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Heritage Parts Continues Brand Evolution

The parts distributor’s launch of an e-commerce site represents the latest in a series of key steps designed to help Heritage Parts work better with OEMs and service agents.

The parts distributor’s launch of an e-commerce site represents the latest in a series of key steps designed to help Heritage Parts work better with OEMs and service agents.

Occasionally, businesses may take a series of independent steps that may seem just that. But when added together they can create a mosaic that describes a new direction for an established industry player. Such is the case for Heritage Parts, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based distributor of replacement parts for commercial and institutional kitchen equipment.

In May of this year, the company introduced a new brand mark, website and multi-media marketing campaign. These efforts all support Heritage’s related decision to stop selling parts not made by the original equipment manufacturers. The latest step in this process was the Sept. 2 launch of the company’s new e-commerce site that creates additional ways for customers to research and purchase parts while integrating Heritage’s customer service representatives to enhance the experience.

Foodservice professionals visiting can access parts inventory and calculate shipping and handling costs. In addition, visitors to the site can view product images, parts specifications and fits model links and access a library of 50,000 equipment manuals, parts diagrams and schematics, according to a Heritage release. Customers can contact a customer service advisor directly from the website for any additional research and purchases they may need. Heritage’s customer service representatives can assist with online purchases or still handle orders directly via phone or email.

Heritage’s changes come as the landscape for the foodservice equipment aftermarket continues to shift dramatically. To help entice foodservice operators to make equipment purchases during the recent recession, many manufacturers extended their parts and labor warranties up to five years from one year – a practice that shows no sign of dissipating. As a result, many authorized service agents must perform warranty work, which usually is done at a reduced rate, for longer periods of time than before.

“Service is a very tough business,” McDonough said. “It is a very tight model and disruption in leadership or anything else that can impact your ability to assist customers in a timely manner on a local level.”

The mounting operational pressures forced some service agents to take a closer look at the way they run their businesses. For example, factories were requiring service agents to make a heavy investment in parts, training their staff and even marketing their brands, McDonough said.

“The service expectations of the factories and customers are not going down,” he added. “As the pressure started to mount on service agents in recent years, they started looking for ways to manage their costs. The good ones managed their receivables better and others looked at inventory. We became a supplier to help the service agents manage their operation without compromising their overall level of service. There was an enormous shift in parts inventory from service agents to companies like Heritage and our competitors in the business.”

In fact, 10 years ago, service agencies were 5 percent of Heritage’s sales mix but today they represent one of the company’s fastest growing customer segments, McDonough added. “In the past couple of years, I think many of the ASAs realize we are part of their supply chain,” he said. “And we have a lot of small-to-medium-sized OEMs who now see us as a viable partner to help provide parts to their customers.”

As the company continued to grow in this manner, it became evident that Heritage’s call center-centric business model needed to evolve, too. “We could not take the next step using a call center service model. That’s where e-commerce comes into play,” McDonough said. “It includes developing a strong content base and making it searchable for someone, regardless of their knowledge base.”

Prior to taking the e-commerce plunge, though, the company altered its inventory practices, eliminating non-OEM items. “The OEM move was unexpected by some of them and I think it got us some strong play with the service community and the end-user community,” McDonough said. “Through extensive research, we learned that Heritage was too often perceived as a provider of generic parts in direct conflict with the interests of our OEM suppliers, despite the fact that more than 94 percent of our sales were OEM. We also uncovered that our customers overwhelmingly want genuine OEM parts because of their performance, longevity, safety and warranty protection.”

Looking down the road, Heritage hopes these steps will allow the company to continue to be a key part of the service agents’ supply chain and help them build their customer retention post-warranty. Heritage also hopes to help OEMs extend their reach beyond their traditional service networks by “delivering a reasonable experience for that customer by providing access to parts, technical documents and more,” McDonough said. “That’s really what we have been doing all along. I think the service agents in general see our company as a critical piece of the supply chain. The response has been quite positive so far.”