Monthly Archives: February 2016

Supplier Highlight

Supplier Highlight

Getting to know Datalliance

By Edward Kuo, director of Sales, Motor Vehicles

What separates Datalliance from competitors in its marketplace?

Most technology solution providers try to do too many things. We have focused on thoroughly addressing one important area and have therefore become global experts in that area. Our focus is on inventory replenishment — helping suppliers and distributors work together on a daily basis to ensure the right products are available at the right place at the right time to meet end customer demand. And to do so at the lowest practical cost for both the distributor and the supplier. By maintaining a clear focus on that one important objective for over 17 years in heavy duty, we have earned the confidence of leading manufacturers and distributors.

How do you believe customers perceive your business?

VMI and technology represent change and certainly a lot of people fear change. But companies have to constantly seek out better ways to provide value to their customers. Most of our customers see the success Datalliance VMI has brought to heavy-duty and as a result, we have become a positive change for the industry.

What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about Datalliance that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about Datalliance we don’t know)

Datalliance offers VMI solutions to many other industries outside of heavy-duty, including electrical, plumbing, grocery and consumer packaged goods. While each industry performs differently (yogurt turns faster than truck bearings), all of the industries are based on distribution models that are similar, and Datalliance is effective across the board in delivering improved performance metrics.

Do you feel Datalliance is in the position to change with the times? If so how?

Our business model relies heavily on innovation and continuous improvement. Datalliance actually upgrades our service three times a year (at no extra cost to our customers), allowing them to always be using the best version of our software that includes most all the changes they have requested over the years. If we don’t keep changing, we lose our competitive advantage and someone else will take our place.

Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?

Be an influencer for continuous improvement. In this industry, change doesn’t happen fast but it is necessary for growth. Change might require hard work and persistence, but if you believe it will bring benefits to your company, make it happen.

What are your goals for the long-term future of Datalliance in the heavy-duty aftermarket?

Our VMI product isn’t for everyone, but we’ve proven that if the distributor is interested in improving their business processes, VMI is very effective. My goal is to have the top 30 percent of aftermarket companies (both distributors and suppliers) utilizing their data combined with our analytical services to produce a stronger and more efficient distribution chain.

Why did Datalliance join GenNext? How can GenNext help Datalliance’s employees?

Already, we are seeing a growing interest in our services from GenNext companies, which I would expect as this organization represents the industry’s future leaders. GenNext members are committed to this industry and are aggressively pursuing ways to make it better.

Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?

I’ve been very fortunate to have had a significant number of mentors guiding my career in this industry — too many to name without leaving some out. The nature of my role is to push technology into the heavy-duty truck parts distribution chain; something that doesn’t happen overnight. However, it would never have happened without a strong industry network of innovators and thinkers. People still look at me as if I’m crazy when I say I sell technology into the heavy-duty truck parts industry, but I know that with the help of my mentors, we have the industry on the right path.


Distributor Highlight

Distributor Highlight

Getting to know CRW Parts

By David Willis, president

Please briefly describe the history of CRW Parts.

CRW Parts, Inc., formerly Chesapeake Rim & Wheel Distributors, opened for business on March 12, 1962, specializing in replacement wheels and brakes for passenger cars and trucks. The company began with fourteen people, all veterans of the automotive aftermarket. Each had worked for R.W. Norris & Sons, a wholesaler with roots going back to the 1850’s. Due to the death of several of the principals of that firm, the decision was made to liquidate the 112-year old business that had spanned through five generations, thereby, opening the opportunity for CRW to select the most promising product lines and personnel from the liquidated firm.

CRW opened its first branch in Landover, Md., in 1967 and subsequently others in Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke, Va., following later with Salisbury, Md., Wilmington, Del., and Jessup, Md.

In 1996 we changed the company’s name from Chesapeake Rim & Wheel Distributors, Inc. to CRW Parts, Inc., to more adequately reflect the wider range of products offered. In 1998, we acquired the assets of Standard Wheel & Rim Co. Our company currently employs approximately 105 people in eight locations.

