Updated Jul 12, 2010

Before the proverbial fan was dumped upon, economically speaking, the aftermarket was facing much different problems. Two came to mind when researching and writing this month’s cover story: the shortage of service technicians and the logjams many end users experienced when trying to get trucks serviced or repaired.

While those problems, given the more immediate concerns of the day, seem almost quaint, just about everything in this industry is cyclical and it won’t be long before we find ourselves once again in need of technicians and service bays.

Most aftermarket businesses have weathered the downturn by tightening operations and increasing efficiencies. With year-over-year revenues down in 2009 by 12 to 20 percent for most distributors and repair facilities, that led to a lot of internal scouring over business procedures, inventory management and personnel. Though fortunately, regarding the latter, according to a recent Truck Parts & Service reader survey, just 10 percent reported laying off employees last year.

With this strong inner focus, few distributors and service providers were looking at new business opportunities and expansion. But now that there are signs of life – a little more sales and quoting activity, anyway – it may be time to start thinking about what to do to build a stronger foundation before the economic cycle comes full circle once again.

It never hurts to insulate yourself from the next recession.

Last month’s cover story explored the emerging and lucrative service opportunities in cleaning diesel particulate filters (DPF), as well as supporting other emissions-compliance technologies through parts and service. That opportunity comes up again in this month’s feature article that takes a broader look at the benefits for parts distributors who branch out into the service arena. And those opportunities are many and varied.

Obviously, of those who take a serious look at adding service to their business portfolio, those willing or in a position to open up a multi-bay, drive-in facility will be in the minority. But just as in the case of the DPF service opportunities, securing a toehold in the service industry does not necessarily require a huge investment of money and infrastructure. It can be, as several of our interviewees pointed out, a limited-liability venture of getting into bench or mobile service.

It adds another dimension to your ability to serve customers and helps diversify your revenue stream – never a bad thing when trying to insulate yourself from future economic downturns.

There are quality technicians out there, the ones who were let go from competitors. There are deals to be had in acquiring existing service operations from those who didn’t fare so well during the downturn or simply don’t want to stick around for the next down cycle. And just as you examined every aspect of your operation while tightening the belt, so too did your customers and they may have come to the conclusion that they need to outsource more of their maintenance or repair operations. They may be looking for a provider who can help, and why shouldn’t that be you?

Opportunity is knocking and as the saying goes, “when a door closes, a window opens.” Sometimes that window comes in the shape of a bay garage door. n

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