Thursday, May 23, 2013

If You Ran a Fleet Consuming $200,000 Worth of Parts Annually, Would You Want Your Parts Orders Delivered Through a Dealer?

The inventor Thomas Edison once said: “There’s a better way to do it – find it!” Now, think what that might mean for heavy truck and heavy equipment dealers. Their customer base isn’t the individual auto owner, but is dominated, instead, by large fleets that perform their own maintenance. Some of the fleets they serve can be really big - at a heavy truck dealer, it isn’t unusual to see the top 10 customers accounting for 50% of the dealer’s total parts sales volume. As a result, heavy equipment dealers sell more parts over-the-counter than in the service lane; the opposite of auto.

There are also two general “flavors” of fleet parts orders. The first is standard daily or weekly orders of fast-moving maintenance parts that replenish inventory stored at fleets’ service facilities. The second type is smaller, one-off orders for unplanned repairs. Many OEM-provided e-commerce solutions let customers store their standard orders and submit them as needed. These predictable orders typically consist of large quantities of relatively lower cost parts, like filters or brakes (i.e., not cylinder heads or clutch assemblies)

At the same time, OEMs are sending mountains of maintenance parts to dealers, who receive, sort, and deliver half of them to only 10 different addresses. Who knows how many of those parts are also stored by the dealer between receipt and delivery? The magnitude and cost of this labor must limit the amount of time and money that dealers invest in growing their business through sales development and improving customer service.

There must be a better way to do this!

The standard daily/weekly customer orders placed to dealers are prime targets for reform. Why not adjust e-commerce platforms to let customers request direct shipping from the OEM for qualified parts and orders? Fleets would need to be reminded of the slower order response time for the parts shipped from the OEM depot rather than their dealer. Perhaps pricing could reflect this. Regardless, dealers should maintain the pricing, billing, and customer relationship. The OEM would simply execute the delivery of the large order on expanded DDS/LTL routes.

Suggested Order Flow

Suggested Material Flow

A shift like this could drive a host of other benefits. Dealer inventory investment and capacity could be shifted towards adding breadth and lowering depth to reduce lost sales – RIM programs should be leveraged to help execute this adjustment. The change would also reduce the labor required to get parts to the same destination, and it would limit damage opportunities. OEM inventory management could benefit, too, as more visibility to end consumption demand improves forecasting accuracy. Smoother and less “lumpy” outbound demand could also improve inventory planning and operations.

But there are risks. Fragmenting delivery points typically increases total delivery costs. And, while dealers would save on labor and inventory costs, OEMs would take on incremental transportation costs. Terms and Conditions would need to be thoroughly reevaluated to ensure that customers, dealers, and OEMs each benefit from the changes.

As always, change management is a major undertaking. This strategy could have the unintended consequence of hurting the dealer-customer relationship if it is used to reduce, rather than refocus, customer contact. Dealers would likely resist ceding this aspect of their business to the OEM, as well.

Bottom line: The end of the supply chain (dealers) that serves the largest and most sophisticated fleet customers is generally unsophisticated and inefficient for those fleets’ routine orders. The advent of online parts ordering for fleets gives OEMs and dealers an opportunity to improve service, potentially reduce costs, and support the evolution of parts managers from being order managers to becoming sales managers. It is only a matter of time before someone tries this.

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