By Robert “Bob” Johnson
Do you have a beneficial relationship with your truck equipment vendors, or do you just call them when you need to make a purchase? Far too many truck equipment users view their suppliers as a place to go when they need to purchase parts or equipment. In some cases, truck equipment users actually make a conscious effort to avoid developing a relationship with their suppliers.
If this is the way you view your suppliers, you may be missing out on a great opportunity. In many cases, by taking a proactive approach, you can establish a beneficial relationship with your vendors that can potentially result in reduced maintenance costs, increased vehicle productivity and lower acquisition costs for new equipment. The key to making this happen is to establish effective, two-way communication with your suppliers.
Reducing maintenance costs
Ideally, your records of demand maintenance for vehicle-mounted equipment should identify both the equipment manufacturer and the equipment installer (upfitter). You can then utilize this data to identify and document specific product/vendor maintenance issues. If you feel the costs associated with a specific product or supplier are out of line, work with the vendor in question to identify the cause for these excessive maintenance costs. The vendor can then develop appropriate corrective actions to address the current problem and the process/design changes needed to avoid similar issues with future production. If a vendor is not willing to work with you in this manner, you may want to consider finding a new vendor.
Going beyond this basic approach to maintenance cost reductions, take advantage of the vendor’s product knowledge to help identify additional opportunities to reduce your operating costs. In many cases, you will find that by spending a little more up front to upgrade your equipment, you save much more over the service life of the equipment. For an effective approach, make sure your vendors fully understand your equipment applications, operating conditions and life cycles. They will then be in a position to make recommendations for upgrading your equipment.
To avoid up-selling for the sake of up-selling, make sure the vendor provides you with complete documentation as to the full costs and benefits of the proposed equipment upgrades. You can then utilize this information to make an after-tax, net present value, life cycle cost analysis to ensure that the vendor’s proposals will be cost beneficial to you.
Increasing equipment productivity
Many fleet managers are creatures of habit, frequently believing that if a specific type of equipment worked well in the past, there is no reason to change. This is especially true for fleet managers who do not have the opportunity to participate in the periodic trade shows that showcase new product developments. In some cases, your suppliers will make an effort to keep you up-to-date, but far too often, they are happy to just sit back and take your orders.
To avoid this problem, make sure your suppliers are fully familiar with your specific operational requirements and challenge them to come up with new solutions to your equipment needs that will result in reduced operating costs and increased productivity. As with proposed changes associated directed toward reducing maintenance costs, make sure your vendors provide you with full documentation as to the benefits of their proposals. Then make a full life-cycle cost to ensure that the vendor’s proposals are economically sound for your business.
If the proposed changes are significant, involve the equipment users in the product selection process. No matter how good a proposal looks on paper, it will not work if the actual equipment users are not happy with it. As a part of your vendor communications process, have the users discuss their own issues and concerns jointly with you (or your representative) and the equipment supplier’s representative.
Make it an ongoing process
To be truly effective the vendor/customer communications process must be ongoing. Don’t make a major effort to involve your suppliers a couple of months before going out for a new purchase and then forgetting about them until the next buying cycle. Even if you aren’t having any significant problems with a specific vendor’s products, take advantage of their periodic sales calls to discuss your maintenance and productivity issues.
Avoid letting a vendor’s sales call end up being just a social visit. Each time a vendor is in your office marks an opportunity to build an effective, beneficial relationship with the vendor. Occasionally, you can arrange to meet your vendor’s representative at a work site or maintenance shop. This gives them the opportunity to see their products in use, and lets them to talk to the actual users and maintenance personnel who work with their products on a daily basis.
Robert “Bob” Johnson is director of fleet relations for the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). The NTEA offers two products — the “Property, Plant & Equipment Life-cycle Cost Analysis Program” and the “Vehicle Life-cycle Cost Analysis Program” — that are ideal for making these types of cost evaluations. For more information, call 800-441-NTEA (6832).