Commentary: Keeping it in perspective

Updated Jul 27, 2020

By Stu MacKay: MacKay & Company

I think I finally figured it out. Finally, after who knows how many “last page in this book” editorial efforts over the past who knows how many years. I finally figured out that my job description was established a long time ago by a couple of guys who have nothing at all to do with the truck business, the parts business – or anything at all near them. In fact, they probably wouldn’t recognize a truck if it ran either of them down.

Who are these guys? Probably a couple of names that you’ll recognize. Ever heard of Andy Rooney? Sure, I’ll bet all of us have. He’s the anchor guy on 60 Minutes. And how about Rick Reilly? He’s the guy who, most weeks, has the last page in Sports Illustrated magazine. Both Rooney and Reilly get paid a lot more than I do for their efforts; somewhere in high school math, I think I learned that zero times anything gives you a real funny number. But that’s not the issue (although I’m willing to discuss it!).

The issue is being last – and what you do with it. Rooney and his five-pound eyebrows are the last five minutes in CBS’s 60 Minutes each Sunday evening. You’ve gotta wait until Mike, Steve, Leslie and all those other guys get done with factual stuff to get to Andy. And, if you read Sports Illustrated front to back, you hafta absorb all the factual blather about Barry and Peyton and Tiger before you get to Rick. You can catch Rick first if you start SI at the back (as I do) – but it doesn’t change Rick’s role.

And what are these guys? They’re self-proclaimed curmudgeons. They’re guys that tell it the way they see it or, often in Rooney’s case, the way he saw it decades ago. And that’s exactly what my job is – to tell it like it is (or was), to jab and poke and prod – and, hopefully, make at least one or two readers give a little more thought to what they’re doing.

My job is to keep this business of ours in perspective. The fundamentals of this industry haven’t really changed in decades – nor should they. Sure, the truck capital of the country used to be Allentown, then it was Fort Wayne – and today it’s scattered all over the Midwest, the South and Mexico. But we’re still making the same basic stuff using the same basic components, put together about the same way. The stuff is a lot better and fancier – but it’s basically the same stuff. Boeing may be building airplanes from composites, but we’re still basically banging steel and aluminum together.

The structure of the distribution system has changed – and significantly – but it’s still the same business. Sure, Marvin has rounded up more Peterbilt dealers into one corral than there were in total five decades ago. And, the Murphy/Hoffman dynasty has engineered the same transformation with sister brand Kenworth. But these are today the same businesses they always were – just on a much grander and more sophisticated basis. If absorption levels aren’t consistently in the three-digit range, nothing good will happen.

Is the independent parts business truly different than it was when Reese and Moss conceived CFS forty years ago? It’s certainly a bigger business with many bigger businesses in it (FleetPride, et. al.) – with more layers (HDA, Vipar, etc.) between the manufacturer and the customer. But is it really different? Nah, the basics are essentially the same.

Availability was number one four decades ago – and it’s still number one today. The customer’s perspective hasn’t moved one notch.

This industry is – and has been – evolutionary, not revolutionary. No, we’re not still dragging our knuckles on the ground when we walk. On the other hand, we’re not moving at the speed of light that many other industries seem to accomplish. Our gains come relatively slowly, often with considerable resistance. But, eventually, they do come.

What we have yet to overcome, however, is the relative unattractiveness of our industry. Hardly anybody today wants their kid to become a truck driver or a mechanic (technician being today’s politically correct euphemism). And, unfortunately, the talent pool sometimes gets a little shallow further up the org chart as well. There are certainly some very bright spots – just not enough of them.

You know, I think I’m warming to this curmudgeon bit!

Stu MacKay has headed MacKay & Company since its inception in 1968. MacKay & Company serves manufacturers and distribution organizations serving the vehicle, equipment and engine businesses. The company provides its clients with proprietary research and consulting, participation in multi-client studies and its DataMac aftermarket tracking services.

The views expressed in the guest editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Truck Parts & Service magazine.

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