Recently, we had an opportunity to talk to Rob Mitchell, Controller of Premier Trucks, about the web sites—how theyīve helped the business, the initial strategy behind them, and where they hope the Internet will lead them.
Trucking is not generally an industry that one would think of when talking about high-tech solutions. Why did they decide to develop a web presence? Ultimately, their reasons were the same reasons given by companies in many other industries: to get their name out, and to stay abreast of the competition.
"A number of factors motivated us. Joey Lojek gets a lot of the credit. Heīs very forward thinking, and advertising has always been key to him, heīs always wanted us to get our name out to as many people as we can. Heīs definitely responsible for driving this aspect of the company."
"But thereīs also our competition, as well. There are a couple other companies that do basically the same thing we do, and they had very nice websites themselves, so definitely some of this was competition-driven, too. If we want to keep up with the Joneses, we have no choice but to get ourselves out there."
"Between those two factors, there was enough there to prompt us to say, `hey, we at least need to have something out there so people can find us and see who we are and what we do.ī"
One of the reasons that a web presence became crucial for Premier is the simple fact that the trucking industry doesnīt have traditional sales territories as in other industries. Very little of their business is local; most comes from out of state, sometimes as far away as California. "I think weīve covered about all 50 states at some time or another," says Rob. Without defined territories or a specific regional customer base, Premier had to broaden the depth and breadth of their reach to stay competitive.
As the sales and rental aspects of their business grew, they sought to diversify, and now they augment their business through the sale of a wide variety of truck parts. Premier is a direct distributor for product lines from large automotive companies like Spicer, Dana Corporation, and ArvinMeritor. Although both the truck sales and parts are represented online, the sites serve two very different ends. Both provide information about the goods and services Premier offers, but Truckparts.com is not, and does not seek to be, a full-service e-commerce site.
"Truckparts.com was more of an afterthought. Itīs a static site. Because of the nature of the inventory weīre dealing with, how specialized it is, we donīt think itīs useful to put all the inventory up there, and we donīt change it much."
"Weīve done a little bit of business there, but not nearly as much as we do on the truck sales and rental site."
Nonetheless, it promotes the Premier brand, and encourages customers—and potential customers—to get in touch with the sales team. The human factor is still critical to Premierīs business. Meanwhile, they are exploring affiliate relationships with many of the manufacturers, and they know that reciprocal links on the homepage of a corporate giant like the Dana Corporation will boost business and increase their visibility.
ThunderTech, the Cleveland-area solutions provider also responsible for the Transport Services Corporation site, another company profiled by Family Business Strategies, created Premierīs current site. Currently, the Premier Truck Sales staff is able to maintain the site themselves, with support from ThunderTech as needed. Rob says that keeping this aspect of the business in their own hands, rather than relying on an outside company for updates, has made a vast difference in speed and efficiency.
"Weīve been up for about 3 years. When we originally did the website, we had a Canadian company design it. But it wasnīt anywhere near as involved as it is now that weīre working with Jason and ThunderTech. Plus, it was more cumbersome because we couldnīt maintain it ourselves. We couldnīt upload anything directly, we had to go through the company and have them put it up for us, so it was a little more labor-intensive on that side."
"Jasonīs done a super job revamping our site and making it so much easier for us to maintain it. We can do things in a much more expedient manner than we could a couple of years ago."
The physical proximity of the ThunderTech offices to Premier Trucking has also made a difference. Most companies prefer to keep their business as close to home as possible, and this remains true when it comes to web site maintenance, despite the fact that the Internet can facilitate business between parties operating at a great distance.
"I think it makes it a little easier, given the fact that if we have a serious problem, he can get to us in a matter of minutes. Itīs really a security blanket, knowing that heīs that close. Heīs also easily accessible via email and on the phone. Heīs really been just super to work with."
Rob is very satisfied with the path Premier has chosen for their technology. He says that he has no regrets—for Premier, establishing an Internet presence is an evolutionary process, and he believes it will grow and change with the companyīs needs.
"Looking back to when we first got started, what our expectations were, I think we were hopeful that weīd be able to generate some business from the site, but I donīt think we ever quantified it. I donīt think we were thinking that far. I think it was more about getting out there, and having a site that was at least comparable to our competitors so we wouldnīt fall behind. I think we were more driven by what our competitors were doing and a need to keep up with them."
For companies just entering the online realm, he advises a measured approach: understand the technology thatīs out there, but donīt feel pressured into pursuing every new trend, gadget, or gimmick that comes along.
"Itīs really important to keep up with the technology thatīs available. The problem is that the technology is changing almost constantly. If you really try to keep up with every new development, youīd be spending enormous amounts of money and making constant changes. But I think itīs important to keep abreast of whatīs out there. You donīt necessarily need to be on the cutting edge, but you need to at least take advantage of some of the technology available."
"At Premier, I think we need to keep looking at ways that technology can help us, and I think we have opportunities to do even more than weīre doing now, and Iīm sure we will. Since we started this, it amazes me how much weīve learned in a fairly short period of time. There are so many opportunities out there, and if you donīt take advantage of them you really will be left behind."
And the customer reactions Premier has gotten make Rob even more confident that their expansion on the web has only served to grow their business and strengthen their brand.
"The response that weīve gotten is great. Weīre getting very good traffic and people are looking at a lot of pages per visit, so the numbers are very encouraging. Weīre doing more and more with our customers online—we can email customers pictures of the trucks or send them a spec sheet."
"Weīre putting quality stuff out there. If youīre selling a truck, itīs got to look good. I wouldnīt go so far as to say that weīve done a full transaction over the Internet yet as far as selling a truck or trailer, but you can sure get the interest up enough that people will want to come in and look."
"Of course, most people still want to come in and kick the tires, and thatīs understandable, but what the web site has done for us is to really increase interest and awareness, and thatīs really been a huge asset for us."
Business profile courtesy of Family Business Strategies.
Rob Mitchell can be reached via email or at http://www.premiertrucksales.com.