Getting to know Total Truck Parts
Marc Karon, President at Total Truck Parts
Please briefly describe the history of your business.
I started the business in 1979 after ten years with Bendix as an engineer and business development analyst. I left because I felt that corporate America was too concerned about taking risks with respect to new business. The penalties for missing your financial plan were disproportionate to the benefits to exceeding your target. I felt that I could do better and wanted the chance, so I started the business from scratch.
Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers, etc.?
Our customer base is composed of those fleets who can understand that lower cost does not always equal better value. We sell the top brands who are generally used on the new truck. We do not substitute or offer will-fit product. Each branch operates as an individual business unit with slight differences in marketing and sales. Although administrative functions are centralized, we try to make sure each branch can appeal to the nuances of their customer base including brands and pricing.
What separates your business from competitors in its marketplace?
We focus on the customer. We look at all the transactions like credit, stocking and brands. We try to provide a business environment which is superior to all of our competitors. Customers can choose the brands they want, maybe pay a little later than required by competition and we stock parts they use without concern for metrics like inventory turnover. In return, we generally charge a little more than our competition.
How do you believe customers perceive your business?
We want to be perceived as the easiest and best company to do business with. I use the scenario that a customer needs something at 4:45 p.m. We want to be the company he calls.
How and why have your customers stayed loyal to your business?
We follow through with what I have written above. We also put a lot of importance on employee retention. We have very little turnover. We strongly believe in the importance of a strong customer relationship and communicate that business with us is a strategic decision.
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)
There is very little our suppliers do not know about us because we make an effort to communicate with all of our key suppliers. One of the things they may not know is that my retirement is not going to happen. I love my work and plan to continue as long as possible. In addition, we have a strong succession team to gradually take over as we implement an ESOP.
What makes your business a great place to work?
There are many things. That make our company a great place to work. We treat our employees very well with higher than average wages in our market and superior benefits. We also do a lot of special things for our employees and their families. Every employee is paid for any time lost due to storms. We deal with every challenge with unique solutions. Our employees act as a family. There are many stories I can share, but not in this space.
How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
I think it is important to add younger talent. But they have to be the right kinds of people to fit in. Our efforts have been somewhat successful, but many young people do not relate well to the family approach. This has been challenging for us. In the past three years, we have hired five millennials. We have two now. The two we have are exceptional, and already making contributions. We will continue to hire young talent even when positions are not yet open. We are able to carry a few extra people and finding good talent is very important.
Do you feel your business is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
Obviously, technology has mandated us to change some practices. But I do not believe we need to go away from our basic business philosophy. There are those who say relationships are not that important. I do not agree. There are those who chase cost to tray and be the lowest price. That is not us. We continually work on our brand. I believe brand will be what is most important in the future as long as you can show your brand.
Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
Find a job that can be challenging and fun. As they say, if you really enjoy what you do, you never have to work a day in your life. Chose an employer who is open to hearing your ideas and willing to give you a change to succeed and fail. Make sure you have a boss and company who is really interested in all that you can bring to the party.
What are your goals for the long-term future of your company?
My immediate goal is to implement the ESOP. Seeing the business grow beyond where it is today is a goal that I am most excited about. We also are looking for acquisition is shops. Shops are the most profitable business segment.
Why did your company join GenNext? How can GenNext help your employees?
I think the training is exactly what the industry needs and GenNext is focused on that element.
What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
Obviously, the TransCom fiasco was the most pivotal. But what you may not know is that it was a positive experience. I lost $7 million in the bankruptcy, but it taught me so much about myself. Some say you have to face the abyss to appreciate the success of recovery. When I saw what TransCom was doing to my business and my employees, it motivated me to get the business back. I used every asset I had and borrowed enough to make the transaction. Using TransCom as a model of what not to do, I learned quickly how to build a successful business. I gained self-confidence and grew the business while having a lot of fun
The next pivotal moment was when Ken Duval and I were able to negotiate adding CVSN as an owner of HDAW. This showed me that I could actually make a difference if I applied myself.
Finally, working with Dave Scheer, we were able to get Massachusetts pass the Right to Repair Act. Making a difference is the greatest joy I have experienced in my career. Whether in my business or in our industry, giving of yourself and creating change is the best feeling. I just wish more of my peers learned this.
Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
I have always believed that I was the dumbest person in our industry. As a result, whenever I was with other business owners at industry events, DACs or social occasions, I would ask many questions. “How did you do this and why do you do that?” There are hundreds of stories I have heard and I have adapted many of them to my business and it has helped me be more successful. There are too many to list. Suffice it to say that our industry is filled with great people with a wealth of knowledge and a willingness to share with anyone.