When no one is looking

HERE'S THE CLASSIC LITMUS TEST for evaluating your integrity: Do you do the right thing when no one is looking?

Truck equipment distributors take that test every day. And the results of those tests can be found in every truck that rolls out of the shop.

No truck leaves a distributor's shop empty. They all carry with them the results of decisions that distributors have made along the way. Evidence of the distributor's commitment to professionalism can be seen. Steps taken to cut costs are also there.

Either way, the distributor's answers to an array of questions are written on each truck. Some of these questions are easy to answer, but others are tough calls.

The easy questions are the ones the customer asks: Did I get what I wanted? Did I get it on time? Does it work right? Will it continue to work right? Are the hydraulic and electrical connections tight? Are the welds smooth? Does the paint match?

The tougher questions are the ones that customers never ask. Questions such as “Are you sure I don't need to pay federal excise tax?” and “Unlike your competitor down the street, have you made sure my truck meets all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards? Would it be okay if I paid you extra to cover that additional cost?”

Obviously, these are questions distributors never hear. But just because the questions aren't asked doesn't mean they aren't real. These types of questions involve nitty-gritty issues — and real expense for the distributor.

In today's market, deals can be won or lost because of a slight difference in price. And every day, distributors who certify their trucks and who charge FET compete in the marketplace against guys who don't.

Not surprisingly, industry groups over the years have tried to come up with ways to encourage industry companies to do what's required — even when customers may not notice and agencies do not enforce the rules they make.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, an organization in the UK comparable to the National Truck Equipment Association in the US, just announced it will conduct workshops in April to promote the use of its new Commercial Vehicle Bodybuilding Best Practice Guidelines.

“We've developed a clear, simple best practice guide for the UK body building industry,” says Robin Dickeson, manager of commercial vehicle affairs at the SMMT. The publication, available to SMMT members for £50.00 and £100.00 for non-members, is designed to help members and nonmembers alike raise their standards and receive recognition for doing so.

Closer to home, the NTEA made two announcements in this area during the recent Work Truck Show in Indianapolis — updates on the status of the Louis Kleinstiver Institute and a presentation on the association's Member Verification Program (MVP) and Sales, Productivity, Earnings, and Quality (SPEQ) Plan.

As Rod Robinson, NTEA president described it during his address at the President's Breakfast, the Louis Kleinstiver Institute will be dedicated to safety and technical education in the commercial truck industry. Fundraising efforts for the institute started in December 2004. As of March 1, more than $35,000 had been raised to fund the institute, with additional fundraising efforts taking place during the convention.

The Louis Kleinstiver Institute is named after NTEA's former director of engineering whom Robinson described as someone who worked hard to “educate manufacturers and distributors on their responsibilities and the importance of compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards.”

The SPEQ Plan is a training and reference guide intended to help management evaluate daily processes and facilitate continuous improvement. The MVP is being implemented to recognize members who meet certain business standards and government regulations. Details of these programs will be included in our Work Truck Show Report Issue next month.

Programs such as these are rarely instantly or universally accepted. Some companies will choose not to participate, and some will continue to take liberties in areas such as certification and collection of federal excise tax. But these types of group efforts can shine a bright light on the answers — right or wrong — that are written on commercial trucks. And bright lights often get the attention of people who otherwise are not looking.

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