Are You in the Top Half of Your Class?

TO CASH IN on the technology that has revolutionized the parts business, parts departments have to do two things — buy the technology and put it to use.

Trailer dealers, truck equipment distributors, and others operating truck and trailer parts departments have come a long way in terms of implementing technology. It wasn't very long ago that managers used index cards to keep track of parts. Back then, some managers knew what they had in inventory once every year or so. Now computerized systems have taken the place of cards, and managers have a real-time picture of what is in stock.

As far as we have come, our industry's utilization rates for technology have room for improvement. Computers can be found at almost every company in our industry now, but are these tools being utilized to their fullest? Yes, computers are busy monitoring parts inventories and printing invoices. But are parts departments doing all they can with them? Or are some truck equipment distributors and trailer dealers missing out on cost-saving applications?

For example, just barely half of the industry companies responding to our parts department survey this year (see story on Page 40) are tapping the power of telecomputing to perform routine business functions. The most common applications for this form of computer technology include searching the Internet for parts suppliers and using e-mail to communicate with parts customers and suppliers. Yet almost half of our industry apparently does not take advantage of these capabilities.

The companies that do tap the Internet and fire off e-mail appear to be finding a variety of ways to use these tools. About a third are turning to the Internet to promote parts sales, and about one in four are selling parts on line. Roughly half of our respondents are e-mailing regularly — about 60% e-mail suppliers, 50% e-mail customers, and just under 20% use e-mail to promote parts sales.

Undoubtedly these figures are going to climb sharply as advancements in software make e-commerce increasingly appealing. Meanwhile, increases in postage rates and penetration of computers in the marketplace will make electronic communication mandatory in many cases — not just attractive.

E-mail is so inexpensive that we at Trailer/Body Builders can offer the entire industry our Market Watch electronic newsletter free of charge. We started Market Watch in July, sending it to the subscribers of our magazine for whom we had e-mail addresses. Only a third of our subscribers listed an e-mail address. If you are one of the other two-thirds who are not getting your complimentary copy of Market Watch, sign up by visiting our web site (www.trailer-bodybuilders.com) and clicking on the “Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter” link.

The economics of e-mail make it possible to distribute a newsletter at little cost to us and at no charge to the subscriber. However, the same cost structure that makes e-mail attractive for marketing parts (or sending out newsletters) also allows billions of “spam” e-mail messages to go out daily. Out of respect for those in our industry, Trailer/Body Builders does not send out Market Watch unsolicited — we want you to request what we send you. Likewise, those who want to use e-mail to market parts or promote their parts department need to consider how someone receiving this “cold call” might respond.

Perhaps more than e-mail, the Internet has incredible potential for parts departments. Interactive parts catalogs such as the one described in the Hyundai Translead story (Page 52) are being developed by manufacturers as a way to keep their parts catalogs continuously updated and instantly available.

Even the rather mundane task of ordering sales literature is going electronic. We just received a press release (via e-mail) about Dana Corporation's new eFulfillment Center. Accessible from the company's web site (www.spicerdriveshaft.com), the site makes it faster and easier to order items such as literature, videos, and CDs related to its line of driveshaft assemblies. Some of the files are large (it took us several minutes to download a 75-page manual, even with a high-speed Internet connection), but they still arrive faster than any courier service we know.

Web sites such as these are bound to proliferate, because they provide advantages to suppliers and customers alike. For the supplier, printing costs are reduced — every brochure that someone else prints out as a PDF file is one less that the company needs to pay to have printed — and it costs virtually nothing to distribute the literature to the customer. From the customer's perspective, he can order what he wants from anywhere in the world and get it almost instantly.

Technology has a lot in common with a torque wrench. They both provide valuable services when they are used. In competitive times like these, managing resources adequately keeps you from failing. Those who buy tools and use them creatively tend to move to the head of the class.

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