Five members of the NTEA Young Executives Network got together at the convention to discuss the mechanics of sales partnerships between truck dealers and equipment distributors and manufacturers. From the beginning of the session, it was apparent that they wouldn't agree on every topic.
They talked about product lines, equipment house reputation, quality of work, pricing, and turnaround times. They also talked about treating clients to doughnuts every Thursday morning, a round of golf, or a night at the baseball game. In the end, Dick Crane, fleet and leasing manager for Royal Gate Dodge Inc in Ellisville, Missouri, felt he needed to put things into perspective.
"One of the things being missed in this conversation is professionalism," Crane said. "We have salesmen today that will not be here tomorrow, and we have salesmen that have been here for two or three weeks that'll be gone in two or three weeks. Those are not the professionals in our business.
"The professionals in our business are the people who know what they're selling, know how to sell it, know how to realistically market it and merchandise it without the doughnuts, without the golf. If that's part of it, that's fine. But the whole objective is to be professional in seeing the end user's needs with whatever you people supply and whatever type of trucks and equipment we can supply, to marry up and make that service available to the customer.
"Unless we realize that upfront, I don't think it's ever going to work. I would not want to call you and say, 'Listen, I'm thinking of putting three or four vehicles on the ground with your equipment, with your body. What can you do to help me out?' Gentlemen, that's not the professionalism we're striving for. If we put that professionalism back in there, I think we'll get rid of the idiosyncracies."
Some of those idiosyncrasies had been hashed out by the panel, which included Brad Matheney, commercial truck manager of Lon Fusz Chevrolet in St Peters, Missouri; John Simon, president of Gateway City International in Berkeley, Missouri; Tim Kohler, vice-president of Kranz Automotive Body Co in St Louis; and John Princing, vice-president of sales and marketing for Scientific Brake & Equipment Co in Saginaw, Michigan.
Concerns About Pricing One of Matheney's primary issues was pricing. He said he doesn't understand why a dealer such as himself has to buy two dozen service bodies at the same price as somebody completely new to the business.
"This guy may go into business and be out of business next week and you never see him again," Matheney said, "but he gets the same price I do, and I spent X-amount more dollars.
"Also, the guy goes to a body company and asks a price: '$5,000? That's great.' Then he comes out to me and gets a chassis and says, 'Oh, by the way, I've already talked to XYZ Body Co and they've got the bed I want. So why don't you go ahead and get a truck down there and put a body on it and bring it back to the shop, call me when it's done and I'll write you the check?' He wants us to do the runaround and in the end, if the hydraulics go down on the dump body, for warranty, nine times out of 10 he's not going to bring it to the body company. He's going to bring it back to us."
Matheney said he should receive a 1% to 3% margin. Princing agreed, saying he should be able to pass on some kind of price concession to the customer.
Said Kohler, "You guys doing that overinflates the market, and then we get caught in a situation where these guys (customers) come to us direct and you guys (distributors) get mad. Well, we've got to sell it. We don't have that much margin. Where do we go with it?"
Princing said dealers frequently have an unclear perception of the amount of profit a manufacturer or distributor is making on a piece of equipment - and vice versa. He said it's a "communication issue."
"There are times when I buy a chassis and stock it at my lot, I certainly expect from a dealership that I'm going to have a chance to make some money on that chassis - that if I'm buying chassis from them that I'm buying them at a better price than the end user is," he said. "Doesn't always happen. But I have the same expectation Brad does. If I'm putting it in stock, I want to know that there's a chance for me to make a small margin. If I can make $300 or $500 on a chassis and not have it sit there for six or 12 months, that's what I'm looking for."
Get Together to Talk Simon elaborated on Princing's reference to communication, saying the pipeline should include trading information and understanding each other's mutual information needs.
"There are a lot of times when we need to provide as much information to each other in an effort to get the proper discounts from the manufacturer," he said. "You're all focused in on your area and we're focused in on ours. We're not getting together often enough to talk about what we can and cannot do. I have an excellent relationship with the Kranz Corporation because they can call me on my mobile phone. I love to have instant contact. I want to be able to know that I can get a hold of somebody right away and we can talk about what I'm trying to go after."
Matheney said that when he first got into the business, he did not have a sophisticated knowledge of GVWs and body/chassis compatibility. He was looking for companies to work with him and his new sales representatives.
He sees the value in body company representatives and his salesmen meeting with the end user to talk about equipment. "So you don't have to say to them, 'Let me get back to you, I don't know the exact answer,' " he said. "If you've got a guy in a hurry, you might lose credibility. If you can't get a hold of your body company, this guy may say, 'The heck with it.' You might be able to close the sale right there."
Crane said that when he sells equipment, he doesn't view it as a one-shot transaction. He's looking into the future, trying to anticipate what he can do to assist the buyer. He said he just built a service center with weekday hours of 7 am-11:30 pm and 8:30 am to 4 pm on Saturdays.
"Why wo customers deserve that kind of service after the sale. We think it's important they get their equipment fixed and back on the road as quickly as possible. We give them the advantage of the next available technician so they can do that."