Dealing a winning hand

Steve Keate, president of International Truck & Engine Corp.'s truck division, believes that the role of truck dealers in the industry will undergo serious change in the near future change critical to the success of truck manufacturers. The trucking industry is a business where the vehicle has to be on the road for the customer to make money, Keate told FLEET OWNER. If the vehicle is down for even

Steve Keate, president of International Truck & Engine Corp.'s truck division, believes that the role of truck dealers in the industry will undergo serious change in the near future — change critical to the success of truck manufacturers.

“The trucking industry is a business where the vehicle has to be on the road for the customer to make money,” Keate told FLEET OWNER. “If the vehicle is down for even a short period of time, it is devastating to that customer's business. So the customer is now looking to the dealer for support to help keep it running.”

Dealers must now be ready to go well beyond merely selling trucks to being an “insurance policy” for customers in case they have problems, he says. That means not only handling initial purchase decisions, but helping customers spec the right trucks for their applications and be a point of contact for emergency service.

Dealers must also move beyond being a local service and parts provider, Keate says. They must fill the gaps in customers' maintenance networks and become more of a business partner for customers over the life cycle of their vehicles. That means dealers will need to work more closely together within national networks, providing support to each other's customers.

In the future, the number of service locations will be critical, not the number of dealers per se. Consequently, International expects its dealer network to change from 400 dealers and 1,000 retail outlets to 200 dealers and 1,500 retail outlets in the future.

For dealers themselves, scale and technical skills will be the key ingredients for future success, says Keate. “That means they'll need to make investments to retain skilled technicians and other personnel so they can have the resource capability the customer will need,” he explains. That also includes providing rewards for dealers who attain these new goals, so financial incentives for dealers to make these changes are a part of International's plan.

“We still have a long way to go with this concept, but that's where we are going,” says Keate. “A high level of technical competency is required of dealers today and that will only increase tomorrow. A dealer's role is not only to give the customer confidence in the support behind their truck, but also build loyalty to a particular brand because of that confidence. That dealership experience is critical to our success as a truck manufacturer.”

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