This demand for aftermarket parts has created a new awareness for many manufacturers, including Trane, about the importance of making these products more easily available to the consumer. Manufacturers and OEMs have realized that selling efficient and reliable equipment is only part of the battle. To satisfy distributors and contractors - and to create lifelong customers - companies are beginning to strengthen their focus on service parts.
According to Gary Wenzel, marketing manager for the aftermarket parts division of Trane, the company recently held a number of focus groups to find out what it could do better for its customers. These focus groups provided invaluable information for the company that reinforced what Trane already believed - that the company needed to create even better and easier ways of providing replacement and service parts to distributors and contractors.
"We have new interest in looking at the customer beyond the initial installation," said Wenzel. "Parts and service are a huge factor in that."
Trane is not the only manufacturer looking to its customers for advice. Emerson Climate Technologies has also spent a great deal of time researching the needs of its distributors and the contractors that use their products.
According to Emerson, the company established a contractor advisory council. The council meets quarterly and provides feedback on Emerson product ideas and how to better market the company's products. Bob Labbett, vice president of marketing for Emerson Climate Technologies distribution, said that the company also has roundtable events that focus on products.
"Within these groups, contractors and wholesalers provide valuable feedback on the value of a product, its functionality, pricing, and if it accurately meets the needs of the contractor and its customers," he said.
"Traditionally, we've done a pretty good job of training counter people," he said. "It's important for the guy behind the counter to be knowledgeable."
With this in mind, Trane is looking into the creation of a parts database that could be readily available at any time for counter people. Ideally, this database would have all of the information on every Trane part that a contractor would find in the field, and if a contractor had a question, the information would be right at the counter person's fingertips.
To help educate its customers, Emerson Climate set up a Web site specifically for the contractor. By going to www.emersonclimatecontractor.com, customers can get up-to-date product information and service tips.
Emerson and Trane are also aiming to make products easier to use. According to Emerson, this means combining products with improved technology to create integrated product solutions. The goal is to make contractors' jobs easier by providing better service to the end user.
Wenzel said that Trane is also working with its engineers in an effort to make more standard replacement parts. This means developing new products that can utilize some of the same replacement parts as older and current Trane models, eliminating the need for several different parts for several different units. This will not only cut down on the confusion for the service contractor, but it will also help the distributor by eliminating the number of different products that will need to be stocked and ordered.
Wenzel said that Trane has formed a parts leadership council. This group's goal is to continually find new ways to make the distribution network and the replacement parts market even more customer-friendly and efficient over time.
Wenzel believes that if you can make it easier for customers to get replacement parts, they will stick with the company's products over time.
This is the same philosophy espoused by York International, which developed an aftermarket program called Source 1. Source 1 sells HVAC parts to the channel partners of the York Unitary Products Group (UPG).
"Our brand, Source 1, correctly suggests a one-stop shop," said Ben King, vice president of aftermarket sales and service for York. "Our offering of over 26,000 parts provides the single source of parts for our customer base."
King also said that Source 1 has the capability to provide same-say delivery for emergency orders. But it is not enough to just get parts and to get them in a timely manner. York, like many other manufacturers, is providing extra incentives to customers.
"In 2002, York UPG combined the technical support, training, and warranty administration groups with its Source 1 parts group, forming the Aftermarket Sales and Service organization," said King. "This combination uniquely positions York to effectively support customers in every facet of the aftermarket."
Rheem developed its Pro Stock and ProTech programs. The ProTech product line replaced Rheem's Universal Parts line. According to Don Harter, national parts manager for the Air Conditioning Division, ProTech stands for professional and technical. The name change is not the only change for the Rheem products. The ProTech line replaces the old black-and-white packaging for the replacement parts; all Rheem parts are now color-coded and divided by part categories.
For example, red indicates gas and oil heating, while purple indicates refrigerant piping. Harter said that the color-coding helps to improve the efficiency of stocking and allows customers to quickly find parts on the shelf.
At the heart of Rheem's new wholesale concept is the ProStock store. Rheem and Ruud distributors have the opportunity to establish a ProStock store and share in the benefits that Rheem can provide. But there are guidelines.
"It is required that distributors have 1,500 square feet in front of the counter," said Harter.
This is a change for the traditional wholesale store, where most of the products are kept behind the counter. The idea is to create a buying environment that is more like other retail outlets.
"We are teaching distributors that their showroom is beachfront property," said Harter. "You want to put things out in front that contractors will want."
Not only does this help to advertise the available parts, it eliminates the need for a stockroom, allowing salespeople to remain on the floor to assist customers.
Distributors who want to take the ProStock approach receive a great deal of help from Rheem. The distributor needs to pay for building renovations, if necessary, but Rheem will provide all of the other materials for the transformation. Rheem will design the layout of the store, provide a store development guide, new exterior signage, wall and floor graphics, and directional banners.
The company believes that this approach not only makes parts distribution easier for the consumer, it also provides a more inviting atmosphere where consumers will want to do business.
"We are trying to provide a retail experience that is so much different from the old distributor," said Harter.
Along with that new retail experience is an emphasis on educating distributors and counter people. With the inception of ProStock, Rheem introduced the ProStock Institute, which provided consulting and customer service training in an effort to better meet the needs of customers. Harter said that the ProStock Institute will continue, but Rheem is making plans for distributors to participate via the Internet.
This success for ProStock did not happen overnight, according to Harter.
"The first year was slow," he said. "It was difficult to get the concept out. But once [the distributors] see the success of other stores, they become excited about it."
Harter said that last year 33 ProStock stores were open, and this year saw the launch of 40 stores. Rheem is hoping to reach a goal of 250 ProStock locations by 2007.
Publication date: 10/20/2003