Jonathan has an interesting article in this issue. It’s a topic I’ve wondered about for a long time: How do you develop relationships with your local dealers?

I mean, you must have some, right? With the interconnectivity of today’s trucks and growing number of OEM-captive systems found within them, there must be a subsection of your customer base asking for parts you don’t (and can’t) easily keep on hand. I’m thinking sensors, engine components, truck body parts, etc. The kind of orders where you can fulfill some but not the entirety of an order request in house, which means unless you’re sending customers away—and we both know you’re not—somebody from your facility is hustling down the street to the nearby dealer to satisfy a customer’s need.

How do you make that work?

I’ve talked with distributors about this before and it seems like dealers respond to ‘distributors as customers’ scenarios one of three ways:

  • They don’t do anything. You’re another customer to them. They help you as best as they can but there’s no special, preferential or unique treatment.
  • They’re standoffish. You’re trying to buy something from them to sell to a customer they could service. It’s not illogical they might balk at the idea.
  • They understand the what and why of the scenario and a partnership flourishes. It’s not a Ben & Jerry’s kind of partnership, but it doesn’t have to be.

I guess the first one isn’t so bad, considering, but from the conversations I’ve had and what Jonathan learned for his article on page 22, that third option is far and away the best solution for distributors and customers alike.

So, how do you do it? How do you approach them and cultivate a relationship that will allow you to regularly purchase from them without creating any hostility, jealously or resentment? How do you serve someone who could be a dealer’s customer with a dealer’s parts and still have a relationship with that dealer?

One thing Jonathan briefly touches on that I think is important is where those customers fit in that dealer’s world. If you’re a dealer regularly doing business with the Swifts, XPOs and Old Dominions of the world, it’s an unfortunate reality that owner-operators and smaller fleets may occasionally slip through the cracks. It’s borderline impossible to serve everyone, and for dealers holding lucrative contracts with national carriers, it logical that those carriers would be their priority.

The aftermarket thrives by serving everyone else, and well. I think that’s a selling point for a distributor when working to bond with a dealer. They know they can’t focus on those customers. They don’t have the time or the resources.

You do.

You’re already serving these customers. You’re stocking and selling them every part you can. You’re maintaining their trucks, inspecting their equipment.

In those rare instances where you can’t help them—when the part is OEM exclusive and an alternative just doesn’t exist—you can gather each customers’ individual needs and order them together. You can become a customer big and consistent enough to register with your dealer.

That’s a selling point. You may only need one part today and tomorrow, but next week you might need 40 or more. You may have instances where you’re running to their location a few times a day. At a certain point, you become less a competitor and more like a partner.

And while you may never have your own co-branded ice cream, that’s a partnership that should be lucrative for both sides.

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