YOUNTVILLE, Calif. — It takes more than investments in bricks in mortar to expand the capacity and maximize the efficiency of a dealer network.
Investments must also be made into new processes if dealerships are to make the most of their existing space and improve their throughput. Friedrich Baumann, senior vice-president, aftermarket with Daimler Trucks North America, said the biggest of these investments within the DTNA organization is Elite Support. It’s a voluntary program that recognizes dealers that meet more than 123 performance criteria. Dealers must also re-certify each year, meeting continuously tougher standards.
Participating dealers meet each year to refine the entry requirements and add new criteria. So far, 179 North American dealers belong to the program and they are offering an elevated service level to customers and achieving some valuable internal benefits as well.
One of the new requirements, added just this year, is that Elite Support dealers will soon need to be able to provide customers with information that will allow them to make decisions regarding their truck, driver and freight within two hours of a service event.
“This is really important for many reasons that directly impact the customer,” said Catherine Auckland, director, aftermarket marketing with DTNA. “It allows the customer to make a decision about the big three (driver, truck and load) within two hours and enables improved throughput at the dealership because every truck’s issue is known before it arrives.”
Brad Fauvre, president, Velocity Vehicle Group with 24 locations in California, Nevada and Arizona, said becoming an Elite Support dealer has been beneficial in many ways.
“For those of us who have implemented it, it has fundamentally changed how we go about the business,” Fauvre said during a press event here today. He noted the average throughput at one of Velocity’s locations was five days before becoming an Elite Support dealer; it has been reduced to less than three days. Fauvre said a sidelined truck costs its owner about $1,000 a day in lost revenue.
“If we can save them a couple days, it really drives to their bottom line,” he said.
Part of the process of becoming certified involves cleaning and organizing facilities.
“Tools can clutter and you might have a bay that’s used to store jacks and other types of tools,” explained Rick Reynolds, president and dealer principal of Peach State Truck Centers. “A dynamic of this program has been a lean systems approach. See where clutter is, eliminate waste, bring better order to our shops. That brings additional capacity to our shops.”
“My facility is 50 years old,” added Scott Pharr, president of Western Star dealer Piedmont Truck Center in Greensboro, N.C. “It took a big effort to get it cleaned up. Our people are more proud of it today.”
Customers, it turns out, do care about a shop’s cleanliness, confirmed Ray Hufnagel, president of truck fleet Plastic Express.
“We do care about how clean the shop is,” he said. “If you don’t have a clean shop, you’re probably not running an efficient shop. We walk through and look at things.”
Elite Support dealers also aim to provide a consistent level of service, even for transient customers. A fleet based in Edmonton, Alta. should receive the same quality service at an Elite Support dealership in Florida as it does at its local shop, dealers claim.
“That’s the beauty of the Elite Support program; there’s a level of quality and consistency not only in the way customers are treated, but the process the truck will follow to get repaired,” said Reynolds.
Fauvre said about 80% of the work done at some of his locations are for transient customers. They don’t get treated any differently than locals, he insisted.
“We’ve always seen it as terrific business,” he said of transient customers. “We have to execute well on all of it.”
Elite Support dealers who took part in a panel discussion here today said becoming certified has helped them retain technicians, who see their earnings increase due to improved efficiencies and take more pride in their cleaner, better-organized workplace.
And as customers learn about the program, some are seeking out Elite Support dealers.
“Our customers understand they get a higher level of service from an Elite Support dealer than they would get from a non-Elite Support dealer,” said Baumann.
For Hufnagel, who once changed his entire fleet over to Freightliner from another brand because a dealer refused to cover a clutch job that Hufnagel said should’ve been under warranty, improvements at the dealer level have been critical in helping him run his business.
“You lose a truck for a day, that’s revenue you’ll never replace,” he said.
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