February '20

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40 THE SHOP FEBRUARY 2020 tracts up here. It's been steady business for us. A brand-new truck replaces the one in service at a certain mile point, so there's always work to be done, from toolboxes and racks to bumpers. In recent years, we've expanded into snow removal products, installation and mainte- nance. Now those customers keep coming back year after year to be serviced. But it's not just work trucks anymore, since commercial vans are gaining in pop- ularity. We recently completed a highly customized upfit for a chemical response team—we actually installed a DECKED system with a Bedslide on top of it for maximum cargo management. We also provide full service to a hospital fleet. Running boards, front and rear protec- tion like bumpers and brush guards, snow- plows and cargo management are consis- tent categories for us, but every upfit we do these days automatically has an inverter, cell phone booster, laptop mounts and fleet tracking system. What role do automotive aftermarket wholesale distributors play in your busi- ness, and particularly in securing the right product at the right price? CB: For us, partnering with the right WD is key. When I first started, it was all about going direct, the concept being better pricing, newer products and removing the middleman. The WDs have come a long way. The pricing is fair, and the turnaround is quick. There's a lot of value in someone else holding that inventory for you. For a small shop like ours, holding that inventory costs me money—potentially at a loss. The growing WD competition is keeping everyone honest while giving options to shops like mine. How did you find this professional cus- tomer base and what steps do you take to maintain your relationships? CB: There's a fine line between prop- erly diverse and too broad—you have to evaluate that line for your own shop. I stated earlier the importance of diversity and being willing to take on some of those jobs you don't really want but that serve a larger purpose long-term. One small upfit job turned into another and then another. After a while, we landed a couple of bigger contracts that legitimized us as an upfitter that professionals can trust. As far as maintaining relationships, cus- tomer service is incredibly important. In a world where everyone is quick to vent on social media, we'd rather someone express their feelings to us rather than everyone else. I encourage our staff to work really hard to ensure no customer leaves without an issue resolved because, as a shop owner, you don't want bad feelings to fester when they walk out that door. That's true of the customer who walks in to buy an accessory, plan a build or schedule an upfitting project. What methods have you found effective in attracting new customers? CB: Word of mouth is still the best thing we have going for us. Yes, it's the most difficult to control, but it's so powerful. Really, it can build or break a business. What you do for a customer carries more weight than you think. In many ways, we've grown organically. For example, we have fleet accounts that recognize our hard work, fair pricing and attention to detail—so much so, they've started bringing us their personal vehicles to work on. That's all new business. Does serving professional customers require any changes as far as pricing, training or other specialized services? CB: Anybody servicing fleets has to deal with management—that's just part of the job. And pricing is a huge issue that's actu- ally double-sided—too high and they'll immediately look elsewhere, and if you're too low, then obviously you're doing your- self a disservice. My advice is to focus on what's com- parable. It sounds simple, but Google is powerful—even for fleets. Fleet managers know the market price, so you can't really find margins there. Be prepared for them to seek out wholesale pricing—and that is its own gray area. So, what's the answer? For us, at least, it's been service. These fleet accounts will nickel-and-dime you on the product margin, but they're less likely to argue the costs associated with labor rates, main- tenance fees, etc. It's harder for them to compare those rates. Plus, if you're that good—consistently serving that fleet to the highest standard and getting them in and out quickly—then you can command a premium price and they'll pay it. Your service must be impeccable. Please provide a general outline of the steps involved in completing a work truck-related project from start to finish. CB: It takes a specialized approach. We have personnel dedicated solely to fleet accounts, because these customers are unique. They expect you to anticipate and fully understand their needs, and then have the knowledge to fill in all the gaps. These jobs require a lot of brands and products to complement one another. That requires a highly trained sales staff and excellent relationships at the manu- facturer level to ensure all the pieces of the puzzle are in sync. It always starts with understanding the customer's needs. Second, make sure you have solid relationships with the OEs and aftermarket manufacturers. Third, you must have reliable sources for inventory. Oftentimes, we have a short window to complete the project, so we need imme- diate access to the right parts, at the right price, with quick delivery. WORK IS ITS OWN REWARD Look around and ask yourself if your shop is prepared to meet the high standards demanded by fleet owners and other professional clients. (Photo courtesy Timbren Industries)

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