Value is a key component in offering cargo management solutions. For Adrian Steel's fleet management company (FMC) customers, that value is based not only in the critical nature of the partnership, but also in the operating principle that Adrian Steel and the FMC serve mutual customers: the fleet client and ultimately, the vehicle end user.
"Value can be many things," explained Elizabeth Peck, sales development manager at the 57-year old cargo management solutions provider. "It can be saving customers' time by getting their vehicles done faster at the plant or reducing time by having vehicles upfitted in the field through our Road˜Redi program. They also save time by having an efficient upfit optimized for their business and the cargo they carry."
Peck also pointed to the value of diminished risk. "Products such as our LoadsRite drop-down ladder rack allow the end user to load ladders the right way, reducing back injuries. Our ADseries Shelving provides an adaptable interior that does not become obsolete if a fleet's cargo changes."
Adrian Steel-FMC partnerships provide fleet cargo management solutions in several areas, according to Peck.
"Solutions can be product-related, such as a new storage solution for a specific piece of cargo, or ensuring safety and security," said Peck. "Using the philosophy of consultants in our area of expertise shows the value. Partnerning with the FMC to bring value to our mutual clients creates a team approach. If the customer's pain is status, then we all work toward that goal. If their cargo falls on the floor, we'll use our engineering capabilities to solve those issues. Conducting joint sales calls with FMCs, during which our sales teams consult to design the best upfit product or service for that customer makes us a partner, not just another vendor."
Upfit Solutions Fit Fleet Needs
Adrian Steel operates a 166,900 square-foot manufacturing facility in Adrian, Mich. The company's 300 employees include 20 fleet dedicated salespeople, each working directly with a partnered FMC to fill fleet customer needs.
Adrian's comprehensive product lines offer a full array of pre-designed and customized upfitting components and accessories for vans, cargo trailers, and pickups, including shelves, drawers, cabinets, door kits, storage bins and modules, ladder and storage racks, partitions, and workbenches.
Adrian's ship-thru program works with GM, Ford, and Dodge to upfit fleet vehicles prior to dealer delivery. Adrian offers pool vehicle availability nationwide and its 300-member Road˜Redi distributor network provides products and installations for vehicles from local dealer stock.
FMC representatives from Automotive Resources International (ARI), Donlen, LeasePlan USA, PHH Arval, and Wheels Inc. recently discussed their partner relationships with Adrian Steel, focusing on order status, turnaround, the Road˜Redi program, products and services, solutions, and performance metrics. All five FMCs have partnered with Adrian Steel for at least two decades, in some cases more than 30 years.
Status Updated Electronically
Upfit status is a crucial element in maintaining a productive and cost-effective fleet operation.
"Upfitted vehicles are designed and spec'd to do a job. They typically reflect revenue to the customer," explained Wayne Reynolds, operations manager, vehicle upfitting for LeasePlan USA. "In normal or optimal situations, order cycles are planned and delivery projections made. Tracking status helps ensure the process is moving along as expected and can identify problems or delays so they can be communicated to the client and mitigated as best as possible."
Up-to-date status is provided to FMCs from Adrian every night via electronic transmissions that are integrated directly with most FMC systems and websites. Information includes vehicle location, current upfit details, expected arrival and ship date, and any delay alerts or job-related comments.
"All clients want to know where their ordered vehicles are all the time," said Dave Decker, truck engineering manager for Wheels. "Particularly with a shrinking fleet department, they need and want a convenient way to be knowledgeable about their fleet vehicle status. To log onto Wheels' website and see the status, including upfit status from Adrian, is hugely important in helping our clients with their business planning. It's important not to have a 'black hole' when it comes to status information."
Tony Degliomini, ARI assistant manager vehicle acquisition, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, agreed.
"In a world where time is money, one less phone call, one less e-mail that needs to be made is good," he noted. Adrian's status system "allows customers to better plan and budget for their fleet program."
Road˜Redi a National Resource
Launched in 2004, Adrian Steel's Road˜Redi network provides a national upfit and installation resource with the advantages of consistent pricing, product quality and type, and one contact point.
"Road˜Redi is an invaluable process," said Bill Byron, senior truck specialist, medium and heavy-duty trucks for Donlen.