Over the years, CRW has expanded into related lines of exhaust, suspension and drive line products, but always attempted to maintain its specialization in exhaust products, wheels, brakes and undercar parts.

We currently have over 150 sales categories supplied by roughly 250 vendors. Our sales are to fleets, exhaust shops, tire dealers and installers, automotive jobbers and miscellaneous industrial accounts in the Mid-Atlantic States.

It is the continuing goal of CRW to furnish our customers with dependable parts and service at competitive prices. Our industry is an extremely competitive one, but we are optimistic in the outlook for the future of our business, provided we listen to the needs of our customers and work to efficiently serve those needs.

Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure?

We are an unusual company that generates 50 percent of our sales from the automotive market and the other 50 percent from the heavy-duty market. With warehouses in every large city in the mid-Atlantic region we sell to municipalities, fleets, garages both auto and heavy-duty, tire dealers, and exhaust shops.

Our largest vendors are AP Goerlich, Accuride, Meritor, Federal-Mogul, Jones Exhaust, Alcoa, SKF, STEMCO, Baldwin, and Trucklite, just to name a few. We do sell over 200 different lines of product.

What separates CRW Parts from competitors in its marketplace, and why have customers remained loyal?

I think the first thing that separates us from the competition is our longevity. Few businesses in any industry have been around since 1850. That longevity gives CRW a certain amount of credibility and stability our customers rely on.

Our people is another differentiator. To be in business over 150 years requires good people who know the product, know the marketplace, and know the customers, and are willing to do what it takes to satisfy our customers.

Finally our overriding principle is the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” Customers who are treated fairly and equitably tend to stay loyal.

How do you believe customers perceive your business?

I would like to think CRW is viewed as a dependable provider of parts and service both by our customers and our competition. What we do we do well!

What do most customers not know about CRW?

While they know CRW has been around for a while, I am not sure they realize we have been around for six generations and started in 1850.

What makes CRW Parts a great place to work?

Again CRW operates under the Golden Rule and that applies to our employees as well as our customers. We are a family business and our employees are our family! We do a lot to train our employees and offer them a chance to promote and grow based on their performance.

When times are tough we stick with our employees and work with them to weather the storm. We have an open door policy that anyone at any time can come talk with me about whatever may be bothering them. It means a lot that they can talk directly with the owner without fear of repercussions.

What are the pros and cons of working for a family-owned business?

Working in a family owned business is a double-edged sword for both family and non-family members. For family the pressure to be better is always there. And for the parent the need to be patient is critical! The desire to see your child succeed and not make a mistake, is offset by the need to have them branch off and try things even though they may fail. We tend to learn more through our failures than through our successes.

For employees it means maybe accepting a little less pay than the big corporations offer. Knowing that you are not just a number, but a valued person who will be looked after when tough times hit.

What does CRW Parts mean to you, and the Willis family?

CRW has allowed me to work side by side with my father (Bo Willis). Meet and work with wonderful people from all sides of the distribution channel. Travel and see wonderful locales. And finally support my family and those of my employees.

Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?

  • Be a team player. Work hard for your company’s success and personal success will follow.
  • Develop relationships not only with employees and manufacturers, but other distributors as well.
  • Don’t be afraid to get involved and ask for help! Pride cometh before a fall.
  • Learn everything you can and become a problem solver. Anyone can point out problems it is a person who can solve them that gets promoted.
  • Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your career.
  • Live by the Golden Rule. This industry is too small and if you do wrong it will haunt you for a long time.


Why did CRW Parts join GenNext? How can GenNext help CRW Parts’ employees?

The need in our industry (as in all industries) to bring in young talent and train them is vital to the long term health of our company and our marketplace. Many of the young today have no idea how wonderful the heavy-duty and automotive aftermarket are. Distributors need to be proactive when it comes to recruiting new talent in our businesses.

CRW joined GenNext because it helped fill a void in our industry as it relates to recruiting, training, and developing the next generation of aftermarket leaders. Better to lead from the front than from the rear.

What are your goals for the long-term future of CRW Parts?

To simply hand it over, in good working order, to the next generation of the Willis family!

