Tank Parts Distributor Expands, Uses Website to Promote Business

Oct. 1, 1998
A THRIVING PARTS BUSINESS has allowed Werts Welding & Tank Service Inc to expand into a five-location company able to serve most of the US in two days

A THRIVING PARTS BUSINESS has allowed Werts Welding & Tank Service Inc to expand into a five-location company able to serve most of the US in two days or less by regular United Parcel Service shipments.

Werts is a full-line parts distributor for petroleum, petro-chemical, chemical, and pneumatic tank trailers. From its 36,000-sq-ft corporate headquarters in Wood River, Illinois, the company does repair work as well as sell new and used tank trailers. Sixty percent of business comes from parts sales, 20% from tank repair, and 20% from new and used sales. The company sells new Heil, Trans-Tech, and Trailmaster tank trailers.

The company has locations in Wood River, Illinois; San Antonio, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; Tampa, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia. Werts' first branch location was added in 1991 in San Antonio.

"The owner wanted out of the parts business and this was a good location for many of our existing customers," says Dwight Werts, president and CEO.

On December 1, 1997, Werts took control of Mid South Tank and Equipment, an acquisition that added three more locations across the southern US. This allowed Werts to ship faster to its customers already in the region.

"This really helped our business because we already had salesmen making calls into these regions," says Bruce Cornelius, parts and sales manager.

The company attributes its growth to good chemistry between salesmen and customers as well as good service. Werts employees focus on personal attention.

"Our salesmen are friends with many customers and take their satisfaction seriously," says Cornelius. "Good customer service is the key to our business."

Employees with experience in the industry help Werts keep customers. All salesmen at Werts have at least eight years experience.

"Salesmen make a point to treat every customer the same regardless of whether they order from us once a year or three times a day," says Cornelius. "Anyone can stock and sell parts, but we try to offer customers good service, information, and a large variety of parts."

Web Marketing Werts uses a Website to promote the company's services on the Internet. The site can be viewed at www.wertswelding.com.

Under the Werts Website, each of the company's five locations has its own page with specific directions to the location. Directions are available in text and map formats. When using map directions, customers can view a greater metro area map of the city of each location. More specific map directions are available using a localized map that indicates Werts' location with a star on the street.

The site is linked to 15 of the company vendor's Websites, allowing customers information on specific products. The site includes a company profile and a company history.

"The Website gives our existing customers a better understanding of the company. Some customers didn't know about all our services," says Werts. "The Website brings in customer inquires from around the world." Since adding the Website in May 1997, the company has had calls from as far away as Brazil and Pakistan.

A guest book was included in the site so potential customers can leave their name, e-mail address, and type of business for future contact. Customers can request specific information through the guest book as well. Guest book information is used to make follow-up calls.

A used equipment list is included in the site for customers who are shopping on-line. The list includes trailers and equipment. Government agencies, trade organizations, and state petroleum marketers are also linked to the site.

The site was designed using guidance information and ideas from the Werts staff. It was constructed by Drew Webb, an outside regional salesman for Werts, and ezl.com, an Internet service provider of Edwardsville, Illinois, who also supports the site.

"We are working on getting key words incorporated into the site so it will be recognized by many different search engines," says Webb. "The site will continue to improve as we add more features."

Initially hesitant about the added cost of building a Website, Werts has justified the added expense. The site now receives 300 to 400 hits monthly, a number that the company expects to grow as more industry businesses gain Internet access.

Conventional Marketing Another factor that influences Werts' success is active marketing that includes advertising in magazines, bulk mailings, and an extensive catalog. All Werts locations can be reached through 800 numbers.

The company advertises in industry publications such as Modern Bulk Transporter magazine and regional publications. Werts also advertises in the yellow pages in Mexico and some South American countries.

Bulk mailings go out when Werts has new information to share with customers such as new products or a specific type of product, says Cornelius.

"Fliers were sent out when we acquired three new branch locations last fall," he says. "We send fliers to those on our customer list as well as companies whose names we get from the trade associations we belong to."

Werts produces a 500-page catalog containing the majority of the parts it sells. Catalogs are sent to Werts customers who request them. The company sent out 3,000 catalogs in the past two years, but expects new catalogs to go faster because of the new locations. Werts management also attends trade shows.

Efficient Operations With 2,500 to 3,000 parts numbers and 3,000 customers nationwide, Werts has created an efficient and effective method to organizing parts in warehouses. Each part at Werts is assigned an alphanumeric code. Codes are easily understandable using aisle and bin number in the warehouse.

"Parts are easily found by pickers. When they see the row number they must only find the right bin," says Werts.

The company chose to assign parts their own location numbers for several reasons.

"We don't use vendor numbers because most vendors make parts that vary drastically in size," says Cornelius. "Using vendor numbers would force us to locate large and small parts in the same bins."

The cost of keeping a high volume of parts has been reduced due to the company's organization. Cycle counts also take less time, he says.

All billing, accounts payable, and accounts receivable are handled through the Wood River headquarters. A centralized accounting office helps the company eliminate the possibility of duplicating a workload.

"Using one accounting person to handle all accounts payable and accounts receivable allows management more control over the branch locations," says Cornelius.

Ordering and Shipping Werts manages its inventory and accounting with Karmak business management software, an upgrade from the company's previous system.

"We had to pay more for the Karmak system," says Cornelius. "It has given us higher return through less paperwork and fewer hassles."

The system allows Werts to use a centralized customer base that provides a master list of customers to all locations. Orders can be filled from any location using point of sale invoicing.

The company can keep only a few rarely sold parts in stock at one or two of its locations by utilizing the systems capabilities. These parts can then be shipped to customers anywhere in the country from that location.

"We save money and control inventory costs by only stocking hard to find parts in one or two locations," says Cornelius.

Salesmen at Werts never have to leave their desk for orders to be shipped. Salesmen type orders into the system, which in turn prints a picking list in the shipping room.

Werts uses a delivery service for local parts distribution. The company can serve customers better by relying on the service, says Cornelius.

"We can call the delivery service at the exact time a customer wants a part rather than making two deliveries per day," says Cornelius. "It is less expensive and more efficient than customer pick up or house delivery."

Werts uses UPS to ship smaller orders. Its preferred customer status allows it to track orders for customers at any time. From its Wood River location alone, the company ships approximately 70 packages per day via UPS in addition to making three to five common carrier shipments.