Getting to know SAF-HOLLAND
By Juan Hernandez, International Marketing & Sourcing Manager Aftermarket Business Unit
Please briefly describe the history of SAF-HOLLAND?
The SAF story began in 1881 in a German village blacksmiths’ shop with the invention of an agricultural plow. The family business grew and developed the first steel axles for agricultural vehicles, under the name, Otto Sauer Achsenfabrik (SAF). In 1950, SAF started manufacturing heavy-load truck trailer axles and by the 1960s became one of the leading manufacturers of trailer suspension and axle/brake systems in Europe.
The HOLLAND historical roots were also on the agricultural side. In 1910, HOLLAND invented a safety-coupling device between horse and plow. Founded in South Dakota, HOLLAND moved to Holland, Mich., in 1922. By the 1940s, the HOLLAND Hitch Company emerged as one of the largest suppliers of couplings, landing gear and fifth wheels to the commercial vehicle industry. In 2006, the German Otto Sauer Achsenfabrik GmbH and the North American manufacturer, Holland Group Inc. merged to form SAF-HOLLAND, a world leading supplier of high quality products to the global commercial vehicles industry.
Please briefly describe your company’s sales structure: What do you sell, who are your customers, etc.?
SAF-HOLLAND markets to the heavy-duty commercial vehicle industry around the world. Our products are used by fleets (trucking) globally. We service our fleet customers through three main channels: Truck OEMs, Trailer OEMs and our aftermarket distribution network. We have a sales team dedicated to each one of these channels along with a team of sales professionals calling directly on the fleets. Although we don’t sell directly to our fleet customers, we make sure we are providing them with the latest technology and keeping them up to date on new products.
We are customer service focused, ensuring that they are getting what they need on the service side of the business as well.
SAF-HOLLAND has an extensive line of top quality products dedicated to satisfying the needs of our fleet customers in the heavy-duty commercial vehicle industry.
HOLLAND Fifth wheels: Most reliable fifth wheel in the industry.
NEWAY Truck and Bus Suspension Systems: Tough and made to last for on-highway and vocational use.
SAF Air Ride and Spring Ride Trailer Suspension and Axle Systems (formerly known as Binkley and Neway): huge offering of great quality suspension systems for trailers. Mechanical or air, both have long hours of engineering and testing in our labs to assure best performance.
HOLLAND Kingpins: Most popular kingpins in North America.
HOLLAND Landing Gear (formerly Binkley): Best name in landing gear for the Class 8 market.
HOLLAND Bumper Tubes: Safest and most widely used bumper tubes available in the market.
Gold Line Products: Our newest aftermarket product line targeting those cost conscious customers who need a lower cost product, still made by a reputable manufacturer.
What separates SAF-Holland from competitors in its marketplace?
For many years, it has been said that SAF-HOLLAND quality is so much better than any other comparable product out there. While this remains true, I believe that what really separates us today from our competitors in the marketplace is our full commitment to be a customer centered, customer focused, customer-oriented organization.
When you really feel this and make it part of your DNA at every level of your organization, your customers feel it too, and it takes your business to a whole new level. We care about our customers and we’re willing to go that extra mile as many times as needed to make sure they feel SAF HOLLAND is a great partner for their business. Product quality is a given and it is simply expected by the marketplace for SAF HOLLAND to provide the best quality product.
But, as it is stated in our Mission, “We make the greatest contribution possible to our fleet customers.” And, this is so much more than just making a good quality product.
How do you believe customers perceive your business?
Fun question to be answered by the Marketing guy that I am. In my opinion, it is all about perception and I have personally seen how “perception” plays such an important role in the success of a business of any type. In our situation, both our OE and independent channels perceive us as “HOLLAND… great quality and the most expensive fifth wheel and landing gear product in the marketplace.” I put this in quotation marks because one of the first things I did when I started in this position 2.5 years ago, was a perception study with a focus on the “price” variable. Being in charge of Marketing for our aftermarket side of the business, I am responsible for our pricing strategy for our extensive line of products. It was fun to immediately understand that:
We were still perceived as “HOLLAND, the fifth wheel and landing gear guys”… and not as SAF HOLLAND, the only fifth wheel manufacturer in the world that has a comprehensive product portfolio, covering trucks and trailers from “Front to Back” (Truck Drive Axle Suspensions, Auxiliary Axle Suspensions, Coupling Systems, Kingpins, Trailer Air Ride and Spring Ride Suspension and Axle Systems, Turntables, Buber Tubes, etc.). This is why early this year at HDAW, we officially launched our Front to Back marketing campaign to do just that, help change the perception of Who we really are and What we have to offer from a product stand point to our fleet customers.
