Selling to the trailer market

Management Lucas Deal March 20, 2013

A lot of time, money and energy are invested in the aftermarket on trucks. While that effort is justified, the trucks themselves aren’t the only pieces of equipment that require maintenance and repairs.

Trailers need work, too.

Aftermarket businesses that don’t maximize their ability to provide parts and service to the trailer markets are missing an opportunity to strengthen their business. In this economy, any possible avenue to strengthen a business is one worth investigating.

According to information provided by MacKay & Company at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in January in Las Vegas, there were nearly four million commercial trailers in the United States in 2012. The average age of those trailers was 10.5, a full year increase from 2008.

While a first-quarter 2013 CK Commercial Vehicle Research poll shows new trailer sales on the rise, MacKay projections still see the trailer population remaining at or above 10 years old through 2017.

“I think that provides great potential for the aftermarket,” says Jack Scarff, director of service at Wabash National Trailer Centers. A 40-year veteran of the industry, Scarff cites improved trailer designs and usage plans among his reasons for optimism.

“[Fleets] are still purchasing new trailers, but when they do they want to keep them a lot longer,” he says. “I can remember a few years ago the life cycle of most trailers was five to seven years. Now fleets are looking for trailers that will last up to 10 years. I’ve seen some that want to push that out to 12 years.”

To keep a trailer on the road that long, the aftermarket becomes a necessity.

Scarff says one of the most rapidly growing areas of trailer aftermarket is mobile service. Fleets are taking trailers longer distances than ever before, switching out trucks while making cross-country trips, and putting stress on drivers to be aware when maintenance is required.

A service provider can minimize that stress by sending someone out to regularly check on the trailer.

This is a common service in the truck aftermarket. Service providers have technicians travel to fleet locations off hours and perform maintenance on customer vehicles. Each technician is equipped with a truck filled with tools and components, and is given various levels of freedom to complete repairs.

Scarff says trailer programs work the same way, and demand continues to climb.

“That’s probably going to be one of our best growth areas in the next four to five years,” he says.

Tank trailers provide another area for growth. While overall trailer sales have slowed in recent years, 2012 saw a significant increase in the sales of tanker trailers.

Rick Peterson, vice president of retail operations at Wabash National Trailer Centers, attributes this to Fracking taking place throughout the United States. But tanker sales aren’t expected to continue at that rate in 2013, which means the new tankers will soon need to be serviced by the aftermarket.

Mike Evans, president at Polar Service Centers, says aftermarket facilities need to train technicians now to take advantage of the market boom. Tank trailers are complex equipment. Performing maintenance requires a thorough understanding of the trailer.

“Preventive maintenance is critical and when there’s a repair, there’s an urgency to get it done and to get it done right,” he says. “Our customers operate specialized equipment that isn’t easily replaced, so there’s a tremendous need for technicians who are qualified to work on all makes of tank trailers.”

The tanker market also provides excellent parts sales opportunities due to the unique equipment. Craig Kruckeberg, chief visionary officer at Minimizer, says his company has seen a considerable increase in its tank trailer fender sales in recent years.

“Those trailers are really popular at this time,” he says.

Flatbed trailers also have seen an uptick in sales as the housing market begins to recover, says Brandie Fuller, vice president of marketing at Great Dane trailers.

Distributors that know what parts to stock for those specific trailer types will be rewarded moving forward.

For those distributors that don’t know where to start, contact your component suppliers. They understand the trailer aftermarket and how it’s growing, and they’ll know what to do to up your sales.

“We provide our distributors with as many tools as possible,” says Steve Hansen, national accounts sales manager at Minimizer. “Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the greatest impact.”

Hansen says Minimizer provides its distributors with information about each fender and its purchasing demographics. Like truck sales, certain components sell better in certain areas.

Communication with your trailer parts suppliers also allows you to stay informed on new products entering the industry, products you will want to stock and sell to your customers.

“We have a very aggressive combination of Great Dane Extranet, e-mail, telephone and in-person communications that keeps our network up-to-date and informed,” says Dave Durand, vice president, aftermarket at Great Dane trailers.

“We communicate with our dealers a lot,” adds Tom Rodak, director of marketing at Wabash National. “We try to provide a monthly market update on where we think growth will be.”

That leads to one the most fundamental steps in selling to any market — understanding what the market needs.

Evans says fleets are willing to share. “Fleets want ready access to technicians who can work on all makes of trailers, and they want us to have quality all-makes parts on hand,” he says.

Pass that information along to your suppliers as well. A strong distribution business requires information moving in both directions.

Says Durand: “We are not a direct sell company like some of our competitors. We rely on a solid aftermarket network of branches and dealers to represent Great Dane in the marketplace. They are positioned well to care for the owners of Great Dane trailers.”