Independent Shops: Information Sharing

This year the week of January 20 was one where many of the major elements of the Heavy-Duty commercial vehicle component and service industry met for several days. Nearly 2,000 executives and managers from the supplier, distributor, educator, consulting, trade press, and others met in Las Vegas for the third HD Aftermarket Week. This was a conference sponsored by 12 individual HD organizations.

This was not a typical trade show; it was a business-to-business executive conference that focused on education, one-to-one dialogue, new products and existing product lines and of course, all of the fun that is Las Vegas.

There were several major topics covered beyond the expected economic and market forecast information, which, by the way, was superbly done. Several sessions in what are called Business and Technical Theaters were quite new to the attendees at the event.

I have mentioned the general feeling of a lack of availability of certain types of technical data and information in the independent market. One session that ran for an hour was the beginning of a task force addressing access to repair and diagnostic information. Led by Dave Scheer of Inland Truck Parts, based in KC, the session had panelists from all ends of the spectrum, including Michele Calbi of Swift, a major fleet, Todd Kindem, sales and marketing director for ArvinMeritor, and Pete Pasdach, of Midway Truck Parts.

The crux of the issue is that trucks have become so complex that much of the repair work done in the past now needs to be first diagnosed via a computer or diagnostic tool connected to an ECM on the truck—either on the engine, emissions, braking, and even shift systems. The tough part is that the truck and engine manufacturers control most of the information and it isn’t readily available to the independent channel.

Training, technological changes, and business survival go hand-in-hand. This industry is undergoing radical changes now, and will continue to change into the foreseeable future. The panel and the task force are to address the issue of how to survive in an industry where the degree of change in systems and vehicle sophistication has matched that which took place in light vehicles a few years ago.

The outcome is likely to be a group of wise individuals from the fleet, supplier, truck builder and service providers who sit down and start talking about how to best keep all of the nation’s trucks on the road. Information sharing is not easy, particularly when most of the cards are held by one party. The customer often is caught in the crossfire though, and that is never good.

Another industry issue was addressed in a Business and Technical Theater session hosted by Jerry Weiss, a charming guy that is the president of Ott’s Friction. This session dealt with a somewhat sticky issue addressing branded vs. non-branded products and who assumes the legal risks and liability when a product fails. A task force group was formed that will deal with issues of determining how to categorize some of these products and how to avoid losing your business over a failed product imported from a company that is shielded by international laws.

This panel was made up of Anthony Lupo and Sarah Bruno, two attorneys from Arent Fox in D.C., distributor Mark Karon from Total Truck Parts in Florida, Paul Johnston, director of engineering with Meritor Wabco, Joe McAleese, the CEO of Bendix CVS, and Mike Scoll, VP of Global Sales and Marketing for ECCO. This discussion lasted over an hour and a half and covered all of the pros and cons of private branding, direct importing and other topics.

It seems that the drive to buy these types of products is mainly due to cost. The main point taken from this is that domestic suppliers need to do a better job of informing their customers of the safeguards they build in to their products and overall brand as a part of what the customer is purchasing. The task force will address the issue of standards and quality if a company decides to go private label; it isn’t always the best price, but the overall cost that needs to be considered.

It is indeed good to see that the industry has grown up and we all hope that, at least for the outcome of HD Aftermarket Week, what happens in Vegas, doesn’t stay in Vegas. It all needs to come home with the attendees to inform their staffs and others.