Friends in the parts business

Oct. 1, 2004
THE LARGEST trailer manufacturers have done an excellent job helping their dealers succeed in the aftermarket. They offer parts distribution centers,

THE LARGEST trailer manufacturers have done an excellent job helping their dealers succeed in the aftermarket. They offer parts distribution centers, co-op advertising programs, national parts managers meetings, local training, and even private label products for their dealers to sell.

But if you are a trailer dealer, how do you succeed in the parts business when you do not represent one of the highest volume manufacturers?

The answer is simple — you do it yourself. Executing that answer, however, is more complicated.

“We aren't the big guys on the block,” says Sue Bosman, president of Best Trailer & Equipment in Lynwood, Illinois. “We have had to teach ourselves a lot.”

The company covers the top third of Illinois and northwestern Indiana. Customers are primarily small fleets and owner operators.

Best Trailer specializes in selling what are commonly called “nonvans.” These include Reitnouer aluminum and Clark steel platforms, Walker tank trailers, Ti-Brook and Eagle Rock dumps, and Ti-Brook transfer trailers. On the light-duty side, the company handles Felling trailers — small dumps and utility trailers for landscaping applications.

Missing from the list is a dry-freight line, one with the high volume of sales that large trailer manufacturers need to be able to afford the high levels of parts support that they provide to their dealers. Management at Best Trailer knew from the beginning that if the company was going to sell parts, the effort was going to have to come from within.

But over the years, the company has grown from a small welding shop to a full-service trailer dealer. As part of its operation, Best Trailer has developed a strong parts business based on proven principles.

One of the standard tools for selling parts is a periodic printed piece that can be mailed, handed out in conjunction with sales calls, or picked up at the parts counter.

Best Trailer has been using them for years, but the company recently found a way to increase the impact with little additional expense.

“We used to put all of our parts specials on a single sheet,” Bosman says. “But at the National Trailer Dealers Association a year ago, someone showed us a multi-page tabloid that worked well for them. It has given our parts promotion a more professional appearance and better visibility. We mail it out every quarter, and our salesmen deliver them when they make sales calls. We have found that the flyer helps them get their foot in the door. And we put copies on the parts counter, which has helped increase our point-of-sale business.”

Format of the four-page tabloid is consistent. The first page contains the company's parts specials for the quarter. The third page is a listing of used trailers, while the back page promotes the sale of new trailers. Ads from suppliers on Page 2 help defray the cost of publishing and distributing the flyer.

Best Trailer & Equipment prints 2,000-3,000 copies of the tabloid. The quantity varies according to whether the company will be exhibiting at a large trade show during the time the parts specials are in effect.

A local job shop does the layout, printing, and mailing. Best Trailer provides the copy and the digital photographs.

“The new format is a little more time-consuming than producing a single sheet, but it's getting easier as we build up our library of photographs,” Bosman says.

Internet sales

Production of the new tabloid has meshed well with the company's online sales efforts. The Best Trailer & Equipment Web site contains a list of the used trailers the company has for sale, along with links to photos of each trailer. With these photos and text already on file, producing the new and used trailer pages of the tabloid is much easier.

“When it comes time to produce these pages, we can get the information we have already posted on our Web site,” Bosman says. “We recognize that not all of the information will be current after the tabloid has been out for three months, but it still gives the customer an idea of who we are and the types of trailers we sell.”

Bosman sees the Internet as one more tool that can be used to market trailers.

“Some people use the Internet, others don't,” Bosman says. “Our printed tabloids fill a real need.”

One of those needs is the ability to sell parts. The company does not sell parts online, although Bosman believes that an online marketing effort is in its future.

“Some of our customers are already using the Internet to buy parts,” Bosman says. “I believe it's something that small and medium fleets will grow to use. It's the next coming thing.”

The company's 26,000-sq-ft facility includes 6,000 square feet for parts displays and offices and a 3,000-sq-ft parts warehouse.

In the back is a nine-bay shop that has nine bays and a fabrication area.

“We have the equipment we need to build trailers if we have to,” Bosman says. “We have built medical trailers, and our trailer repair capabilities include a lot of rollover work that some shops won't do.”

Such shop capabilities are not surprising considering the background of Best Trailer & Equipment. Sue Bosman's husband started the company as Duane's Welding & Truck Repair 20 years ago, and Duane continues to run the shop. The company subsequently began selling trailers and took its current name in 1988.

Face to face

Whether it is parts sales, repair business, or selling new trailers, the company depends on personal relationships for its business.

“About 80% of our customers are owner-operators,” Sue Bosman says. “That means we are dealing directly with the people who own the trailers we sell and service.”

The owner-operators in the company's trade area often are recent U S immigrants, including many from Latin America and Central Europe. Bosman sees clusters of these owner-operators, as one family member finds success in business and then encourages another to join him.

“The market here is very family oriented,” Bosman says. “And when they find a supplier who treats them right, the word tends to spread. If you treat enough people that way, they begin to bring business to you. We make it a point to generate friends and not just customers.”