What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?

  • Marrying my wife
  • Moving to Buffalo for four years
  • The day my dad passed

Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?

  • My father – Need I say more?
  • Ray Renehan – Taught me the need to show up and be counted on.
  • John Minor – Great example of class and dignity.
  • All the old NWRA crowd – Taught me this industry is filled with people who will help you and share information if asked.
  • Marc Karon – A great communicator whose tireless efforts on behalf of the aftermarket distributor is awe inspiring. He is also a wealth of knowledge who shares freely his opinions if asked.
  • Angelo Volpe – Whose love for this industry and the people in it is infectious.

Education Update

Education Update

By Jason Kraus, GenNext HD Education Chair

The Educational committee is currently finalizing our next webinar to occur in March 2016. The session will take place on either Tuesday or Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST.

In the interim, please take a moment to review the prior webinars that have taken place and are stored in the GenNext University portion of our website. This educational content is available on demand at:

  • Visiting
  • Click on the ‘GenNext University’ tab.
  • Enter the password MyFuture

Currently available are sessions that discuss customer service, leadership, management, personal empowerment, project management, and sales.

The Education Committee focuses on identifying and brining relevant topics forward for training and discussion purposes. The committee includes Jenna McGrath and Jay Urban. Jenna works for VIPAR Heavy Duty and has supported the webinars held in 2015. Jay works for Meritor and is just starting with the committee after asking how he could get more involved in supporting GenNext’s efforts for education of its members.

If you have any suggestions for future educational content or would like to get more involved with this committee please contact Jason Kraus (

Industry Update

Industry Update

A Chat with The Marx Group President and CEO, Tom Marx.

When Tom Marx looks at the heavy-duty aftermarket today he sees a lot of good things.

He sees an industry where family businesses and corporations do business as equals. He sees groups of long-time industry professionals who operate as peers, not rivals. He sees a culture of collaboration and partnership. An industry that not only takes care of its own, but is equally welcoming to its new members and reverent toward its former ones.

Truly great traits.

If only the next generation of potential employees were privy to the same thing.

“[The heavy-duty aftermarket] doesn’t have a public identity today. High school kids don’t know about the opportunities here,” says Marx, President and CEO of The Marx Group and Marx Group Advisors. “The number of people we need [entering] this industry is scary, and I don’t know how we’re going to find them all.”

A veteran of the heavy-duty and automotive aftermarkets alike, Marx says his colleagues in the light vehicle world were faced with the same challenge nearly a decade ago. And on a much larger scale.

The industry’s average age was rapidly charging toward retirement, and the industry wasn’t filling or creating new positions fast enough to fill in the gaps.

He says the automotive aftermarket responded by taking action. The automotive aftermarket is typically less collaborative than the heavy-duty world, but Marx says when backed into a corner the industry responded as a group. Trade organizations and committees were formed, an industry marketing plan was created and, eventually, an attractive youth-centric identity, which promoted the technological and computer-focused aspects of the industry.

Marx says the heavy-duty industry is equally tech-centric, but is yet to discover a way to promote that trait on a national scale like the auto industry has done.

“I just don’t find that strength of leadership in this industry that I see in the automotive industry,” he says. “I don’t see anyone here working to create that public identity.”

And he says it’s definitely possible.

The collaborative, friendly nature of the heavy-duty aftermarket offers excellent potential for the industry should it commit to building a marketable face.

Marx says GenNext is a step in the right direction — younger professionals are more likely to understand the career expectations of teens and twentysomethings — but that GenNext and the industry as a whole need to do more than just discuss the employee shortage.

The heavy-duty aftermarket has to develop a comprehensive message to promote, and then communicate it to as many kids as possible.

“It’s difficult for a parent today to encourage a child to go into this industry because they don’t see the appeal,” Marx says. This isn’t a dirty, greasy industry but they don’t realize that, he says.

And once young people get in the door, Marx says the industry’s culture should do the rest.

“I think people stay in jobs because of relationships,” he says. “And this industry has such a strong kinship of relationships. It’s amazing how tight everyone is [with each other].”