The perception of “higher price”—while it holds true for most of our fifth wheels and landing gear, it is not necessarily true of our other products, like spring ride suspensions, etc. Where we, in fact, are sometimes lower than our competition, especially in the aftermarket arena. The price of a product should vary as the product travels through its life cycle, which is a result of the perception of value a customer or market has of the given product. This is something we have started to do with most of our suspension components for some of our older suspension models (spring ride) and it has started to pay off. Little by little our customers know they can get, for example, an axle connection kit for one of our formerly NEWAY suspensions at the same price or lower price than what the “will-fits” of the world sell it for without risking safety, quality, and performance.
Sowith all that said, our goal, from a perception stand point, is that when one of our customers is asked who SAF-HOLLAND is, they answer by saying “SAF-HOLLAND is a great partner for any organization in the Heavy Duty Commercial Vehicle industry. Best product and easiest to deal with.” I strongly believe we are getting there! It just takes time and effort. When you do things right and everybody in your organization is engaged, it starts happening naturally, eventually.
How and why do your customers stay loyal to your business?
Our customers know SAF-HOLLAND is there for them always. They know we are not perfect, but they sure know that they can count on us every time. “Customer Service is not a department – it’s an attitude” and that is what we live by at SAF-HOLLAND. Our newly renovated executive conference room has that tag-line by its name. I thought that was pretty cool.
What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about SAF-Holland that would surprise/impress them?
Here is one thing I am sure you didn’t know.
SAF-HOLLAND invests heavily in giving back to our community and the environment. We are part of an organization that helps save the planet by planting a number of trees per year. We are also always trying to implement new ideas that can help us have a more friendly impact on this place called earth. Our vision of going digital wherever possible is also in response to contribute with less pollution.
What makes SAF-Holland a great place to work?
There are very clearly defined values. They clearly reflect how everybody behaves at work and in front of customers and suppliers and how we as a company achieve our goals and work towards our vision.
At SAF-HOLLAND, we:
- Show respect
- Communicate well
- Are cost-focused
- Are innovative
- Are reliable
- Utilize teamwork
- Are honest
Here, you can be yourself, be rewarded for being innovative, and be honest. You can tell upper management when you think something should be done differently, and they will listen and make you feel that what you have to say really matters.
How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
Sometimes it doesn’t really matter how old (physically speaking) you are as long as you are willing to stay young mentally and professionally. We are being hit badly (in a good way) by the digital revolution and it takes a great amount of open mindfulness, (which is something younger generations are full of), if an organization wants to be able to react, adopt, and adapt to it and not be left in the past. It is no secret that the way of doing business is changing rapidly, that the perception of value has shifted so much from the actual product to the “customer experience”, and digitalism is making this shift happen so much faster, easier and almost obligatory.
Younger generations (especially millennials, born after 1980) appreciate the need to be digitally connected at all times. Our customers are experiencing this need for connectivity at all levels as well. Now more than ever (and it has not stopped), our fleet customers are demanding products that can help them reduce their downtime and help them optimize their uptime. It has been proven that allowing your products, as a supplier to connect digitally with your fleet’s maintenance staff, from drivers to mechanics to maintenance managers, has a direct impact in a fleet’s uptime optimization. Prognostics, telematics, etc. are all ways in which the digital revolution is touching our industry.
Being able to have younger generations entering our business today is absolutely vital to our mid-to-long term strategy. They were born with that digital chip already built in. Wouldn’t you agree?
One other issue this industry recognizes is the fact that we have a lot of knowledgeable and key people reaching their retirement years. Therefore, companies need to be recruiting younger professionals.
Do you feel SAF-Holland is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
Absolutely! We are led by very wise executives. They are mentally young and open minded, (I hope they read this as I mean it with the highest respect for them as true leaders) which is the kind of leaders an organization needs in times when change is inevitable. We are already going through significant changes that should position us better to welcome this digital revolution and take the most out of it.
Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
I have read several books throughout my career. There were some that I feel had a very positive impact in how I do things today and how I see life in the business world.
