Midwest Wheel adds value with technology
Des Moines, Iowa—As vehicles have grown more complicated and diverse in both the light-duty and heavy-duty markets, customers look for easier ways to do business, said Steve McEnany, vice president of marketing and technology for Midwest Wheel Companies, founded in 1911 to service the market for wooden wheels and solid-rubber tires.
“It’s things like having a solid customer service staff, a business-to-business portal, and a local salesman making regular calls,” he said. “Having a quality inside sales team, the best delivery, and competitive pricing have become as important as having a quality part. We see customers being more conscious of their time, and whether it’s on the phone or a sales call, we need to focus on making the best use of the customers’ time to add value.”
A new inventory management system allows the company to invest in the parts and light-duty truck accessories that will be in demand.
“We spent 25 years on our previous business system, and in 2015, we made the move to reinvent business system practices around a new solution,” McEnany said. “The new system offers much better trending analysis. Catching an “A” item moving to a “C” item is as key as a “C” moving to an “A”, really down to the branch location level. Our business system allows us to use many replenishment calculations and adjusters to set the inventory level to the product sales trends.”
In addition to stocking more of what sells quickly and less of what doesn’t, McEnany said that after the company analyzed and adjusted its delivery routes, 95 percent of its customer base is now serviced each day. And parts in stock at the Des Moines headquarters are now also delivered to the branches in Cedar Rapids, Clear Lake, and Davenport, Iowa, and Kansas City, Mo., in time for next-day delivery.
As website use for parts lookup and ordering has increased, customers also increasingly look for online shopping to provide more than just price and availability, he said. The online catalog created using the catalograck.com product from DCi provides not only photos and warranty information, but also fitment information on, say, how high a toolbox sticks up over the bed. It’s the type of information that would have previously required a separate paper catalog or Web search, McEnany said, and having that information quickly at a jobber’s fingertips can mean additional sales to his customer.
It’s searchable by year, make, and model, so that a jobber or shop can quickly see only the parts and accessories that fit its customer’s vehicle. Plugging that information into the electronic catalog is often time-consuming because there has not been much commonality among manufacturers in how that data is stored, McEnany said, requiring a database conversion tool for each manufacturer.
After his meeting at the recent SEMA Show with the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC), though, McEnany thinks less time will now be needed for such tasks. Warehouse distributors such as Midwest Wheel can select which SDC-member manufacturers it would like to include in its catalog, and after each manufacturer approves, those files are available to import into the distributor’s system. As the process is repeated for each successive manufacturer, it become easier to replicate the customized data output that will work with each distributor’s catalog system.
“I was really impressed with how far they thought through to make things work,” he said. “It’s something I would encourage our jobbers to get involved with, because I think it’s a great tool.”
Bucking the nationwide trend of a reduced vendor sales force in favor of greater sales margins, Midwest Wheel looks to its suppliers to help train its customers as parts become more technical and vehicle-specific, McEnany said.
“We value manufacturers that take the time and invest the money in feet on the street,” he said. “Their knowledge and focus help promote their product in the field.”
The company’s own field managers also serve as product experts in growing product categories, McEnany said, and will make sales calls with Midwest Wheel territory managers.
Fleet Nights, usually held quarterly for each branch, focus on trends in the heavy-duty market, McEnany said, and allow a fleet’s maintenance director to learn about recent trends and maintenance practices from a manufacturer’s representative. Training on alternators and starters will be offered in January, along with the role that proper brake friction selection plays in making sure a truck performs as designed.
“A new truck coming off the line has to stop shorter than a truck built 10 years ago,” McEnany said. “And a lot of them have collision avoidance systems in them now. So if you start changing the brake lining spec, is the truck still going to stop fast enough that it will work correctly for the avoidance system you have? There are a lot of educational classes now to talk about changing that friction material. It’s not as simple as, ‘I’ll buy the cheap one.’ You get what you pay for.”