Fleets are always looking for ways to remove costs and improve efficiency. And VIPAR Heavy Duty believes it has unlocked one of the secrets to doing that.
For the past year, VIPAR has been using ProNet Marketplace, a software program from NEXTStep Commerce Inc that allows VIPAR's 110 distributors — operating more than 500 locations throughout North America and carrying over $200 million in parts inventory — to band together and conduct business as a integrated Procurement Network (ProNet), essentially appearing as one company.
“It's an online catalog that is set up specifically for a fleet — a generalized catalog that we can dial down to the individual fleet level that might have a national account with us,” says Jeff Paul, VIPAR's director of marketing. “We take parts quoted specifically for that fleet and implement them into the catalog, and it gives the fleet an opportunity to purchase those quoted parts through our national accounts program, which in turn takes a purchase order and sends it through the technical platform directly to our distributor to fulfill. It takes technology and puts it at work for the fleet and becomes a more efficient way of ordering parts from the distributor and also helps the distributor respond more promptly to fleets' needs.
“Anytime you can take technology and put that to work for something that typically has been a time- and labor-intensive process, it's good. Making sure you have the right parts on hand at the right time when that vehicle is down and needs to be repaired is just as important as being able to make the repairs. The ProNet platform, and what VIPAR Heavy Duty uses it for with our national account customers, allows our distributors and us as an entity to be more responsive and provide more timely service to the fleet. At the end of the day, it's that timeliness that saves money for everybody, because down time for a fleet is money lost. They have to have vehicles up and on the road, doing what they do best.”
With ProNet Marketplace, a universal user interface is provided, enabling fleets to quickly locate, review, and purchase essential products from participating distributors. It provides single sign-on to multiple product categories, internal and external online vendor catalogs, and real-time inquiry access to vendor pricing, availability, and order status.
ProNet Marketplace supports cross-catalog product searches, detailed product information displays, multi-level product category hierarchies, featured items advertising, product reviews, product cross-sell and accessories, related product models and attributes, a multi-vendor shopping cart, order checkout, credit-card payment, and EDI/XML purchase order generation.
Easy to use
It also includes a comprehensive marketplace administrator that enables vendor product catalog information to be uploaded from template spreadsheets and/or manually populate vendor catalogs via an easy-to-use Web interface.
“Think of it as large distributor network,” says Rob Skyler, president/CEO of NEXTStep Commerce. “Through our technology, it makes all these independent companies that are part of VIPAR appear as one company. So when all these orders come in from national fleets, they are routed automatically to the correct distributor to fulfill orders. Think of it as a large catalog.
“A fleet comes in and purchases products online. When the order is placed in the shopping cart, it is routed to the closest distributor, or there might be a primary or secondary distributor for a customer location. They can pick and say, ‘Well, I don't want a primary or secondary one. Maybe I like this one better. ‘ Then they're filled by that local distributor. With a large group like VIPAR, there is central billing, but the distribution is done locally.
“The nice thing is that as orders come in through one place, the invoicing is all going out through one place. Whether they're buying products from suppliers — the Federal Moguls and ArvinMeritors of the world — or selling products to some of the large national fleets, the whole group appears as one company from the technical side in terms of orders and invoices. It's almost like a virtual network.”
NEXTStep has been working with VIPAR for seven years, offering various versions of the ProNet suite.
“Before that, everything was done manually: spreadsheets, phone calls, and faxes,” Skyler says. “Now, everything is electronic. The old way was error-prone and tedious. Now, cycle times are more accurate, and it's less costly. They're doing things very quickly. It's a competitive edge for VIPAR. They can provide the local closeness that a typical local distributor can, but they have the backing of VIPAR behind it with technology. They have tools like a large competitor has. An individual company couldn't afford some of the software, but when they band together, they suddenly have a state-of-the-art system that they wouldn't have individually.”