Forklift shortage has aftermarket parts and service suppliers scrambling to keep up

There have been winners and losers in the current unpredictable market of shipping delays and product shortages. Among the sure winners are those providing aftermarket service and supplies for forklifts. The lift truck is the workhorse of any material handling facility and those who supply parts and services for these trucks are scrambling to keep up with business. They have been managing a delicate balancing act between supplying critical aftermarket supplies to distribution centers while dealing with their own supply chain challenges.

According to Modern Materials Handling, the North American lift truck market saw sales of 242,398 trucks in 2019. While that was down 6.8%, it still ranks as the third-best year in the last half-century. But now forklifts themselves are in short supply as manufacturers deal with a shortage in parts and labor and changes in regulations.

In May, Toyota Industries Corporation announced that it was suspending some of its models of engine-powered lift trucks due to delays in obtaining U.S. engine emissions certification. Just recently, Toyota announced another voluntary suspension in production and sales for the 6-8 ton forklift model. Shortages in lift trucks themselves mean that material handling operators have been doing what they can to help clients maintain their current fleet with aftermarket services.

At Helmar Parts in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., forklift parts are a key part of the inventory. Company President Paul Paciello said that 2021 has been one of its busiest years on record. Specifically, chassis and engine part sales have risen dramatically, he said. “Mid-year this year we had the highest back-order rate in Helmar’s nearly 40-year history. This was caused by a lack of raw material, manpower, and of course, the long delays in getting containers and transport,” Paciello said. It is the used equipment that is the most valuable these days. “Equipment that was being sold off as parts or scrap are being repaired and reintroduced back into the marketplace,” he said.

The story is the same at Panacea Aftermarket Co., one of the leading forklift parts and accessories suppliers in Canada. President Don Martindale said they have seen significant growth across all of their product lines as customers source alternatives to their current supplier, who may have run out of inventory.  “Interestingly, we have noticed that customers are now stocking more, due to the potential of product shortages,” Martindale said. The trend among Panacea’s customers has been to replace major components, as opposed to repairing them. “We believe because their intent is to keep their equipment longer as well as the shortage of qualified manpower and higher labor costs,” Martindale said.

All Lift Service Co. President John L. Gelsimino said that this year has been filled with “extraordinary customer demand,” though that has caused challenges in keeping up with the labor and products needed to fulfill that demand. The Willoughby, Ohio-based company is a supplier of new and used forklifts, forklift rentals and parts and service. “We are fortunate to have a very diversified business, with many of our segments benefitting from a rebuilding environment,” Gelsimino said. “I expect business to remain strong until mid-year 2022.” He said that all of their inventory is selling. “The general basis of competition has changed to availability, quality of people, ease of doing business and lastly, price,” Gelsimino said. Because the market for used lift trucks has dried up, pushing the costs to “unseen levels,” Gelsimino said his customers are repairing their old units at the end-user and dealer levels.  “Remanufactured components are in high demand as everyone is repairing equipment that they normally would not have even repaired,” he said.

Sourcing the equipment for aftermarket lift trucks has not been easy, however, as these companies are running into their own supply chain issues. Gelsimino said that items such as forks, propane tanks, pallet jacks, and much more are selling as fast as they are coming in. “The supply chain impact is deep and wide covering almost all aspects,” Gelsimino said.  He added that as inflation ramps up, it will only drive additional demand and price increases making this problem even worse.

Martindale said that when they first noticed supply chain issues surfaced in the spring, they, like other wholesalers who rely on overseas imports, were caught off guard. “But we did react quickly, adjusted our lead time forecast, and are well currently positioned,” he said.

All of the market factors have greatly impacted lead times for lift truck parts. At Helmar Parts, Paciello said that at one point, it took an additional 90 to 120 days to get a product to a client. “We are currently seeing a vast improvement to 60 to 90 days,” he said.

Gelsimino said their lead times vary depending on the class of equipment and manufacturer.  “Electric truck lead times are much better than IC truck lead times. Lead and lithium battery lead times are also extended,” he said.

Martindale said that for Panacea Aftermarket Co., the delivery times have been more of a challenge than actual product supply.  “Because of the container shortage it was difficult and frustrating to get space onboard ships, as a result, costs have tripled and transit times have tripled,” he said

Lisa Curtis is a freelance writer based in Cedarburg, WI. She has nearly 30 years of experience working for local newspapers and magazines, including serving as managing editor of the Ozaukee News Graphic. She is also the author of the book “Images of America: Cedarburg.” To contact Lisa email editorial@MHNetwork.com

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