"The value is the program's consistency of price. This is a big, big key advantage for clients - the ability to provide one quote for local upfits for a fleet of vehicles no matter where individual vehicles are, from New York to California," explained Byron. "You don't see this kind of uniform pricing option elsewhere throughout the industry. And the Road˜Redi status is integrated in Adrian's daily status feed. We don't have to call local upfitters all over the nation to track progress. To the customer, the Road˜Redi install is almost transparent."
Erik Nelson, truck engineer for Wheels, noted the capability the national program brought to a client's large-scope upfit.
"A current situation involves developing a field-installed storage solution for a fleet of 1,500 cars. With Adrian Steel's Road˜Redi installation network, they are able to execute this installation," he described.
LeasePlan's Reynolds said his company "relies on the Road˜Redi program whenever an Adrian upfit is needed in the field. This may be a stock purchase situation, upfitting a bailment pool vehicle that can't go back into transportation, or retrofitting a vehicle already in service. Having a single 'go-to' point for quoting and invoicing provides consistency, expedites the upfit, and gives us a single point for any warranty repairs that should be necessary."
Turnaround Expectations Critical
"Turnaround is paramount" to FMC clients, according to Ron Wiggins, ARI team leader, vehicle acquisition/upfitting. "Ultimately, time is money and this kind of service helps customers with proper planning and making informed decisions regarding their fleet."
Accurate turnaround information is very important, said Michele Schmidt, truck services supervisor for Wheels. "We try to get clients to replace vehicles at the right time for optimum resale value. Turnaround expectations set up-front enhance the opportunity to sell at the right time in the used-vehicle market. Meeting those expectations gives clients confidence in their remarketing plans."
Schmidt's Wheels colleague Decker added, "This is where Adrian Steel's performance of hitting their customers' expectations for turnaround is so significant and hugely important for our clients. In these tight business times, anything that can get a vehicle delivered quicker is critical."
Donlen's Byron also believes "setting and maintaining customer expectations are critical to everyone. When the vehicle arrives at the delivering dealer, all that should happen is dealer prep and turning the keys over to the driver. Drivers can't be delayed by having to seek out local upfitting or graphics installers - where to get them done and how. They are techs; they need to do their jobs, not worry about their vehicles. Those vehicles are simply tools to do their jobs."
Meeting Fleet Challenges
Responding with new solutions to challenging fleet needs is an Adrian Steel hallmark, the FMCs agreed.
Byron particularly cited Adrian Steel's attention to detail in providing prototype vans for the customer to view. "Adrian provides prototypes in a seamless, professional process, the way it should be done. It's very important that the customer can see, touch, and approve an upfit. Where possible, we strongly suggest prototype reviews, especially when our customers might be changing vehicle, interior, or graphics configurations. When customers can see and touch the upfit vehicle, they can see the quality of Adrian Steel's product."
For a recent customer, Donlen presented Adrian the "challenge" to convert an existing interior configuration from the larger Sprinter van to a smaller, 12-foot van body. Adrian staffers discussed the conversion details with the customer and Donlen "and had the upfit interior schematics ready in two days," Byron recalled.
Christine (Chrissy) Lando, supervisor of vehicle operations at PHH Arval, described how Adrian Steel met a client's anxiety-inducing, breakneck "drop-dead date" for a 300-vehicle fleet.
"The vehicles had to be on the ground, in service, and running their new ad campaign within only 10-12 weeks from the time the orders were placed to delivery. It was an ominous thought at first!" Lando recalled.
Led by Adrian Steel, a team consisting of the client, OEM, PHH Arval, graphics company, and transportation providers developed a game plan to meet the expedited deadline, Lando said. Supported by careful and comprehensive up-front planning, "all parties involved were able to execute their piece and deliver the vehicles to the client's expectation."
To help facilitate communications and progress, Adrian Steel custom-built reports for the client and merged all statuses, providing the client total project visibility, Lando said.
Adrian also hosted a vendor call to iron out problems before the weekly client status meeting. "If an issue arose, the team had it covered by the time everyone was in front of the client," Lando added. "The greatest success was pulling off all 300 vans in a 10-12-week window that normally would be required just to get vehicles built! Not only was the client's exact timing met, but the ad campaign was launched on time!"
Describing another client challenge, Mike DiStefano, assistant manager vehicle acquisitions for ARI, outlined Adrian Steel's response to a "unique situation" in which a fleet's in-service vehicles required an upfit to correct a repair.
