Distributor Highlight

Distributor Highlight

Getting to know Vander Haag’s

John Vander Haag, president at Vander Haag’s

Please briefly describe the history of your company.

Our business began in 1939 in Sanborn, Iowa, recycling old cars and selling parts from them. John C. Vander Haag Jr. returned from Korea in 1955 and began dismantling later model wrecked automobiles for quality recycled automobile parts. Starting in the 1980’s we added medium- and heavy-duty recycled truck parts to our operations and then during the 1990s added new and rebuilt parts to our growing inventory. It was also in the early 1990s that we ceased selling automobile parts and also added service departments to our three operations. Currently our operation has grown to seven locations, with our eighth location scheduled to open near Columbus, Ohio, in the summer of 2020.

Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers, etc.

Our distribution structure is primarily direct with the customer, which is mainly driven by our recycled parts supply. We are an independent dealer, distributor and service facility that sells basically every part on a truck. We sell crash parts, drivetrain components, all the way down to the suspension. As part of HDA Truck Pride we handle many vendors. We source parts from the OEM and the aftermarket channels. With the broad geographic areas we cover, we have many unique and specific types of customers. In some of our locations a large segment of our customers are connected to agriculture, while our other locations are connected to the construction and transportation markets. Our customers cover a wide range of repair shops, small to medium sized fleets, down to owner operators.

What separates your business from competitors in its marketplace?

Our quality recycled truck parts provide us a unique position in the market by providing an extremely broad coverage and types of parts. When we part out a truck for used parts, you basically have every part available a customer could need. Connected to our service facilities we also offer installation of these parts. Almost all our new, rebuilt and used parts are available to be searched and purchased through our website. We go to great lengths to capture clear and accurate descriptions and photos of the used parts online.

How do you believe customers perceive your business?

We hope our customers perceive value in the quality we strive to provide in our used parts. We are not known to be the least expensive, but we try extremely hard to offer the highest quality and stand behind our parts. We feel customers appreciate our how many ways we can be their one stop shop. From parts, to trucks, to service and beyond!

How and why have your customers stayed loyal to your business?

One of the biggest reasons is because of our team members. The quality of our process is based on the people we have buying, dismantling, inspecting, selling and delivering every day. The relationships built between our customers and our team are why customers keep returning.

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)

  • We have a little over 60 active stocking vendors for our replenishable parts..
  • We have over 75 service bays company wide.
  • We dismantle almost 2,000 heavy-duty parts units per year.
  • We utilize over 200 acres for storing dismantled parts units.
  • We upload over 1,400 photos every day to help describe our recycled parts.

What makes your business a great place to work?

The camaraderie between all of our departments and locations is a testament to the desire our team members have to make our business a great place to work. With multiple locations we are continually looking for ways to engage our team members and their family members through Christmas parties, social functions like pheasant hunting or fishing trips, and family vacations at the lake condo. In addition to how we interact with each other, we also strive to provide a safe and rewarding workplace.

How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?

The life of our business depends on the next generation(s). My motto is to look at business, and life, in ten-year intervals. We are intentional about filling the pipeline of leaders in our business so we have people starting, growing and stepping up to lead. Creating the expectation and stepping back encourages young leaders to be bold. There is no single answer to recruiting, so we try and think about multiple channels at the same time. Supporting our industry associations is a significant responsibility and allows our industry to work together to promote ourselves/industry to the younger generation. We are looking to technical schools as well as traditional colleges to find motivated and inspired individuals.

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

First by adding younger workers, and then by investing in education. We are setting up training curriculum for our service technicians and setting up training programs for our parts department. Second, we have embraced technology and are all-in with staying ahead of the curve relating to it. Third, our service capability keeps us relevant in each of our markets and makes us smarter at selling parts nationally where we do not have a presence for installation/service.

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

Be curious. Ask Questions. Understand what the customers need and be willing to change with them. The market is a powerful force, it can propel you fast and far if you are going the same direction. Understand how the parts work, do not be afraid to get dirty!

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

As a family-owned company, I anticipate finding a way for the next generation(s) to participate and potentially lead us forward. Along the way we will be seeking leaders to step up and help interpret and conquer the opportunities we encounter. Service will be key and we are taking steps in our education to be at the front of new technologies.

Why did your company join GenNext? How can GenNext help your employees?

We joined GenNext for a number of reasons. The first one was for the education opportunities that are available with the Distributor Training Expo. Our team members come back with a lot of takeaways from it every year. We have also sent our up and coming leaders to the “Leaders of Tomorrow” reception at HDAW to allow them to network with other young leaders about the opportunities in the heavy-duty aftermarket.

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

One pivotal moment was when we purchased one of our locations (1992) and my father left the country for four weeks. I was 23 years of age and found out quickly what I did NOT know. I recognized that it was okay to admit I was learning, but I also learned I had to make decisions and move forward.  Second, we have had a building destroyed by a fire (2003) and an entire facility threatened by a flood (2011), to name a couple disasters. During these times I learned, or was reminded, how strong our team was and how important it is to focus on our biggest asset every day so we are ready for the tough times.

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

Working in a family business, my father, John C. Vander Haag Jr., has had a significant impact on me. I was able to work side by side with him for many years, but at the same time he encouraged me to push ahead, be independent and grow our business in a professional and ethical manner. He frequently recognizes the importance of associations and working together as the industry. Dave Scheer of Inland Truck Parts has been an influence for me as an example of an industry champion. His tireless promotion of our industry and desire to advocate on our behalf is world class!