COVID-19 effects: A roundup of how the industry is coping with a pandemic

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Updated Jan 29, 2021

The independent aftermarket and heavy-duty truck dealers have had to make significant changes to how their businesses’ operate since COVID-19 came to the U.S.

While many companies in the industry were deemed “essential” and allowed to stay open as the pandemic blanketed the country, they certainly have had to operate differently. Companies began sanitizing their buildings and vehicles, personal protective equipment was obtained for employees, safe distancing had to be maintained and methods of delivery were altered to cut down on human interaction, among other safety measures.

If there is good news to be found in the preparation that went into defending against COVID-19, it’s that distributors and dealers are now better equipped and organized to deal with the virus, especially as COVID-19 cases are again spiking around the country. No one knows what the “new normal” looks like as a result of the virus, but distributors and dealers continue to find ways to safely do business.

Here’s a recap on what has been going on around the industry since COVID-19 changed the way we live, work and do business.

When it was first realized how serious a problem COVID-19 could be the U.S., the independent aftermarket and heavy truck dealers quickly had to change how their workplaces functioned to help protect employees and customers from the virus.

Having little direction at the time and even less time to prepare, the initial line of defense was to focus on social distancing and cleanliness. As time went on, companies had to adopt other strategies, such as relying more on electronic communication versus face-to-face interactions.

Within trucking’s aftermarket and dealer channels, COVID-19’s impact will last far longer than the virus.

Effectively managing a parts inventory has always been a tough job, now made tougher by the pandemic. With supply chains facing disruptions, parts distributors across trucking are assessing and rebuilding their procurement plans each day to find the right strategy to keep their warehouses full and customers satisfied.

With every truck on the highway moving critical medical supplies, food and other essentials, the service provider network in the U.S. has never been under more duress to diagnose and repair equipment quickly and efficiently.

The pandemic is forcing service shops across the country must remain agile to update workplace procedures and services every day to remain capable of serving an increasingly reliant and frenzied customer base.

“One thing we’ve been telling our managers as we’re going through this is ‘I can’t look up in the employee handbook what to do next because the answer is not in there,’” says John Sadler, president, Sadler Power Train. “We are doing our best for our employees and customers but we’re still managing this one day at a time.”

And if the surprising persistence of COVID-19 taught the industry anything, it was the importance of always having a reserve fund.

Some businesses understand the value of having a reserve fund because of their experiences with  natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic the nation currently is enduring should be bringing to light the importance of such a fund to everyone in the industry as they sustain significant revenue decreases.

“You never know what’s going to happen in the future. Right now this coronavirus crisis has hit the nation. The shops that have reserve accounts built up are less affected by the change in the economy,” says David Saline, vice president of sales, DRIVE.

KEA Advisor John Whitnell says dealers that emerge in the strongest financial condition after the dust settles have flexible financial plans, human resource staffing requirements and customer engagement actions that easily can be adjusted to current circumstances and quickly implemented.

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