Online parts ordering

The Internet has become an integral part of business life. Truck Bodies & Equipment International Inc (TBEI), Eden Prairie, Minnesota, recently introduced a new Web site that company officials hope will generate increased sales of parts and accessories.

The company's new parts and accessories Web site was developed out of the desire to provide truck equipment distributors and end-users a faster, more efficient way to find and order parts and accessories, as well as maintain inventories and minimize downtime.

Ordering and inventorying parts and accessories in the past was not always as simple as it sounds. Often part availability was scarce or the wrong parts were ordered. The process was more often than not, inefficient for everyone involved.

“We're converting our customer service to a customer care philosophy,” says Dale Pilger, TBEI's chief executive officer. “We really want to be an easy-to-do-business-with service provider.

“We want to help customers manage their inventories and offer them quick turn-around times and availability.”

Parts and accessories are really a customer care issue, Pilger explains.

“We want to offer our customers everything — from accessories to replacement parts to the items they need to rebuild their bodies. This Web site is part of that philosophy, and it's one step in achieving that goal. It's virtual inventory for our customers. It's there for them.”

While the inventory may be virtual for customers, it is very real for TBEI. The company has committed a substantial portion of its inventory to the site so that parts and accessories will be there when the call comes in from cyberspace.

“We're making the commitment to have the inventory allocated to the Web site,” Pilger says. “Immediate availability is the key. When a dump truck is down, it costs the customer money. We're committed to have the parts available for them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Design, form & function

Coordinating that entire inventory between ten facilities throughout the United States while maintaining over 785 different parts and accessories live on the Web is no small task, and much goes on with the programming of the site to keep things running smoothly.

The TBEI parts and accessories site was developed from a basic shopping cart type model one might find on commonly used retail Web sites. From there the model was customized to fit the needs of TBEI and its customers. At face value the customer is dealing with the TBEI dump body parts Web site. But behind the scene, while orders are placed, the site is working with all ten TBEI plants.

Another component of the Web site is making it easy for users to find the parts or accessories they need. This can be done through the site's built-in search feature or by browsing through part and accessory categories. After the item is found, the end user can visually confirm that it is the right part, reducing the chance for error or confusion.

Internet safety and security are always concerns. According to Pilger, those issues were addressed from the onset.

“We made sure to include all of the safeguards users would expect on a site like this,” he says. “Protecting user privacy and preventing credit card theft were paramount.”

All these efforts are designed to provide something that is functional and safe without complicating things for the end user — the final component to the online ordering process.

Park City Truck Equipment

Jay Hine is the managing member of Park City Truck Equipment LLC in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Hine has been involved in the automotive side of the business all his life as a second-generation owner of an International truck dealership.

The equipment side of his business (Park City Truck Equipment) has been around since 2001. As one of the largest truck equipment distributors in Connecticut, Hine knows first-hand how important inventory management is to Park City Truck Equipment's success. He is convinced the parts and accessories business has been behind the curve when it comes to order taking and processing.

“Before this Web site came along, ordering parts and accessories was antiquated to say the least,” Hine says. “Sometimes you wouldn't receive an order acknowledgment for a long time. Sometimes you'd order 30 of something, but there would only be ten in stock, and you had no idea. It was very slow and you never knew what you were getting and when.”

Knowing when is extremely important to one of Hine's customers, the State of Connecticut. According to Hine, the State of Connecticut is a very large user of parts. While the state does carry its own parts inventory, when that inventory is depleted, his customer looks to him to have the parts available and to replenish the inventory quickly.

Park City Truck Equipment is required to maintain several hundred thousand dollars of parts inventory specifically for the State of Connecticut. Not having those parts available is not an option for Hine.

Hine considers the parts and accessories Web site a step in the right direction toward better customer service, even when online purchasing lacks the feedback that distributors get when they sell parts and accessories face-to-face with customers.

“In this business you don't always hear the good, but you always hear the bad,” he says. “So if there's no grumbling, there's no problem. You're not going to hear, ‘Oh, you always get my parts in on time.’ Instead, you're going to hear, ‘You took too long to get that part and I was down too long.’ That's always going to be there to some extent, but if you can eliminate 90% of those problems, you've really done a good job.”

Ordering parts and accessories online has helped Hine improve customer service, save time, and better manage inventory.

He anticipates more benefits this coming winter when demand is high for snow and ice control equipment.

“Most of the equipment we install is for snow and ice removal,” he says. “Ninety percent of our business in that area is municipal. So it's very important for us and for our customers that we have those parts on the shelf or have readily accessible parts that can be obtained through our suppliers during snowstorms or times of inclement weather.”

Hine was introduced to the Web site at this year's Work Truck Show in March. He did not hesitate to use it, even though he does not describe himself as being computer savvy.

“I'm 46 six years old, and today you don't have a choice,” he says. “You need to know what you need to know to run your business. I'm used to using computers, but I'm not an expert. But you don't need to be.”

He estimates that he and his staff use online purchasing of parts and accessories two to three times per week, but he expects that to increase as they head into the busy winter season.

Hine estimates that of the orders he places for his business today, 95% is done via the Internet. Five years ago it was 30%.

Wilson Brothers Construction Company

Raymond Grow has been in the construction industry for more than 25 years. As truck supervisor for Wilson Brothers Construction in Alma, Arkansas, Grow is charged with the care and upkeep of 23 tri-axle dump trucks.

Like many in the industry, Grow has had bad experiences trying to order parts and accessories.

“Before TBEI created this Web site, we'd basically call for parts, dealer or otherwise, and wait on them for a week,” he says. “Sometimes we'd wait a month. Ninety percent of the time it would be the wrong part, and we'd have to start all over again. But this site is great. I can go straight to the Internet and order a part.”

Grow said he uses the site once or twice each week. When he needs a part, he frequently looks for a casting number and then simply finds the part in a catalog. He then goes to the Web site and orders the part via the part number. The part typically is delivered to his shop in two days.

Feedback

The tbeidumpbodyparts.com Web site is averaging 80,000 to 90,000 hits per week, and Dale Pilger expects that to increase over time.

Pilger says TBEI is seeking feedback from users about the site in order to identify ways to improve it. Plans are underway to include an area on the site where users can share their online experiences with TBEI and the Web site administrator, Jennifer Cox. Pilger says that feedback will be used to drive Web site updates and improvements.

“We're trying to create a scenario where someone that's having problems with their truck can talk with a technical expert and have that person guide them while they're on the Web site. And we're always adding more products, especially accessories. We're passionate about offering our customers a secure, fast, easy, and dependable way to purchase the parts and accessories they need to keep their dump trucks running - and making them money!”

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