Tapping technology to hear from you

At the risk of sounding like technological troglodytes, we want to talk about what for us was a new attempt to stay in closer touch with you, our readers.

We know e-mail is nothing new, but the parts department survey that you see on Pages 32-36 represents our first electronic attempt to systematically get your feedback about what, for many of you, represents a major portion of your business.

Through the efforts of our corporate market research office in Minneapolis, we sent out e-mails September 17 to many of our readers who own or manage parts departments. Those e-mails included a link to a Web site that contained a brief questionnaire. The Web site accurately collected the data without identifying the companies that sent in their data.

Over the past 20 years, we have used several approaches to provide you with objective data about our industry's parts departments — including trends in markets, sales, salaries, and employee performance. To do that, we have used direct mail, phone interviews, and finally e-mail and Internet.

The direct mail approach used to be our only real option. It was so slow, though, and it took us so long to compile and publish the results that we used to get phone calls from survey participants.

“Hey, have you guys crunched the numbers yet?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Could you fax me a copy right away? I've got a performance review tomorrow, and I'd really like to know what guys like me earn.”

It's unusual for readers to demonstrate that much interest in a story. But this is the type of practical information Trailer/Body Builders wants to provide to you. Yet we can't do it without your help. That's why we have tried different approaches with the idea of making the process as painless as possible.

The e-mail survey seemed to work. It generated a response rate of more than 8%, a noticeably better response than what we received when we loaded up the mailman with questionnaires. And it is less intrusive than when we tried bugging you with phone calls.

Our corporate research staff does these types of surveys all the time, and they were impressed with the response rate that it generated. To those of you who participated in the survey, we are grateful.

Does that mean we are totally satisfied with the results? Not really. Here's why.

With 120 people responding, the data of one large company can make a disproportionate difference in the survey results. We know, for example, that a typical parts department for a trailer or truck equipment distributor may have somewhere around four employees. So when we get data from companies that have 100 or more employees (which we did), it will have a huge effect on the averages of many of the factors that we are tracking, including overall sales, inventory levels, and sales per employee.

While we included averages in the report, we did so merely to make the report more complete. The median, which we report first for every category, is a far better yardstick to use. It includes the input from the large companies without skewing the results. The median says that an equal number of respondents are above this number, and an equal number are below it — which tends to reduce the impact that extremely large or small companies have on the overall results.

Almost any survey can benefit by receiving data from more respondents. In our case, we had a very good response rate; so we need to improve our sample. We simply don't have enough valid e-mail addresses to reasonably expect to get much more participation than we received with this survey.

If you would like to see additional objective reports similar to what we have included in this month's Aftermarket Parts Issue, please tell us. And let us know what else you might want us to research. Just send an e-mail to [email protected].

Also, when it comes time to renew your subscription to Trailer/Body Builders, please include your e-mail address. If you do, we promise to respect your time and your computer. You won't get spam from us or anyone else.

As a matter of fact, we commit to contact you only on rare occasions. We are aware that it's almost impossible to buy, do, or ask something today without being inundated with customer satisfaction surveys. That dissatisfies us, and we won't do that to you.

But when we do ask, it will be with the intention of providing you with more information that you can use to help you run your business. It's your industry, and Trailer/Body Builders is your industry magazine. Without staying in touch with our readers, there's not a lot for us to tell you.

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