"The repair was not an Adrian Steel issue, but they came up with a plan to package the upfit of more than 100 vehicles and coordinate the repair and installation. Adrian reported weekly on the upfit progress with phone calls and e-mails to ensure all parties were kept informed. They took the ball and ran with it," DiStefano said.
"The added challenge was that some of the vehicles were already in service," ARI's Wiggins explained further. "Adrian had to deal with a variety of individual situations among the fleet's vehicles. They worked with us and the client, keeping us up-to-date. It was a real eye-opener for me in terms of the scope of Adrian Steel's service."
Products & Services Valued
A customer-oriented business philosophy links Wheels and Adrian Steel, according to Decker at Wheels.
"One thing that makes Adrian Steel different is they realize the end user is our mutual customer. The partnership in creating and developing solutions to make our customers' businesses more efficient and productive is between Wheels, Adrian, and our mutual customers," said Decker. "This is not always the case with other upfitters. Our clients and prospective clients see that relationship and pick up on how it works to their advantage."
The same relationship exists with LeasePlan, according to Reynolds. "We consider Adrian Steel as a partner, not just another supplier. The client is a customer of both LeasePlan and Adrian Steel."
In addition to electronic status updates and Road˜Redi program, Reynolds finds value in Adrian Steel's sales engineer services and administrative processes such as timely quotes and detailed invoicing. "If we have questions - 'Will something work?' - we work with Adrian's sales engineers to find a solution," he reported.
"The time for quoting is very good with Adrian and their invoicing program is excellent," Reynolds said, noting that the line-item-formatted invoices are "more detailed and thorough than other upfitting vendors," helping LeasePlan better serve its clients.
Byron at Donlen values Adrian Steel's "quality of materials and quality of installation," and employees' professionalism and skill. "The pressure is on those Adrian Steel employees to produce quality upfits, installed properly, and to get the vehicle in and out of the upfit process as promised to the end-user company," he said.
He also cited Adrian's quote detail. "Every detail is covered. And every quote includes a schematic of the upfit - a detailed drawing with dimensions that is forwarded to the customer. This schematic is critical and indispensable to the customer who can see where all the components will be located and their length and depth."
This advance visual understanding of the upfit helps avoid the words Byron "never wants to hear: 'This is not what I wanted, not what I expected.' "
Byron also applauded Adrian Steel's approach to post-upfit warranty or repair service. "Their attitude is 'Let's get the customer back on the road and worry about the details later.' There's no finger-pointing - whatever has to happen to get the vehicle back into service and back doing the job it's intended to do is the most important factor."
Overall, said Wiggins, "ARI doesn't have to chase anyone down at Adrian. Messages and calls are returned quickly. Our Adrian Steel team is very helpful and extremely responsive. Follow-up is important for ARI so we can get back to clients with the information and service they need."
Tracking performance and holding parties accountable is a critical element in successful partnerships. Adrian Steel measures several strategic metrics throughout the year and contracts an annual independent third-party audit, according to Sales and Development Manager Peck.
The company also looks to its FMC partners for performance measurement.
For example, LeasePlan evaluates key upfit providers on four elements: service, quality, cost, and innovation. Providers are also rated against industry peers of similar business levels and sizes, Reynolds said.
"We don't reveal the competition, but do provide feedback to the suppliers so they know how they compare overall and in each element. In our last evaluation, Adrian did exceedingly well, within the top two," he explained.
According to Lando, PHH Arval measures upfitting performance based upon pricing, responsiveness, technology, lead-times, and quality.
Similarly, ARI performs continue vendor rating based on metrics of cost, order status, quality, and customer service, said Wiggins. "Adrian Steel is a top-rated vendor for a reason; it rates high in all those categories."
Wheels Inc. measures upfit performance monthly, tracking intervals between vehicle arrivals at Adrian to upfit completion, reported Schmidt. The metrics, which reveal Adrian Steel averages seven days to completion versus much higher time frames for other providers, are reported to Wheels upper management and clients.
At Donlen, upfitter performance is measured quarterly. "Three date measurements are critical," said Byron. "When the vehicle is received, when the estimated completion date is set, and when the upfit is completed and shipped. We hold Adrian Steel to its projected dates, and our system monitors by exception. We meet quarterly to discuss the reasons for any delays and eliminate the cause in the future."
Nonetheless, said Byron, "the most accurate word to describe Adrian Steel is 'professional,' from the quality of their quotes, service, products, problem resolution, and employees. The end user is the most important customer for Adrian Steel and Donlen."