Technology hasn’t changed the handshake

by Steven Macleod

The product: bigger and more efficient. The lots: larger and more accommodating. The amenities: welcoming and plentiful.

A number of aesthetic appearances have all undergone transformations to make the shopping experience a joy ride; but what hasn’t changed in the past couple of decades in the truck sales business is the value of a handshake.

Selling trucks is a people business. A business built on relationships and based on a product.

“The guys taking care of the customers are doing the same things they were doing 30 years ago,” explained Jim Hedge of Woodbine Truck Centre. “The most important part to a dealer is taking care of the customer, you do that and they’ll keep coming back.”

As the product on display has evolved during the past quarter of a century the lots and showrooms have evolved along with the new trucks. Despite the changes to trucks, the underlying purpose of the truck has remained the same: it’s the key tool in helping a group of professionals complete their jobs.

Like most professionals, truck drivers need to be treated like professionals and not just the bank accounts they’re attached to.

“What hasn’t changed is going out to meet the customers,” said Hedge. “You have to go out to them and shake their hands and talk to them over a cup of coffee.”

Hedge has been immersed in the trucking industry since 1965 when he took up employment with International. After serving in a number of different capacities with the truckmaker, he moved into the truck sales business with a private dealership in 1979.

Throughout his career, Hedge has seen a number of different dealers. Despite the uniqueness of each establishment, overall the business is similar today to what it was 25 years ago.

“In the ’70s I was on the road with International calling on various dealers around Southern Ontario and each dealer was different, but they’re not a lot different than they are now,” noted Hedge.

Technology has been the base for a number of industry advancements and selling trucks has not gone untouched.

“One thing that has really changed since 1982, our specification books are all online now,” said Hedge. “You want to spec’ out a truck now, you must go to a computer.”

Online truck spec’ing has taken out all the guesswork from building a customer’s truck. It’s eliminated all the binders and crosschecking associated with spec’ing by pen and paper. If it can be put together on the computer, it can be put together at the factory. When a truck is finished being priced out on a computer, there’s no doubt it can be built.

“That part of the system has been the biggest change in truck sales,” added Hedge.

Another change to truck dealerships that has caught on in the past 25 years is the commonality of full-service dealerships. Full-service centres began creeping up in the ’70s, but they really went full swing in the early ’80s, recalled Hedge.

To really make the full-service centre a viable product, there needs to be a strong network for reciprocity among the dealers across the country. All of the major truck-makers have helped establish networks to provide peace of mind to the customers no matter where they travel.

“You need to offer full-service leasing otherwise you’re not going to move anything,” said Hedge. “We have a responsibility to make sure the trucks operate safely. Obviously there is responsibility on the owner’s part, but we have to help control costs, take a load off their shoulders and the worries of over-the-road service.”

In the age of information, resources are plentiful. Web sites, magazines, word-of-mouth, many customers know what they need in a truck and where to find it even before heading out to a show room.

“You have customers now that will know the truck better than you do. Customers are definitely more informed than they were a number of years ago,” said Hedge.

But it’s those customers that keep Hedge going.

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