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Parts & service part I: the fleet specialist

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A well-known business phrase goes something like, "it’s choice, not chance, that can determine your (fleet’s) destiny," and that certainly holds true for parts and service sourcing.

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Your fleet operation makes choices – whether relying on your respective OE dealership for the past 10 years, or opting to stay with the independent channel and your community neighbor, or balancing parts buying between the two parts outlets, grabbing the “best deal,” wherever that may be. But other factors come into play, too – like the right parts for multiple vocations, speed of delivery, availability, product brands and all-makes, experienced talent and that ever-present price issue.

To help clarify your knowledge of who’s who in the parts and service marketplace, we’ve talked to a number of leading fleet specialists about the differentiators and what they can mean to your business. (Next month, we’ll examine the same issue of choice from the dealers’ perspectives.)

Marc Karon of Total Truck Parts made an observation on the end-user customers and their parts purchases: “All fleets are not the same. The mix of vehicles in the fleet is a critical factor in how they purchase and where they establish value in the supply chain.”

The respondents made the point about a variety of applications from linehaul to off-road to specific vocations like agricultural or waste hauling. “In waste fleets, hydraulics and driveline issues are more prevalent and warehouse distributors can be ideal with that audience. As equipment and technology become more complicated, plus fleets invest less in human capital and resources, there is a real need for fleet specialists.”

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Inventory: “The OE dealer is typically well-equipped to handle the ‘A’ movers, but beyond that, it’s a crapshoot,” said Jerry Weis of Ott’s Friction. “The aftermarket distributors appear far more able to take care of the ‘B’ (parts) movers and some of the more common ‘C’ parts. The fleets’ biggest challenge is not to experience downtime when they have any control on the circumstances.”

All distributors surveyed believe their depth and breadth of stocked parts is broader than OE dealers. Fleets depend upon their primary parts trading partner to have their parts in stock when they need them, and larger fleets can give you history that can be translated into stocking levels.

“When a fleet doesn’t get its parts or they’re delayed, it creates pain. If you have a good relationship with your customers, you do whatever it takes to eliminate pain,” emphasized Karon.

Relationships:  “Added value” is the true benefit from long-term relationships between fleet managers and fleet specialists. According to John Minor of Midwest Wheel, the distributor has a big arsenal of added values to use on behalf of the fleet—like prompt warranty processing, on-time delivery, trained and knowledgeable staff support, and major supplier support.

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“Our role as distributors is to be flexible and adaptable to the end-user customer’s needs,” said Bill Ryan of Point Spring, emphasizing that relationships exist between people, not organizations. “We have the unending ability to stay away from a cookie cutter service approach, and to custom ‘alter-adjust-tailor’ and simply compete better, over the dealer community.”

John Bzeta of Fleet Brake Parts suggested that fleet specialists have become similar to real estate agents or mortgage or insurance brokers—all experts to assist customers through complicated parts and service transactions. “We can save (end-users) downtime and money in the long run.”

A Service Focus: all respondents cited that more fleets are focusing on transporting goods on time, rather than technicians and parts inventories.  “Many dealers are not open during off-hours or lack personnel who can analyze a problem without bringing the vehicle into their shop,” said Karon.

“We bring significant benefits to the smaller and medium fleets—they lack the on-hand inventories and their mechanics may not have the same capabilities as in the larger fleets,” he added.

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Editors note: This is the first of a two-part series on Parts & Service: The Fleet Specialist. Next month: The OE Dealer.

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