More than Dealing and Distributing

What does it take to achieve excellence as a distributor?

We had the opportunity recently to participate in a task force meeting to develop a process for nominating and selecting the winner of a new award-Trailer Dealer of the Year. The task force studied a wide range of issues, but the bulk of its time was spent establishing criteria for evaluating how individual trailer dealers distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.

While trailer dealers and truck equipment distributors are hardly synonymous, they share many of the same issues. These include representing a manufacturer or multiple manufacturers in the local market, handling service and warranty issues, and selling aftermarket parts, not to mention the myriad of the general issues that are involved in operating a small business in a competitive market.

As this month's annual Distributor Issue was being assembled, we couldn't help but reflect on what dealers and distributors do, what the minimum expectations are, and what a truly outstanding dealer or distributor looks like.

From the beginning, it was clear that the winner of the award would not simply be the company that sells the most trailers. This would not be a sales contest. Those accolades appropriately enough are presented by satisfied trailer manufacturers-just as several truck body manufacturers took advantage of the recently held National Truck Equipment Association Convention in St Louis to honor their top distributors.

The task force agreed that sales leadership is but one facet of overall dealership excellence. To put it briefly-being a dealer is more than dealing. And to serve as a distributor involves more than distributing.

Being outstanding isn't just selling more than the other guys. What are some of the other ways that dealers and distributors can drive their companies to multidimensional leadership? Let's take a look at some general areas.

* Financial management. Bigger is not necessarily better. How are you doing in your efforts to get the most of your financial assets? How well do you stay on top of receivables? What is your philosophy about paying your bills? Slight improvements in several areas, when achieved simultaneously, can make a smaller but better-run dealer or distributor much more profitable than the heavy hitter whose territory or prime product line makes it relatively easy to rack up big sales and small profits.

* Inventory management. Another opportunity to make the most of what one has. Today's computerized inventory control software packages greatly enhance management's ability to control inventory and to turn it at a rate that would have been next to impossible with a manual system. The one philosophical question in this area: Where do you want to balance inventory turns and fill rate, company profits, and customer satisfaction?

* Personnel management. People have always been a company's most valuable asset. How do you meet the conflicting needs of maximizing employee performance and their job satisfaction? By offering more money? Respect? Communication?

* Ethics in operation. We recall the words of a successful truck equipment distributor who years ago described what he used to guide his business. "Absolute honesty, absolute integrity, absolute consistency," he replied. With today's moral relativism and situational ethics, is your company's integrity a marketable commodity, or do you stand firm in spite of the cost?

* Customer service. Every company believes in serving the customer if it wants to remain a company. But what does customer service mean? How do you define it? How do you practice it? Is it something you express with lip service or with action?

* Industry involvement. Despite their competitive natures, truck equipment and trailer sales are vocations that allow us to make a comfortable living. How willing are you to give something back to an industry that has rewarded you? How have your efforts upgraded others and not just yourself?

* Community involvement. We operate in the industry, but we live in the community. Is the community a better place because it's the place where you live and work? What have you done to help? Have you inspired your employees to do the same?

Business issues. Industry issues. Community issues. Being a truck equipment distributor or a trailer dealer involves striking an effective balance between a wide range of conflicting demands. At the National Trailer Dealers Association Convention this fall, someone will be recognized as Trailer Dealer of the Year. While the program will provide only one winner this year, trailer dealers can go about the task now of making the job of the judges as difficult as possible-for the betterment of us all.

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