Parts Town’s business feels a lot like a technology company or a digital agency, as opposed to what it is, a food service parts distributor, Linda Ramsey, senior vice president, marketing, told attendees of Digital Commerce 360’s EnvisionB2B Conference & Exhibition. “We’re a food service parts distributor. Now, that doesn’t seem as glamorous, but what we do really is important,” she said.
“We have a very healthy ecommerce business. 70% of our transactions happen on the web today,” Ramsey said. Another example is the Parts Town app. It has been downloaded 200,000 times, resulting in 9.9 million app sessions.
Located in the northwest suburbs outside of Chicago, Parts Town has acquired more than 20 businesses in the last seven years, expanding in the commercial kitchen parts and services and, most recently, the residential market, Ramsey said. The company provides primarily commercial kitchen parts but has branched off into other a critical parts distribution business, she said.
Don’t rely on price to win
Parts Town offers customers multiple purchasing tools on its website, including convenient access to documents like technical manuals and links to parts and other information for the products it sells. Each year, customers download 3.6 million technical manuals in PDF form. Customers have browsed 22 million product detail views.
These tools are intended to make the customer experience convenient and preferable. “We were never the lowest-price provider,” Ramsey said. Customers know that but shop with Parts Town anyway, she added.
“Don’t rely on price to win,” she said. “We don’t sell generic parts and were never going to compete on price. Instead, we’re going to compete on experience.”
Providing a wide range of website product content is core to Parts Town’s overall strategy, Ramsey said.
Parts Town’s app acts as a virtual catalog and reference manual. Ramsey noted that the app is an improved online experience, easily accessible from a smart mobile device.
Technology speeds up the research process for the customer, she said. The Parts Town app, she noted, provides interactive tools such as photos, 360-degree product views, and links to product information. The app experience frees customers from traditional the back-and-forth of identifying an equipment problem on-site, carrying a physical catalog back to the office to look up parts, then double-checking they’ve selected the right part.
“The app is on your phone. We include video images that spin products around, and you can also link right from our manuals,” Ramsey said. “You can look up a serial number in the palm of your hand” to save time.”
Ramsey attributed Parts Town’s success partly to its focus on providing customer solutions, not just products and services.
“It’s a way to differentiate what you do for a customer,” Ramsey said. “Ask yourself what you do for the customer from their perspective and not a business point of a view.”
To do that, it is important to understand that customers expect a user-friendly B2C ecommerce experience in their B2B dealings.
“The lines between B2B and B2C ecommerce are more blurred than ever,” she said. “We can use customer-centered innovation to drive products to outshine the competition and really make that connection with customers.”
In fact, 83% of B2B buyers say they prefer ordering or paying through digital commerce, according to a Gartner Inc. survey of 725 buyers from November/December 2021.
“You have to really get into what customers need and understand those needs,” Ramsey said. “You have to build channels that get back into the business, and it can come from anywhere.”
Some of that business intelligence comes directly from emailed surveys to customers. Another way Parts Town keeps in touch with customer needs and concerns is by going into the field, literally.
Visiting customers to get their views
“We send our [our employees from different departments] out on ride-alongs with technicians for an entire day,” Ramsey said.
Ride-along visits allow Parts Town employees from every department to experience the challenges a kitchen equipment technician faces at a customer location but also learn the customer’s point of view, Ramsey said.
Ramsey herself went along for a ride with a technician to one of its customers at an Olive Garden restaurant location that had a malfunctioning oven.
“I learned a lot about their business and how critical some of these pieces of equipment are,” she told attendees. “If an oven isn’t getting the right temperature or there’s a lack of consistency, it’s critical for that business.”
Understanding a customer includes recognizing that restaurants are different from a commercial kitchen within a hospital or school. Parts Town has built teams to manage each segment. The goal is to understand the needs depending on how those pieces of equipment used.
“You have to make business decisions based on the customer centricity of what you’re doing and the value you’re bringing,” Ramsey said. “And you want feedback from the entire organization.”
Ramsey said Parts Town has built a culture where ideas “can come from anywhere.”
“We’ve had some of our best ideas come from people who work in our distribution center,” she said. “We collect feedback every day and share it throughout the company. You need to build a safe place where people feel they can speak.”
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