Distributor of the Year Finalist: Fleet Brake

In Their Words…answers by John Bzeta, president

Why did you start the business?

The business was started in 1978 by my father, George Bzeta. He brought on my existing partner Fred Lack that same year. I got into the business 10 years ago after working briefly as a lawyer. I had always wanted to be in the Industrial Distribution business and with a little nepotism I entered the business sooner than I expected.

What’s been your toughest business decision?

Not falling into the trap of chasing big fleets. Volume potential and manufacturer recognition of dealing with big fleets is very alluring and difficult to resist. We found that basing our business on customers that are generally unloyal, not interested in service, low margin and more likely to partner with the OEM was dangerous. However, while difficult, it has placed our business in a niche that plays on our strength, our people. Smaller, regional customers demand high levels of service which requires the best parts and service people in the industry which Fleet Brake has.

What was your best business decision?

Surrounding myself with the best people in the industry. Without them Fleet Brake would be nothing. Second, was the decision to join our buying group, Truck Pride. Being part of Truck Pride has let us enjoy volume rebates on par with the other marketing groups. However, their group is more in line with our business model which is independent and focuses on regional and more profitable customers. In addition, the business practices I have learned and opportunities created by listening to my fellow group members has been invaluable. A large part of our growth from one branch and 12 employees to where we are today is a result of learning from our industry partners at Truck Pride.

What was your worst business decision?

Getting caught in the trap of bigger is better. Being young and dumb, I felt that explosive growth was the answer to being a better company. Years ago, this resulted in extensive leveraging and rising expenses that put Fleet Brake in financial danger. With the help of my more experienced partner Fred Lack, who would rein me in, we have stabilized and are enjoying a much more healthy and stable growth. Our new motto is we don’t want to be the biggest in the industry, just the best.

What is the best way to keep a competitive edge?

Fleet Brake’s main competitive edge is our people and specifically the service they provide. From salespeople to technicians to delivery drivers, we create a “service edge” to differentiate us from the competition. From training our customers, to preventive maintenance scheduling, to maintaining our customers’ inventory, we strive to be the premier company to deal with in each market. Technology can help your business by making tasks easier for your people, but doesn’t replace them. This is and always will be a people based industry. We try and make sure we are proud of what we did when we go home at night.

What is your five-year vision?

Over the next five years our industry will face extensive technological advances, employee recruitment challenges, and consolidation of suppliers, customers and competitors. While some may see these issues as detrimental, I see each of them as significant opportunities for Fleet Brake and our industry in general. In the next five years, we intend to position ourselves as the premier fleet specialist in Canada.

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