Portrait: Heavy duty aftermarket week

In the city best known for putting on a good show, last year’s inaugural Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW) attracted the heavy-hitters in heavy-duty distribution and supply to the warmth of Las Vegas. It was indeed a big show and it aims to get bigger yet.

Dave Engstrom, chairman of the Joint Operating Committee, the organizing body of HDAW, is the man currently steering this conference toward becoming the must-attend industry event, consolidating the many conferences and shows scheduled throughout the year into one comprehensive meeting.

Engstrom draws on his experience as co-president of Mutual Wheel Co., a heavy-duty distribution company based in Moline, IL, with 11 locations and 110 employees in Illinois and Iowa.

Mutual Wheel Co. sports a colorful history fanning back 114 years to when the company began as a collaboration between 11 area carriage and buggy makers who needed a source for wheels.

“They manufactured wood spoke wheels, first for carriages and buggies, then for cars. They sold to Henry Ford and to the Dodge brothers,” Engstrom said. “They had an export office in New York and were sending wheels all over the world.”

Mutual Wheel departed from its wood spoke wheel-making roots in the late 1920s when the steel wheel eclipsed the market and replaced their wooden predecessors. “All the original owners were all either gone or retired,” said Engstrom. “When my grandfather purchased the company, he decided not to retool to make steel wheels. He started sourcing wheels and axles from other companies and that grew into what we do today-heavy-duty distribution.”

Today, Mutual Wheel Co. represents more than 90 truck and trailer parts manufacturers. Engstrom, who along with his two brothers Bob and Rich fill a job they refer to as “Office Of The President,” attributes some of their success to their willingness to keep shelves stocked.

“We really don’t get wrapped up in inventory turns and we realize that when one of our customers needs a part, we should have it on our shelves at all times at most of our 11 locations so there’s not a lot of downtime for that customer,” Engstrom said.

To combat the industrywide problem of finding and retaining good people, Mutual Wheel employs a strategy of growing staff within the company. “Whenever we hire-no matter if it’s for a warehouse position or an entry-level position-we always try to find somebody who we think has the ability to move up in the organization. We train them ourselves and then keep them around for a long time. It’s hard work, but that’s been our formula. Most of our people here are homegrown,” Engstrom explained.

Mutual Wheel’s founding spirit of cooperation and consolidation is reflected in the industrywide camaraderie present at HDAW. The week-long distributor-focused conference presents participants with myriad heavy-duty specific educational opportunities, networking and meeting opportunities for industry executives, suppliers and distributors, a one-on-one business meeting program for manufacturers and distributors, an aftermarket exhibition hall and an industry awards program. This year, the conference also will include a value-added selling seminar targeted specifically at mid-level management, branch managers, sales managers and salespeople.

“This time I’m also going to take a couple of branch managers to HDAW with me,” said Engstrom. “They could have used it last year too, but now we also have something that’s really focused for them.”

When asked where Engstrom would like to see HDAW in the future, he said, “I think it’s particularly important that this meeting work because the aftermarket needs one voice, and this seems to be the gathering spot for this one voice. And so as an aftermarket, we can move forward to meet the challenges that we’re going to face down the road.”

Engstrom cited the dual stresses of time and money spent when manufacturers are asked to attend too many meetings as an industrywide drain.

“They get spread so thin,” he said. “I know some of these manufacturers say that they spend approximately 40 weekends of the year courting different meetings, not only in the aftermarket, but on the OE side too.

“If they can focus on this thing once a year, maybe that is going to help the aftermarket by allowing them to dedicate more time to what really will benefit us-going out, beating on doors and getting our products to the fleets and customers.”

But Engstrom recommends taking a four-day winter break from mustering business in order to rally the aftermarket forces together in one collaborative meeting. In its sophomore year, HDAW hopes be the seasoned professionals’ show.

Facts & Figures

  • HDAW 2007 will be held January 22 through 25 at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
  • Last year, HDAW drew 1837 attendees, making it the largest gathering of distributors and suppliers in one location in the last 20 years.
  • The Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association and the Heavy Duty Distributor Association are co-organizers and presenting sponsors of HDAW.
  • Dave Engstrom, co-president of Mutual Wheel Co., and Joe Mejaly, vice president and general manager, commercial vehicle aftermarket, ArvinMeritor, Inc., are co-chairmen of the meeting.
  • New events this year include the Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Forum and the Value-Added Selling Session.
  • R. L. Polk will present the HD Hall Of Fame Award and Truck Parts & Service magazine will honor the 2006 Truck Parts Distributor Of The Year at an industry awards ceremony and reception.
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