Dealers, fleet share thoughts on the optimal business relationship

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Updated Aug 23, 2018
From left: Paul Pankey, regional general manager at Rush Center, Jodie Teuton, vice president at Kenworth of Louisiana, and Bart Middleton, CEO at Grammer Industries, at Wednesday’s panel discussion at the ACT Research Seminar.From left: Paul Pankey, regional general manager at Rush Center, Jodie Teuton, vice president at Kenworth of Louisiana, and Bart Middleton, CEO at Grammer Industries, at Wednesday’s panel discussion at the ACT Research Seminar.

If a word cloud was created from Wednesday’s “Dealer and their customers” panel discussion at Wednesday’s ACT Research Seminar in Columbus, Ind., the word earning the top position at the center of the cloud would have been without debate. When you get dealers and their customers together, it all comes back to relationships.

Featuring Paul Pankey, regional general manager at Rush Truck Center and Jodie Teuton, vice president at Kenworth of Louisiana and chairwoman of the American Truck Dealers (ATD) representing the dealer community, and Bart Middleton, CEO at Grammer Industries from the fleet community, Wednesday’s discussion hit all of the channel’s hot topics: purchasing, ordering, service efficiency, uptime, telematics, hiring employees, Federal Excise Tax and everything in between.

Being a successful dealer isn’t about acing all of those issues, because that’s nigh impossible, it’s more about giving the customer your best effort all times. “It’s all about being a good partner,” Pankey says.

When it comes to sales, Middleton says Grammer Industries has committed to a single truck OEM because it provides the specification option and service channel benefits it requires. The dealers say that tracks with their customer base — if a dealer is willing to do everything possible to learn about its customer and goes out of its way to solve that customer’s issue every time, it’s going to earn a lot of loyal business. Fleet customers don’t shop around for the best price, Teuton says they shop for the best value.

On the topic of relationships in the parts, service and maintenance space, both Teuton and Pankey say their businesses use software and data management tools to monitor customer’s vehicles. Pankey says Rush Truck Center has “dashboards for days” that it relies on to identify the likelihood a customer requires assistance and the best method for contacting them.

And when a customer shows up, the duo says the dealer needs to work efficiently and transparently to address its needs. Teuton says the dealer needs to “fix it fast, and right the first time.

“The comeback is so bad. It makes the customer crazy. It makes dealers crazy, too, because we’re better than that.”

Adding on transparency, Pankey says when dealers take in a vehicle for service and tell a customer it will be diagnosed and fixed that day, they better follow through. He jokes that with the advanced GPS found on trucks today, if a dealer takes in a truck for service and then doesn’t move it all day, “the customer is going to know.”

Finally, the conversation turned toward everyone’s favorite topic: employment, particularly technicians. Teuton says the industry’s shortage is first and foremost an image problem. She says she has techs in her operation making more money than sales professionals. Pankey agrees. Rush Truck Center’s pay scale is at “record highs throughout our business.” He says the company is matching competitor rates for techs throughout its operation and is still only at 85 percent bay utilization.

Adds Teuton, “We hear about this idea of keeping the bay open 24/7. That’s all well and good, but we can’t staff every bay during the day.”

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