Meritor embraces “fast food-type” model for parts pilot project

by Jim Bray

EDMONTON, Alta. – It’s just like Domino’s Pizza: service within a certain window of time, or you get compensated. Except it isn’t pizza that is being delivered in this case; it’s remanufactured components to help your trucks stay on the road where they’re making money, rather than on the roadside where they’re costing money.

The concept is called Drivetrain Express, and it comes from Meritor, whose pilot outlet was launched officially, in front of assorted invited media and guests, in Edmonton on Sept. 10. The Drivetrain Express name is kind of an umbrella brand for the company, which is working with its Mascot affiliate in Edmonton to bring the concept to life. And if it works as hoped and planned for, it’ll spread like, well, Domino’s franchises.

It’s all about helping keep customers’ cash flowing.

“If that vehicle moves and it’s earning cash, that’s what people want,” Terry Livingston, general manager, global product management and shared services, said. “And they’re looking for solution providers. And that’s what we see ourselves as, as someone who can help them achieve that goal. We see this as the beginning of something new and turning this industry in a different direction.”

“Mascot has done some of these things in the past, but what we’re trying to do now is take it to another level,” added Livingston. That “other level” includes upping the inventory ante to bring in more components – including clutches – to take it well beyond them just dealing in Mascot-branded components. “That, we think, is unique for us,” he said.

Walt Sherbourne, Meritor’s senior director, field sales, North America, said the four-hour window concept came after much consultation, and is actually a bit of playing catch-up on Meritor’s part.

“Over the course of several years the customers have told us we need to have the product available now,” he said. “Currently, our model in the US has been same day next day, same day second day…I think (Drivetrain Express) is very exciting for our customer base and I think it’s going to be good for us in the long-term.”

The four-hour “window of opportunity” doesn’t mean a truck driver whose steed has just left him on the side of the road merely has to call Drivetrain Express for help, however. Rather, that driver will call whoever he or she calls usually when there’s mechanical trouble on the road, and Drivetrain Express will be brought in from there.

“We are a pure play on the wholesale side,” Livingston said. “You talk to many of our competitors, they sell to Billy Bob and Sue Ellen and whoever else. That’s not the way we go to market. We sell to the customers we’ve traditionally sold to and we’re trying to help their business react quicker, faster, better. That, I think, is unique.”

The core of the problem

Key to the success of the four-hour availability plan is the ability to make quick modifications to equipment that’s on-hand already. If a transmission is needed right now, for example, Drivetrain Express people can grab a transmission core from the shelves, take its gear set out, replace it with a different set, change the ratio and still have the unit delivered within the four-hour window.

This also applies to differentials, which generally fail catastrophically – seemingly always at the worst time possible. Differentials fail for a number of reasons, including insufficient lubrication, vibration, ice and snow, and such failures aren’t like those of more consumable items such as brake shoes, which generally give ample warning that they need to be replaced.

There are many different models of differentials available as well, and to ensure the right one is sent out to the right truck, Drivetrain Express personnel on hand at the opening said they can take one of the differential cores in stock and reconfigure it in some 92 different ways – an even more dizzying array of configuration choices than the 64 modifications they can make for manual transmissions.

To do this work means they need ample inventory in place, of course, from the cores to be worked on to the stuff they put into them. And to that end, the Edmonton Drivetrain Express has devoted thousands of square feet to inventory, with a huge selection of the cores that are the remanufacturing business’s foundation.

Not all components are on-hand at the outlet, of course, but there’s plenty from which to choose, including an all-makes suite of made-to-order Mascot driveshafts and driveline components such as U-joints, center bearings, shaft tubing and yokes. They also stock Euclid clutches as well as Meritor genuine and AllFit drive axle and transmission components.

Add it all up, and it appears there are plenty of solutions to plenty of problems. Meritor thinks it’ll be enough.

“The key is service,” Livingston said. “We want to delight the customer and we want to get that order. When that person calls, we want to say ‘yes’ almost every time. We can’t say it every time, but we want to.”

The Edmonton test case is designed not only to prove the concept, it’s also to serve as a template that can be used and/or adapted elsewhere later.

“We’re going to be smart about how we roll this out,” said Livingston. “It’s about (gaining) the knowledge you need, creating a playbook so we can understand it, roll it around, replicate it across Canada and to the US. But we have to have the right playbook, the right mix, the right knowledge.”

Getting the right knowledge means you have to get the right people involved in the process, which Livingston referred to as building intellectual property.

“When we start talking about rolling out an intellectual property,” he said, “it is the folks who’ve been doing this for a number of years, who know how to do this, who know the different gear ratios.” What he means is that, while it’s all well and good to have a good computer system, “you need someone with common sense,” he said, “and so as we roll out we have to make sure we have the common sense people, people with the experience. That means knowing the cores, knowing how many you’ve got, where they are, and what you can do with them.”

Edmonton was chosen partly because of Alberta’s booming economy and partly because of the wide variety of industry sectors that are serviced from the city, from oil and gas to agriculture, regional and long-haul trucking and the like. And if the city’s new outlet does, indeed, prove the concept works, Meritor plans to build Drivetrain Express outlets across Canada – including its outlets in Brampton, Ont., Boucherville, Que., and Moncton, N.B. – before heading south to the US, tailoring each outlet to its individual market’s needs.

The target is to have four locations up and running in Canada sometime in 2014.

As for that “Domino’s effect,” in which the Drivetrain Express storefront offers four-hour delivery or pickup to or from locations within 100 kilometres of the outlet, Meritor folks said gift cards would be offered if they fail to meet their commitment.

Drivetrain Express is actually kind of an outgrowth of a concept introduced this past January as Drivetrain Direct, a comprehensive, all-makes aftermarket drivetrain program Meritor says provides customers on both sides of the 49th parallel with drivetrain component expertise through the company’s Customer Care Centers. Drivetrain Direct offers all-makes drive axle and transmission parts, clutches, drivelines, and manual and automatic transmissions.

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