Exeter, PA.-based Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. (KAO) had previously announced the opening of its sprawling, 360,000-square-foot Brownstown, Mich., warehouse, which has been shipping parts and accessories orders to independent automotive retailers and RV parts and accessories clients since last fall. (To view a slideshow scroll to the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com page linked above).
But the company’s new “Great Lakes Warehouse” got a more public initiation on Saturday (June 25) when Keystone, led by several senior executives, welcomed more than 100 customers for a casual meet-and-greet session plus lunch and tours of the facility just south of metropolitan Detroit after which attendees joined the “Keystone Team” for a Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians baseball game.
Also in attendance were a handful of supplier exhibitors, including bed-cover maker Truck Hero Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., and hitch manufacturer Cequent Performance Products Inc., Plymouth, Mich.
KAO’s Brownstown facility, now one of seven key warehouses positioned nationally for a company that bills itself as the world’s largest automotive parts and accessories distributor, is designed to service primary cross-dock fulfillment locations in places like Akron, Ohio, Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich., and to speed deliveries throughout the north-central U.S. and parts of Ontario.
“I think the most important thing for us to get across is that we’ve always serviced this region as a company,” explained George Lathouris, director of U.S. automotive sales for KAO, a unit of Chicago-based LKQ Corp. “But we needed this facility and the inventory that’s inside it to do a better job here because of the growth and expansion that we’ve been experiencing as an organization. We just needed more square footage.
“So, instead of adding onto an existing facility, we put our merchandise closer to the customer, so they’re getting great order fill – quickly without a lot of transferring – coming right out of this facility directly to their stores.”
And while a clear majority of Keystone’s business is automotive — as were most of Saturday’s open house guests — KAO spokesmen indicate they’ve made a lot of progress lately in integrating the RV parts and accessories businesses added over the past two to three years with the acquisitions of North America’s three largest two-step RV distributors, including Oregon-based NTP Distribution Inc., Atlanta’s Stag-Parkway Inc. and, last August, The Coast Distribution System Inc., Morgan Hill, Calif.
In fact, Lathouris told RVBUSINESS.com that RV dealer parts and accessories deliveries are now part and parcel of KAO’s daily routine, with many delivery trucks now fitted with large “cannon tubes” for handling RV awnings and moldings. And, he noted, the overall impact has been a positive for a business built on volume deliveries across the country.
“I think it’s been great for the (overall Keystone) organization because it gives us the opportunity to offer varied products and, let’s just say, frequency of delivery because the increased volume in the organization gives us the opportunity to service all of our customers better – more cross-docks, more trucks, more inventory, more people,” said Lathouris, who’s based out of Corona, Calif. “It’s a situation where we can take care of more customers in a more effective fashion.”
Now that the integration of NTP and STAG has been completed, the main order of business on the RV side is to finish off the same process with Coast, a process that, according to John Ruch, vice president of fulfillment and logistics, should be finished in six months to a year.
“We’ve integrated or are in the process of integrating 13 of Coast’s 17 buildings,” said Ruch. “The four that are left are Fort Worth, Texas, Atlanta, Elkhart, Ind., and Visalia, Calif. And we’re going to continue through the rest of the year looking to see where we can provide better customer service by combining deliveries on our trucks and getting products more quickly out to our customers. We’re going to continue to integrate where we can, so there’s really no plan solidified yet on dates or anything. But we’ll just look to continue to provide that better customer service. By having everything consolidated, you have better inventory, better cut times and more consistent deliveries.”
Bottom line, Lathouris and Ruch agreed, RV parts and accessories are now part and parcel of what KAO does on a regular basis at all seven of its main warehouses.
“Our true value proposition is we take many different products, put them on one delivery truck and for one fee we drop off — one item or 20 items – a small part of the truck or the entire truck – for one fee — and the merchandise can come from any one of our seven locations direct to the customer,” said Lathouris. “The fact that it may be large and bulky and we can get it there so efficiently, I think, is some of the magic that we offer to the customer base. I think it’s worth noting.”