The power of focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt. “It’s not hocus pocus. It’s all about focus.” As you start to work in this industry, learn to focus on something where you think you can make a difference and try to stick to it for a while. Don’t jump around from one thing to the next. Before you know it, you will be that “go-to” person for that specific skill you developed. This is a very small industry and everybody ends up knowing everybody relatively quickly.
A sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter. For some reason, most people think that millennials (I am technically a millennial as well) are lazy, and lack of a sense of urgency when it comes to business and the professional life. I strongly recommend you read this book and do your best to develop an adequate sense of urgency. This industry will not appreciate waiting. When a truck or trailer is “down” and a part is needed, no one will ever want to do business with someone that is not willing to stop everything to make sure that truck or trailer gets back on the road right away. Downtime is the best opportunity to shine and become your customer’s best friend. Just don’t be the one causing the downtime. If you happen to make a mistake, admit your mistake (we’re all just humans and are not perfect) and rapidly show your will to fix it as soon as possible.
What are your goals for the long-term future of SAF-Holland in the heavy-duty aftermarket?
As I mentioned before, getting our customers to perceive us as “a great partner for any organization in the heavy-duty commercial vehicle industry, with the best product and easiest to deal with” is one big goal we will be working on for a while.
We also want to be that “one stop,” top quality supplier for most of your undercarriage related products in the heavy-duty commercial vehicle industry.
We will be a digitally connected supplier to our fleet customers.
We will be the ultimate supplier of best-in-class components, systems and services that will drive the success of our fleet customers in the global commercial vehicle Industry.
Why did SAF-Holland join GenNext? How can GenNext help SAF-Holland’s employees?
SAF-HOLLAND recognizes the need to attract younger generations to our industry. Instead of trying to steal talented people from our competitors or partners, we should start working in developing that next generation and educating them properly to make a great impact in this industry.
The webinars and education tools are great. I have attended two of them myself. They are a good way to learn and stay current on different topics trending in this industry. The mentoring program is a great tool as well.
I believe GenNext can be very helpful when it comes to recruiting young talent. Our organization is no exception to the reality of having very knowledgeable people getting ready to retire and getting that next Generation identified, trained, and available when needed will play a very important role in our success.
What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
The day I left music school to go to Business and International Marketing School: My Dad loved music so much that he always wanted me to play an instrument and be involved with music in any way. What he never thought was that I would grow up to love music so much that I was willing to make it my life—it was already my passion—he almost had a heart attack. He said “you will not make a living out of music.”
Long story short, I left music school (I actually didn’t even make it through my first week) and enrolled in Universidad de Manizales, where I got my degree in International Marketing and Business. Guess what paid not only for my studies but also for my brothers?
My dad and I put together a band and it was so good that we became very popular in Colombia. I am glad I left music and went into marketing, otherwise, I would have never made it to this industry and probably would have never made it to where I am today. (I still play the saxophone every now and then, but my Dad was right. There can only be so many Kenny G’s Thanks dad!!).
My internship at SICOLSA: To get your degree in Business and International Marketing, you must complete ten semesters plus either a graduation seminar or a thesis. Two of those ten semesters take place as an internship (6th and 10th semesters). My first internship was done at SICOLSA. This was definitely a pivotal moment in my carrier. I did such a good job as an intern that they decided to keep me even knowing I was only half way through college. This gave me the opportunity to start very young in the business world. I was graduating from the University at age 23 and had already been promoted to Director of Sales and Marketing for North America. I obviously stayed at SICOLSA for number of years after graduating in 2003. While working for SICOLSA, I joined SSA (Suspension Specialist Association). Through SSA, I met many great people and that’s when I fell in love with this industry. It’s the people what make it different.
Getting married: The most amazing part of my life was starting my own family. Getting married was the first step and it has brought nothing but joy and happiness to my life. It also helped me “focus.”
Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
My Dad: The best salesman ever. He really knows the art of selling. He also taught me the rewards of hard and restless working.
My Mom: The values that dictate how I approach my life; respect, honesty, integrity, family always first, emotional intelligence at its best.
Ricardo Velez: General Manager at SICOLA at that time. From him, I learned how to become the business man I am today. Most of my leadership style comes from him. Great mentor and great team leader.
I would love to mention more people but the list might be too long.