Getting to Know Inland Truck Parts
By Greg Klein, President at Inland Truck Parts
Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers, etc.?
Inland Truck Parts Company (Inland) was founded in Minneapolis, Minn. in 1944. Additional locations were added over the years through acquisitions or new store openings and there are now 28 store locations in addition to the dedicated training center and corporate office, both located in the Kansas City, Mo., area. Inland offers a wide range of parts and shop services to its customers, which now number in the tens of thousands across the vast Great Plains area it serves between Canada and Mexico.
What separates Inland Truck Parts from competitors in its marketplace?
Inland attempts to differentiate itself through its high level of knowledge and by delivering an exceptional customer experience. While the knowledge may seem like common sense, the customer experience is more difficult to explain. It includes the entire customer interaction with Inland employees, the delivery of our brand promise, and going above expectations. One of our mottos is ‘Products and Service You Can Rely On.’ We try to deliver on that promise every day.
How do you believe customers perceive your business?
Inland believes our customers understand the value of what we deliver to them. That belief is based on comments from our customers to us and to their long tenure with Inland as their parts and service provider.
How and why do your customers stay loyal to your business?
Inland believes that the key to loyal customers is how they feel about the experience long after they have their part or vehicle back. Customer perceptions can be built in one experience or many, but the first impression is the most important. Leaving a bad first impression may preclude a second chance.
What are the pros and cons of working for an employee-owned business?
The pros are many with the most obvious being the fact that the employees feel they have a direct connection to the successes of the company since they own it. We don’t consider it to be a con per se but having more than 600 owners does create some pressure to perform well. It can create some lively discussions at times! It is through that deliberative process that Inland finds ways to innovate and change.
What makes Inland Truck Parts a great place to work?
The culture is one where the employees understand that the management at the top truly cares about each and every employee and their families. By treating all employees with respect and integrity, Inland has nurtured a culture where every employee feels important and feels they have something to contribute to the success of the company. Inland also invests heavily in providing a safe working environment with the goal that employees go home healthy to their families at night. That type of culture means something and is appreciated.
In addition to a positive working environment, employees today are looking for opportunities for advancement, exposure to the latest technologies, new facilities with state of the art tooling investments, and ongoing education/investing in their technical and soft skills. Inland invests a lot of money towards these goals.
How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
It is very difficult to find qualified new employees, especially those with the type of experience needed in this industry. Inland attracts new talent through many channels. It takes many years to learn this industry so Inland looks for high-quality young people that can be trained to learn this industry. Younger professionals are needed to bring new ideas, stronger connections to technology, and fresh vision. We need those ‘new thinkers’ to continue to invent new ways to do business and raise the bar. Recruiting them is a challenge — how are we doing this?
Inland has invested heavily in a standalone training facility that allows both new and tenured employees the opportunity to grow their technical knowledge and skills.
As a result of the employee ownership culture and dedication to improving employee skills through training, Inland has a vast number of very long tenured employees. In fact, at least one employee reaches the 40-year-employment milestone at Inland each and every year, a feat rarely seen in these days of frequent job changes.
Do you feel Inland Truck Parts is in the position to change with the times? If so, how?
Inland has a long history of continually reinventing itself in an effort to stay at or near the leading edge of industry changes. Inland was among the first traditional independent parts suppliers to understand the importance of full truck service and pursue it in a big way. Today, 24 of Inland’s 28 locations offer truck service. That number was zero in 1995.
This will become repetitive but to change with the times you have to bring in new employees with new ideas, otherwise you become stale. When you hire good people and give them the training and the tools they need to succeed, they will push change through the organization. This can be uncomfortably for the old guard at times who may offer the tried and true response of “We have always done it this way with success, why do we have to change”? But in the end the new ideas that have merit will win out and become the new norm.
Do you have any advice for the aftermarket’s next generation, as they work in this industry?
Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Change is an inevitable constant. Push change and understand that it as an opportunity to separate yourself from your competitors. Standing in place is a sure recipe for finding yourself behind those that push change. As has been said many times, the only constant is change.
What are your goals for the long-term future of Inland Truck Parts?
Inland plans to continue to grow and nurture the culture that exists today. Our employee owners will remain our most valuable asset. This new world is one where technology will drive innovation and customer solutions. If you want to attract the next generation of employees and customers, embrace technology and all the benefits that it brings. This industry has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. The next 20 will be even more dramatic.
Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
Over the years many visionary leaders have influenced Inland. Many are still in the industry today. The list, both past and present, is too long to attempt at the risk of leaving someone out.
Where will the next visionaries come from? We need new blood, with new ideas, and new visions to help define the future of this industry, and keep it vibrant and relevant. Companies that employ that talent will stand out. They are out there, let’s go find them and help them lead our industry into the future.