The aftermarket speaks about what matters to them in 2013

It’s November. The leaves are changing. It’s getting cooler. Football dominates most weekends.

It’s the time of year where people start to look back on the year and think about how much things have changed over these 11 months, and how much they’ll continue to change in 2014.

It’s also the time of year when people start to think about the holidays, and in November that means Thanksgiving.

Every year those of us in the United States sit down at a table and tell our family and friends what we’re thankful for in our lives.

More often than not, these statements are personal.

While this makes sense, being thankful for something isn’t an idea exclusive to our personal lives. Anyone can be thankful for anything; in any situation.

It’s that idea that led Truck Parts & Service to reach out to professionals throughout the aftermarket last month and ask them what they are thankful for regarding their businesses in 2013.

While the aftermarket is in better shape today than it was five years ago, the comeback from the sucker punch that was the recession hasn’t been easy.

But now that the industry has rebounded, I think it’s fair to ask the aftermarket what they appreciate the most about the recovery, their businesses and the industry as a whole.

Jerry Hale, Sioux City Truck Sales, Inc.

As service director at Sioux City Truck Sales, Hale finds several things for which to be thankful in 2013.

Among them is a new training center at the company’s corporate office that SCTS plans to use to train technicians from its four Peterbilt dealerships and make available to fleet customers.

“Our goal for 2014 is to begin utilizing this high-tech training facility,” Hale says. “We have a number of expert trainers scheduled to present programs during the upcoming year.”

He says the opportunities created by the facility also will help grow SCTS’ value to its customer base. “Customers want the most knowledgeable technicians working on their high-tech vehicles.”

Hale also notes that dedicated employees provide another excellent reason to be thankful. The company’s service centers have seen significant growth in the last five years, and Hale says a hardworking staff and great management team have made that possible.

“I attribute our success and revenue growth to the solid work ethic of our employees and the strong leadership of our store managers,” he says. “This combination has produced a long list of national parts and service awards for customer service during this period.”

Marc Karon, Total Truck Parts

“I think 2013 is going to be a very good year for us,” says Karon, president at Total Truck Parts. “The markets that we serve are all showing positive signs.”

“We’re kind of seeing a bit of a boom.”

With six locations in Florida, Total Truck Parts is situated in the middle of a growing real estate market, Karon says. Retirement plans that stalled during the recession have been reignited. Available houses are quickly being snapped up and new builds are starting throughout the region.

Karon says he’s thankful for the growth, and says it was a consistent and confident approach the company took during the recession that has put it in a position of growth today.

“We’ve always been bullish on growth,” he says. “Even during 2008 we never really deviated from our feelings of being bullish on the industry.”

On a personal level, Karon notes he’s also thankful to back in the industry he loves so much.

“I made a bad decision to get out of this business in 1998,” he says. “I’m really glad I’ve been able to return and have been given an opportunity to help move it forward.”

Michael Lipski, Gabriel

A loyal and dedicated customer base is reason to be thankful at Gabriel, says Lipski, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

The long-time medium- and heavy-duty shock absorber manufacturer made a significant change to its route to market in January when it announced it would begin distributing its products directly to heavy-duty customers. After years of distributing through other OES channels, the change has allowed the company a more straightforward and connected relationship with its customer base.

“We are pleased to now be able to hear, be informed of and respond to [customers’] valuable feedback and requests directly,” says Lipski.

Customers are the backbone of any business, and Lipski says Gabriel’s have welcomed the company’s change. Veteran customers have remained loyal to the business while new customers have greeted Gabriel’s products with great acceptance, he says.

And that feeling of thanks isn’t a one-time thing. Lipski says the company is optimistic about its supplier-customer relationships moving forward.

“We appreciate their support and look forward to continuing to develop and build existing and new relationships in the coming year,” he says.

Andy Robblee, Six Robblees

With his company celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the president at Six Robblees also has a lot to be thankful for.

“We’re on pace for a record year,” says the appreciative Robblee. “We have a branch opening in Casper, Wyo. [this] month and we have a 100-year-old company operating well.”

That success has motivated Robblee to hit the road and personally thank the people who allow the company to give thanks — its customers.

Over the past several months, he has traveled Six Robblee’s customer base and personally thanked its top 100 customers. He says the company’s milestone and current success was the motivation behind the move, and adds that it’s already paying dividends.

“I’ve had some customers point out areas where we could improve our relationship, or suggest new areas of business for us,” he says. “I’ve even been able to come away with some big new orders.”

He notes the tour also has helped him appreciate the strength of the aftermarket.

“I think sometimes in this business we’re always dealing with and solving problems and we can get caught up in that,” Robblee says. “So it’s good to be reminded of how blessed we really are.”

Greg Scheessele, TMD Friction

That strength of the aftermarket has proven to be a reason to be thankful at TMD Friction as well.

Just three years ago, TMD Friction was a successful European friction supplier with little market share and influence in the United States, says Scheessele, the company’s senior vice president of the Americas. Challenged by new ownership during the recession to grow domestically, TMD launched a strategy to enter and gain footing as a friction supplier with OEMs and the aftermarket.

The company now has a product portfolio for both markets, and its Textar aftermarket brand covers all RSD mandates for on-highway and severe-duty applications.

“The North American commercial vehicle market is a very strong market in our minds,” says Scheessele. “It’s also a consistent market and we’re thankful for that because it made planning easier for us [to enter the market] because we knew what the needs of the market were.”

Scheessele says TMD also is appreciative to the way the aftermarket welcomed the company.

TMD produces a safety-related product, and Scheessele says the aftermarket’s acceptance of it has led to the company’s quick growth.

“The aftermarket was very receptive to our products and our brands,” he says.

Walt Sherbourne, Meritor

A wonderfully loyal and dedicated customer base gives Meritor many reasons to be thankful, says Sherbourne, senior director, field sales and training, North America for the company’s aftermarket division.

“We have great customers who promote Meritor products and are the extension of our company to the end user,” he says. Working as salespeople in the aftermarket, Sherbourne says Meritor’s distributor customers “want to promote our product in the marketplace.”

He adds, “If we didn’t have those customers, I think we’d be in a world of hurt.”

But that doesn’t mean Meritor takes its customers for granted. On the contrary, Sherbourne says he’s also thankful by how dedicated Meritor’s employees are to building and growing those relationships.

The Meritor team is constantly striving to help its customers, and he says that commitment cannot be overstated. “The support I receive from our inside employees who are the first line of defense when our customers have problems is outstanding.”

All of that together has helped Sherbourne and Meritor achieve a personal relationship with its aftermarket customers, and for that he’s eternally grateful.

“My customers are my customers, but many are like family to me,” he says. “If I called them for something personal they would help me.”

Dave Willis, CRW Parts

“Believe it or not, I’m thankful for the hard times,” says Willis, president at CRW Parts. “[Hard times] allow you to make adjustments you previously never thought possible.

“They allow you to do things you never thought you could do.”

Willis says his business was hit hard last year after Hurricane Sandy. While the massive storm was forgiving to CRW’s actual locations, its customer base was devastated by the storm. While those businesses struggled to regain their footing, Willis says CRW had to develop internal strategies to strengthen its operation.

He says CRW’s employees responded to the changes better than he could possibly imagine, and he remains eternally grateful to them for that.

“It’s in times like that where you realize just how special the people who work for you are.”

Willis also notes how fortunate he is to be in the aftermarket.

Operating a successful business is never easy, and Willis says aftermarket companies should be thankful they’re in an industry where competitors also can be associates and friends.

“There are so many great people in this industry who are willing to give their time and effort to help move it forward,” he says. “That cannot be ignored.”

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