WHEN Astro Truck Equipment opened in October 1997, it made a sure bet that new gambling casinos to be built in Detroit, Michigan, will pay off with a great demand for truck equipment.
Don Anderson and Mark Kuzak, owners of Astro, say trucks with dump bodies, service bodies, and other related equipment are needed by contractors and construction companies to build the new casinos on Detroit's riverfront. Detroit City Council gave final approval in April for casino gambling.
Anderson and Kuzak were anticipating approval of casino gambling when they opened Astro in Detroit. The gambling industry is expected to cause a building boom in the city. Tentative plans call for new riverfront development complete with a shopping mall and hotels.
A combination of other factors helped Anderson and Kuzak decide to open Astro. Each of Detroit's major sports teams plans to build a new stadium, including the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Lions, and the Stanley-Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings.
Astro is in an ideal location to service the contractors and construction companies involved in the building boom, Anderson says. The distributor is near the intersection of several major expressways in southeast Michigan including the Southfield Expressway, I-96, I-94, and I-75.
On the west side of Detroit, Astro is located a block away from the company previously owned by Anderson's father, which also was called Astro Truck Equipment. When the original Astro Truck Equipment was in business from 1970 to 1981, Anderson and Kuzak both worked for the company.
Anderson and Kuzak later teamed up again as coworkers at another truck equipment distributor in a suburb of Detroit, Anderson says. This distributor was started by Anderson in 1988 for a large truck equipment distributor with other branches in Missouri and Indiana.
Kuzak also worked for another Detroit-area competitor, he says. After a large truck equipment distributor decided to close its Detroit branch, Anderson and Kuzak jumped at the opportunity to fill the market void.
The day after leaving their former employer, the partners set up offices and a shop in Detroit in an unused portion of a 100,000-sq-ft plant owned by Hulet Body Company Inc, which builds dry freight and insulated van bodies. Anderson and Kuzak began hanging drywall, and buying computers, desks, filing cabinets, and other office furniture.
Being in the same building as Hulet is an ideal situation for Astro, Anderson says. The distributor has easy access to Hulet's dry freight and refrigerated van bodies. A 10-ton bridge crane for mounting truck bodies spans Astro's and Hulet's combined shops.
Truck Equipment Suppliers Before opening its new location, Astro cemented relationships with truck body and equipment suppliers, Anderson says. Astro's supplier for medium- and heavy-duty dump bodies, material spreaders, and some of its V-box spreaders for light-duty trucks is Warren Inc in Collins, Mississippi.
"At the time, Russell Warren was searching for a distributor that could do a good job of marketing his medium- and heavy-duty truck bodies in Detroit," Anderson says. "Before leaving our former employer, we had Astro's product lines including Warren in place."
Dump bodies purchased from Warren are built to Astro's specifications, Anderson says. The dump bodies are built with heavier than normal materials for higher weight-carrying capacity in Michigan and to withstand harsh midwestern winters.
The sides and floors of Warren dump bodies built for Astro are made of eight-gauge steel, and the floor is made of 1/4-inch T-1 steel, Anderson says. Many of the trucks are used for demolition work to make way for new construction. On these dump bodies, Astro has Warren install wider than normal cab shields to protect trucks used on demolition sites.
Custom Warren Dump Bodies Astro's light- and medium-duty platform bodies, stake beds, and dump bodies come from Rugby Manufacturing Company in Rugby, North Dakota. Medium- and heavy-duty hydraulic hoists are purchased from Warren. Light- and other medium-duty hoists are purchased from Rugby.
Roll-Rite tarps are installed on many dump bodies sold and mounted by Astro, he says. The tarps cover an entire load on a dump truck or trailer and are operated with a dash-mounted switch inside the cab.
Other truck bodies sold by Astro include platform bodies built by Obeco in Cherokee, Iowa, and service bodies built by Warner Bodies in Noblesville, Indiana. Warner builds service bodies for one-ton chassis in 98-, 108-, and 132-inch lengths.
For snow and ice control, Astro carries a complete line of truck equipment from Rugby, Warren, and Western. The distributor sells and installs tailgate and V-box spreaders for de-icing materials, including an aluminum V-box material spreader from Warren. An undertailgate spreader from Warren has a hydraulically operated auger to spread de-icing material while the dump body is lowered.
Much of the snow and ice control equipment is operated hydraulically, or has hydraulic components such as spinners and augers on material spreaders, Anderson says. Kuzak and Anderson each have over 25 years of experience with hydraulic installations on truck equipment. Astro has a Weatherhead machine to make hydraulic hoses and specializes in the installation of hydraulic snow and ice control equipment.
In addition to spreaders, Astro is the snowplow distributor in Detroit for Western Products in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he says. Western produces straight-blade and V-blade snowplows.
"We're ecstatic about representing Western in Detroit," Kuzak says. "They were worried about having enough distributors in the city to supply Western customers with adequate parts and service."
When a customer places an order, Astro prides itself on providing realistic delivery dates, Anderson says. Customers give a lot of importance to on-time deliveries.
"We're not making promises we can't keep," Anderson says. "Our deliveries are going well, so far."
Astro is experiencing a rebirth, as is the section of Detroit where it is located, Anderson says. In the past three years, the area has improved its pace with the city's revitalization. City of Detroit administrative offices are easy to work with, police services are good, and Astro has experienced no vandalism.
"The City of Detroit is a nice place to do business," Anderson says. "We bought in at the right time."