Distributor Highlight

Getting to know Wheelco

Steve Stich, president

Please briefly describe the history of your business.
Our promise to put our customers first is one of the many reasons why we’ve become the leader in our industry for the last 55+ years. Established in 1961, Wheelco has grown from a small parts and service shop to the go-to-place for (all makes, all models) truck and trailer products. As a family-owned business, Wheelco has grown to a total of six retail locations, three service centers, and one parts distribution center in the Upper Midwest. Our commitment to high-quality products and exceptional customer service has allowed us to serve customers with their specific needs.

Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers?
Popular amongst the heavy-duty industry customers, Wheelco has proven time and again to be a distribution leader, carrying aftermarket truck and trailer parts for all makes, all models. We understand that getting the right part is only one aspect of our customer’s needs, which is why our scope and services have grown. Meeting the customer-demand, Wheelco operates multiple complete service centers.

What separates your business from competitors in its marketplace?
Focusing on: customer’s experience, industry expertise and innovation.
• Our customers come first. They always have and always will. Ensuring that we have all of our customers covered with their unique needs, regardless of industry or price-point, is the foundation of our company.
• Our customers trust us. If they have questions about a specific part or process, they know they can reach out to us and quickly get the answers they need. We have the industry expertise.
• Our company is comprised of a team of innovators and experts. We know that our customer’s needs of today won’t be the same in the future. That’s why we challenge ourselves to find new and innovative ways to address industry challenges.

How do you believe customers perceive your business?
We continue to ask our customers what we can do better, what their current problems or frustrations are because we want to find the best solution for them. Here are a few Google reviews:
• “Staff was knowledgeable and helpful. Good prices.”
• “Amazing customer service and good people.”
• “Above and beyond customer service.”
• “Customer service was outstanding.”
• “Always willing to put in the extra work to find the right part!!!”
• “Will go the extra mile.”
• “Wheelco to be my go-to vendor for heavy-duty truck parts. Our business requires quick turn-around on parts and truck repair. I can always count on them to deliver orders on time. The service that I receive from [all of the parts guys] goes above and beyond what is expected. It is refreshing to have a customer service team who understands your business needs. Being able to count on Wheelco to have parts in stock and to deliver orders on time keeps our shop running efficiently. [The shop manager] understands our need to avoid expensive downtime and works to keep our trucks on the road by our schedule. Thank you for all you do to keep our business running smoothly.”

How and why have your customers stayed loyal to your business?
At Wheelco, being customer driven is more than just a motto we live by. It means that our employees will do everything we can to best serve you, our valued customer. That is our first and foremost concern. It’s the foundation of our Core Values. Customer-driven is more than just offering you advice, giving time-honored service or contributing the latest tech-support. It’s about being there — whenever and wherever you need us — in-person, over the phone or online.

What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about your company that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about your company we don’t know)
Wheelco is truly built from the bottom up. We attribute the core of who we are to our employees — that’s why our employees stay year after year. One of our service techs has been here for over 55 years! Our roster is deep, with many employees having been here more than 10 or 20 years.

What makes your business a great place to work?
You are valued. At Wheelco, each employee is vital, makes a difference and has a purpose for our company. Our knowledgeable staff offers excellent customer service and tech support. Because of our trust in our staff, we can make quick, educated decisions and ultimately serve our customers more efficiently. We make sure our employees are in alignment, are challenged and have strong relationships with each other.

How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
Quality, young professionals are sometimes the best leaders. They may not have the seniority or the job title, but we encourage innovative thinking and challenge processes at Wheelco. They will keep Wheelco true to its core in the years to come. Community participation, partnering with votech colleges, offering scholarships for those entering the industry are just a few ways we are recruiting younger professionals.

Do you feel your business is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
We’re in a constant state of innovation. We encourage our teams to introduce new ideas for products and processes. This innovative rational gives all employees the empowerment to make decisions and act quickly – now and in the future.

Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Share your goals with your supervisor and discuss how to accomplish them. Never stop learning. Always educate yourself.

What are your goals for the long-term future of your company?
Our Vision: To be the Industry leader backed by the best talent that delivers the ultimate customer experience.

Why did your company join GenNext? How can GenNext help your employees?
GenNext’s mission to educate, mentor and recruit reflects our initiatives. What sets Wheelco apart from the others is our industry knowledge and expertise. Collectively, our executives have over 250 years of industry experience in their fields. As we strive for change, we challenge our young leaders to find new and innovative ways to find solutions for our customers. Because we understand the need to continue to cultivate talent within, educating and mentoring our teams is vital. This need extends not only to Wheelco, but to the heavy-duty industry as a whole.

What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
Within the first two years of taking over the family business, I made the decision to open our first branch location. With little industry experience and guidance, we were able to be successful and profitable the first year. I learned many lessons in the School of Hard Knocks. However, it turned out to be one of the best decisions for Wheelco. Investing in land, in more employees and their families, understanding financial risk, growing inventory to meet the needs of consumers — these are just a few crucial necessities that had to be addressed to grow into the successful business we have today.
The realization that I had to learn to delegate and learn to trust my team’s capabilities was another pivotal moment in my career. Early on, I worked on-the-road, behind-the-counter, and side-by-side with my staff. I worked seven days a week, all hours of the day and soon realized that I couldn’t do it all myself. The stress and anxiety finally caught up to me. I realized I had to surround myself with a team of highly capable people of whom I have the utmost respect.
Rising to adversity has repeatedly been crucial to my career. Addressing issues and weighing them accordingly helped me focus on what was best for Wheelco. Easily, one of the most pivotal and influential moments in my career was joining VIPAR Heavy Duty. VIPAR’s networking, buying power and access to information was unmatched. Understanding that working in a vacuum, where you had no way to benchmark your business, was a huge point of contention. Partnering with VIPAR helped grow our business substantially.

Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
Early on in my career in this industry, my father played a pivotal role in which he was my sounding board on important issues. He was highly knowledgeable in business development and financial fundamentals, but more so understood people. Business isn’t just about getting the best deal, it’s about building relationships with people.