Building and maintaining an accurate inventory of ride control components and assemblies requires a certain amount of clairvoyance on the part of most jobbers. Obviously, you can’t stock one of every application; in most cases, you can’t even stock a complete selection of parts based on generalized vehicles-in-operation (VIO) data in your region. Every jobber’s customer base is slightly different, and it’s imperative to get a handle on what’s right for your individual case. We asked leading ride control suppliers what to consider when fine-tuning your inventory.
Most suppliers agree that VIO data is the place to start, then begin to drill down to your particular area. According to Karen Shulhan, marketing manager with DRiV, which supplies Wagner ride control products, “With the geographic size of the country, it is important to review VIO at a local level. For example, in areas of Canada where many of the country’s oil fields are present, vehicles may be put to more demanding use; conversely, in the greater Toronto area, you may see more ride sharing, and with it, more city and highway driving.”
Aaron Shaffer, KYB Shocks, explains that while the particular carpark in a given region does offer a starting point, local needs will vary. “For example, it used to be that if a customer had a 20-year-old vehicle, if you only had room for one product, it might make sense to just stock and sell the economy unit. But many family vehicles today hold their value, so even when the vehicle is older, it may still make sense to replace with OE-performance-restoring shocks or struts.”
Observes Bob Bean of QBAutomotive, “VIOs are great in helping to plan inventories. But they can be misleading if they don’t drill down to the vehicle options. For example, there could be 1000 Gran Cherokees in your area, but only 10 of them may have an air suspension system. Eventually those 10 will need service, but where will they go, if your customers don’t know you can provide the units they may need?”
Other important factors to monitor are vehicle age and mileage of the vehicles being serviced in your area, Shulhan adds, and identifying potential opportunities. “As shock and struts degrade gradually over time, the key to increasing shock and strut business at the jobber level is to encourage service providers to implement formal inspection and recommendation practices for every vehicle visiting their shops. It may not always be obvious to the vehicle owner when these components have worn, as shocks and struts sustain incredible abuse over the course of their service lives and often lose their effectiveness over time. Service writers and technicians need to engage and actively have the conversation with a customer about replacement. You can’t get the sale if you don’t identify the need and ask for the work.”
There are many other factors that come in to play when determining the ride control failure rate of a particular market, beyond geography, local VIO figures or a replacement timetable, says Jason Riley of GSP North America. “For years, we talked about 50K mi/80K km as the time to replace, but these days we are taking a different approach,” he says. “Considering that we all operate our vehicles in different environments with different demands, plus everyone drives a little differently, you can’t predict a shock or strut’s time of death. So I would recommend that the 80K km threshold be where we start to do inspections and start paying attention to the subtleties of a vehicle’s handling and performance.
“[Also], different climates and environments affect ride control differently,” Riley continues. “The colder climates tend to have rougher roads. Ride control has a shorter life span in these areas. More open areas where there is not a lot of stop-and-go traffic will lead to longer ride control life. Again, the life span of a shock or a strut is all about the daily use. The more use and abuse that a vehicle takes, the shorter the life span of the suspension system. This is where quality inspections come in.”
These tips work well for meeting existing demand, but are there accurate ways of predicting what will be in demand down the road?
Shulhan suggests, “There are new opportunities with vehicles that are high utilization, namely with the recent growth in ride sharing and final mile-type vehicles, and those that are categorized as severe service: fleet, emergency and municipal vehicles. These light-vehicle applications are putting on mileage faster and are put through more demanding, multi-purpose use that may require a more durable, high performance product.”
“The key is to stay in close communication with your installer base. These are the customers that see vehicles day in and day out and understand the market better than anyone else,” says Riley. “Pay attention to their purchases, and record lost sales (very important and often ignored). Find the shops that are performing proper inspections, focusing on front end work or specializing on alignments. Find the shops with a high car count and focus on the business that they are calling about. I think that by understanding the commercial side of the business as a whole, a jobber will gain a bird’s eye view that an individual shop won’t have.
Bob Bean points to increased sales of SUVs and CUVs as a valuable indicator of future demand. “Manufacturers are now selling these vehicles at extremely high prices, because they have added numerous upgrades, such as air suspension products. These vehicles now ride and handle like cars. Owners love these new conveniences – the only negative is that when they fail, there have been very few places beyond the dealership to find the parts, plus the cost associated to them has been very high.
“Many repair facilities may offer a conversion kit (which replaces the air suspension with a non-air type) at a lesser price,” Bean continues. “However, most owners complain that they don’t like the feel and ride. QBAutomotive has the products they are looking for that restore the ride and handling of the vehicle, but only cost a fraction of the quoted figure. Our products are designed to fit and function the way the factory built the vehicle.”
Many ride control suppliers have excellent resources to help you fine-tune your inventory, so that it hits the sweet spot for your particular market. “We understand the wholesaler’s reluctance to carry inventory that requires large investments, takes valuable space, and has minimal movement that some of these components require,” says Bob Bean. “We can turn these orders around in 24 hours or less. Logistics today allow us to ship the product anywhere in Canada with the shortest delivery time. We also offer a dual pack (right and left units in one box) to do the job right. These dual packs also offer additional savings.”
DRiV monitors sales and VIO at the local level, and offers the insights of an active sales team and Garage Gurus technical specialists, who can provide insights to what they are seeing in the bays and what service providers are asking for. “Along with DRiV’s OE expertise, we can leverage these insights and are testing and studying data trends to help identify vehicle applications that show signs of premature component wear. This helps guide our engineering and development process, introducing those parts to the aftermarket faster,” says Karen Shulhan.
“In my opinion, the biggest thing that a company like mine can offer is quality training, at both the jobber and installer level,” Riley explains. “Understanding how to recognize ride control opportunities, being able to focus on the category on the sales side will translate into understanding what inventory choices are needed. We want to work with our customers, not only by providing reports with numbers that go on for pages. I think that understanding the market dynamics by simply communicating with the customers is key.”
KYB can present different suggested inventories from a high point of view, explains Aaron Shaffer, then fine-tune for a jobber’s individual case. “Downtown Toronto or metro Vancouver are different from rural Alberta. So we start there, and then work with the client to customize their mix. Moving forward, we want to make sure the right parts are there, so we look at the inventory to make sure there’s everything there for a complete job.
“We offer to help with the part numbers you should stock, which full assemblies you should have, which ones you may not need. We also help manage bare units as you transition to more full assemblies. In individual cases, many warehouses will stock our products to supply if needed, so it’s smart for jobbers to have an existing relationship and align with distributors, who can supply them with the deepest inventory on demand.”