What top heavy-duty aftermarket executives are saying about the market

What top heavy-duty aftermarket executives are saying about the market

What is said when industry leaders stop being polite and start being real.

These aren’t comments constructed for public relations purposes. The quotes offered in HDAD’s “Talk From the Top” are real and raw. Shannon O’Brien, senior director of programming and strategy at MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers, took to the Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue (HDAD) stage to explain that her conversations with heavy-duty aftermarket executives are kept anonymous—she is the only person who know the true scope of who she had conversations with—in order to bring the HDAD crowd an unedited perspective on the aftermarket.

Here’s what her executive panel had to say.

‘Labor’ is no longer an excuse

A recurring theme was the diminishing tolerance for labor-related excuses in supply chain delays. With examples of successful staffing in similar environments, the onus is on suppliers to introspect and innovate in their workforce management.

“Like the quote behind me says, there are millions of people that come to work every day. Why don’t they want to work for you?” O’Brien said, noting the wall of quotes on display. “Just know that when you and your team say this to a customer when they hear labor issues, it may not reflect well on their own business in their minds.

“I had one participant tell me they have a supplier in the same town who’s constantly behind on shipping,” she continued. “Their excuse is always labor. My participant has a facility that’s fully staffed, there’s no labor issues and they’re hiring from the same pool of people. It’s simply not an acceptable excuse anymore.”

What’s really ahead in 2024?

There’s a cautious optimism. Executives aren’t bracing for a recession, but neither are they anticipating a boom. The focus is on prudent, adaptable strategies, avoiding knee-jerk reactions, and being prepared for election-year uncertainties.

“In summary, 2023 was tough. No one’s preparing for a catastrophic 2024, but no one’s preparing for an amazing year as well,” O’Brien said.

Where are truck parts coming from?

A significant takeaway is the rise of non-traditional competitors in the parts market, necessitating established suppliers to differentiate themselves through service and innovation. Moreover, customer service levels received a critical evaluation, with a call for suppliers to adopt more tailored, partnership-driven approaches.

“Non-traditional parts continue to enter the market with decreasing aggression,” O’Brein noted. “Lack of available parts open the doors for the introduction and trial of more non-traditional competitors. Increasing cost control demands relates by helping further gain a foothold. ‘While our end customers are enjoying a wider variety of choices and sometimes utilizing them as a negotiating option for price, our distributor channel partners still tend to favor North American products and their established partners.'”

The pros and cons of consolidation

Supplier consolidation has been a double-edged sword. While it brings scale and enhanced solutions, it also creates disruption and frustration among channel partners. This dichotomy highlights the need for better communication and customer service during transitional periods.

“We saw some strong opinions here in an interesting dichotomy,” O’Brien said. “On one side there is recognition that creating scale and pooling resources will ultimately help the acquired organization have better technology and better service solutions. On the other side, there were some really strong views on the disruption that is created: Lack of communication, disruption and customer service, shuffling of account managers, even just general chaos that creates frustrations. It was recognized too that consolidation can increase risk.”

Buying truck parts online

The slow adoption of e-commerce in the industry was discussed, emphasizing the need for tailored strategies suitable for the complex B2B environment. Data quality and standards are critical pain points, with a strong call for suppliers to improve and standardize their product data to enhance efficiency and accuracy.

“Data quality and data standards: this is one huge pain point for our distribution partners in the industry as well,” O’Brien said. “Complete supplier and product data is needed. Images came up in every conversation, but it doesn’t end there. There’s much more information to include in your product data files. You are the expert in your own products and so much in the product data files is missing or poor quality. Your partners are asking you to get with the program. They’re tired of cleaning up your files. They’re tired of filling the gaps of missing data. They’re asking you to understand the importance of providing comprehensive correct and standardized data, and so far, they aren’t receiving that.”

Watch the video above for expanded comments from O’Brien.

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