Joe Ward still remembers the days leading up to he and wife Margie’s decision to open First Call Truck Parts. Ward had been working for Transcom as manager at one of the company’s key facilities in Orlando, Fla.
The company was struggling and would collapse into bankruptcy within months; but despite the unfavorable working conditions, Ward was gaining a reputation as one of the best parts men in the area. Customers were becoming increasingly reliant on his store and expertise, and suppliers had singled him out as a man who knew how to sell product and keep trucks on the road.
When Transcom eventually closed, Ward says his initial reactions were concern and anxiety. But it also was during that period that Ward realized the opportunity placed in front of him, he says. He had gained a reputation as his customers’ first call for truck parts. Maybe he could use that. Maybe that reputation could be parlayed into something greater.
“We decided we wanted to open our own business,” Ward says. “We made a business plan and went to our banker, and 90 days later we had opened First Call Truck Parts. To be honest, it was kind of a whirlwind.”
It was a small operation at first. The Wards opened the business in 2001 in their native Tallahassee instead of Orlando and while suppliers and customers followed, most of Ward’s old colleagues did not. Excluding Joe and Margie, First Call Truck Parts opened with one employee.
It now has 19, and for the first time ever has been nominated as a Truck Parts & Service Distributor of the Year finalist in 2018.
“I’m proud of how we’ve grown,” Ward says. “We’ve been a bit conservative, but I think when growing any business, you have to first build structure. We’ve done that.”
He adds, “Our slogan is ‘quality parts, fast service and good people,’ and I think that’s true.”
Ward describes First Call’s customer base as diverse. The Tallahassee location on I-10 provides access to occasional over the road fleets, but Ward says most First Call customers are smaller regional fleets, utility companies, municipalities and repair garages. They are companies that own trucks but aren’t truckers, he says, which has enabled First Call to position itself as a reliable parts and solutions provider.
Ward says that’s a responsibility his team takes seriously. First Call is incredibly committed to training — for employees and customers alike — and tries to be an early adopter of any technology that may improve its efficiency or enhance its customer experience.
“We changed our operating systems last year and one of the driving factors was so customers could order their own parts,” Ward says. He admits it was a challenge, but now that it’s done he says customer response has been incredibly positive. Online ordering makes life easier for his customers and his employees.
As for the customers who aren’t going online? Ward says his team remains on hand to take their First Call.
“We are going to continue doing what we can for our customers and the industry,” he says.