trucks, Andy says, “We use every opportunity we get to train people.”
Training can either be vendor supplied or conducted by Parts for Trucks own in-house experts in areas such as suspensions, wheels and truck-mounted equipment.
The Raymonds say training has changed in the past few years as the employee pool has changed. In the past, many employees came to Parts for Trucks in their 20s with limited knowledge. Today they are finding people who may have worked in the automotive industry for part of their career.
“It is a different kind of training,” Andy says. “We are filling in the gaps rather than starting from scratch. We are more sensitive to filling in the gaps and accelerating the training to people who come to our company with a mixed background and a mixed set of knowledge and skills.”
However, Paul says that while in the past computer literacy was a problem, today’s prospective employees “are very comfortable with a keyboard and mouse.
“By and large today’s young people have worked in fast food restaurants so they understand some basics of customer service, how to smile at a customer and how to talk to them. So while they may be lacking in some areas, they have knowledge in others.”
Spreading The Word
Parts for Trucks relies on its team of road salespeople to get the word out to the market about the products and services it offers. “We invest heavily in them and the training they get. They are regularly calling on a good portion of our customers,” Andy says.
To supplement its sales staff, monthly flyers outlining parts and service specials are sent out to customers.
One unusual way Parts for Trucks promotes itself is by sponsoring a local stock car circuit. “We sponsor the tour so drivers in our part of Canada compete during the season for the Parts for Trucks Cup,” Andy explains.
The Raymonds also see the stores themselves as part of the company’s marketing efforts. A large LCD screen behind each parts counter is used to stream information on the various products the company carries. “While the customer is waiting he can look up and we are telling him about the next special we might have or highlighting a new product we are carrying,” Andy says.
One business fundamental that Parts for Trucks adheres to is taking a long-term view of its place in the market and its goals. “We want long-term growth,” Andy says, “so we want to build long-term relationships with our customers and with our employees. And we want to keep investing in the company.
“We continually want to offer a better place for customers to shop, better service and a better place for our employees to work. That is our core philosophy.”
Paul says that while all distributors work hard to service their customers “sometimes it gets forgotten that you are a business owner and you have certain expectations as to your return on investment. It is about running your business properly in terms of cash, profit, investment, etc. You have to maintain attention on those fundamentals.”
Location plays a key role for Parts for Trucks. “We are in a special place in Canada,” Andy says. “We are in a relatively sparsely populated part of Canada.”
Paul says the territory Parts for Trucks serves is geographically the size of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia but its population is barely over two million. “We have 6 percent of the population of Canada, and Canada is about one-tenth of the population of the United States and yet we do some significant volume. We have a very strong marketplace and a good market share.”
He adds, “We have done this by adding branches, keeping those branches looking smart and keeping our people on the street calling on customers.”
Paul also thinks the fact that Parts for Trucks has service at some of its locations has helped it grow. “We have about 80 technicians and we think that is a significant part of what we are doing. [Having service] gives us better insight into what our fleet customers are going through. We work hard at it and it presents a whole set of challenges that are different from the parts business, but it is another thing we do to part of the industry and to grow our business.”
Eleven years ago Truck Parts & Service embarked on a program to recognize the best in heavy-duty truck parts distribution. The award continues to stand as the independent aftermarket’s most respected and highest honor. This year’s nominees for Distributor of the Year are the top performing distributors, as chosen by their peers, representatives from parts suppliers and manufacturers and other industry leaders. For the next few weeks, Truck Parts and Service will profile each of the five finalists for its Distributor of the Year Award.