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How to sell parts to major fleets

Fleets want their suppliers to be technical advisors


LAS VEGAS, Nevada — If you want to sell parts and components to Dwayne Haug, don’t send a salesman in to visit him.

“We don’t need a salesman today,” Haug, former vice-president of purchasing with Werner Enterprises and now principal owner of Dwayne O. Haug Consulting told an audience during Heavy Duty Dialogue in late January. “We need a technical advisor. Most people who come in and represent the product can’t sell it anyways, so don’t send us a salesman, send us someone who can explain the technical element of it.”

Haug’s comments highlight one of the ways the relationships between parts distributors and their large fleet customers are evolving. In some cases, fleets are looking to deal directly with parts manufacturers, bypassing the distributor altogether.

“I buy direct any chance I get,” acknowledged Gloria Pliler, director of parts procurement with Swift. “It lowers cost. We are willing to order at a pre-paid level and we’ll stock the parts.”

Swift carries about $14 million in parts inventory across its shop network. Pliler is also a fan of buying and selling parts online through Amazon. One of the advantages of buying direct, Pliler says, is it protects against private label brands being substituted by distributors.

“That’s where I like purchasing direct – I can really control what it is that we get,” she said.

Another challenge facing distributors is the trend towards vertical integration, which requires fleets to use OE-supplied parts and components.

“The vertical integration with some of the OEs is forcing that paradigm to change, where you have to go back to the OE to get parts to maintain that equipment,” said Lee Long, director of fleet services, Southeast Freight Lines.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that most large fleets are conscious about the parts they buy and insist on known brands.

“We take extended warranties out on all our trucks and have to replace like for like,” Pliler explained. “We’re going to want to stick with the quality brands when replacing those parts, what the truck was born with. But we’re also going to verify them. We’ll be testing components and making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

But buying brand name parts isn’t always as easy as it would seem, due to an influx of counterfeit parts. Long recalls buying a brand name slack adjuster that failed. Upon investigation, it was discovered that it was a counterfeit part, even though it came in a box carrying the name of the desired brand.

Roy Svehla, senior manager, fleet maintenance with Republic Services, explained why he won’t scrimp when it comes to choosing parts from well-known suppliers.

“Shop capacity is my most pressured commodity,” he said. “If I’ve got the truck and the space and the technician, the easy part here should be the part. If I can’t get it, I’m losing shop capacity…If the part doesn’t fit, if it’s low quality and causes re-work, I’m losing shop capacity and that’s the most valuable thing I’ve got.”

Svehla said he weeds out white box parts from his shops and tries to figure out where they’re coming from. He admits this strategy has him “at odds with the procurement guys,” but adds “to the guy who has to get trucks on the street, the cost doesn’t mean anything unless you have a quality part in the first place.”

The types of parts most in demand are also changing, thanks to the introduction of costly and complex emissions aftertreatment systems. Long says at Southeast Freight Lines, aftertreatment systems now represent the fleet’s second highest maintenance expenditure after only fuel. To drive down those failures, Southeast Freight Lines has shortened its diesel particulate filter (DPF) cleaning intervals to about half the OEM recommendation.

To reduce maintenance costs, Long said it’s necessary to take the OEM recommendations and then compare them to real-world results to come up with a customized service interval. Sometimes, straying from OE recommendations provides opportunities for savings, as Svehla has found by extending oil drain intervals.

“The most significant thing we have done in the last six years is extended oil drain intervals,” he said, noting the company has in some cases extended drains by 300%. Republic Services also changed from a natural oil to a semi-synthetic and adopted a lower-viscosity 10W-30. Some trucks are now going up to 1,350 hours between oil changes compared to the OEM recommendation of 250-300 hours, but most are getting oil changes at 900 hours.

Svehla said this was done in partnership with the oil suppliers and not without oil analysis. Asked about the engine suppliers’ reactions, Svehla said “The engine suppliers are never comfortable with extended oil change intervals. People err on the side of caution. Were they happy when we told them that was what we were going to do? No, they weren’t really happy but did they say they were going to deny our warranty? No. So, if we do have a problem, we can produce a history of oil samples, maintenance records and I am not aware of any warranty claim we’ve been denied on that basis. We have guarantees from the oil suppliers that if there’s a catastrophic engine failure attributable to the oil, they would warrant it.”

One of the greatest challenges facing all fleets is the ability to attract, train and retain technicians.

Swift now has dealer-employed technicians working out of its own shops.

“We can control our downtime a little better” when the work is done at Swift’s shops, Pliler noted.

To keep technicians happy, Southeast Freight Lines has changed its scheduling.

“We have three shifts. We saw a lot of people leaving the third shift, so we asked, is it important to our operations? We saw where we could whittle down the third and second shifts and move those guys to more desirable shifts,” Long said. “That spoke volumes to our technicians, saying we’re interested in you and having you stay here.”

All the fleets on the panel said they’re involved in outreach to local schools. They also emphasized the need for ongoing training, which Long said is the number one thing a technician desires. At Swift, technicians can increase their pay by $2 per hour each year through additional training.

The need for ongoing training presents an opportunity to parts suppliers, noted Haug.

“Training is the number one thing that we’re starved for,” he said. “To keep those technicians, we need to keep them trained and that’s where we need help from our suppliers and manufacturers.”


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