Building your own lease fleet

WHEN Bob Poska's wife gave birth to a baby daughter, the couple named her Crystal. Later, when Poska's trailer repair operation gave birth to a separate leasing company, he named it Crystal, too.

Poska is president of Team Trailer Specialists, located in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, Illinois. Team Trailer specializes in trailer repair — from small jobs to major wreck restoration.

Like the daughter for whom it is named, Crystal Leasing has grown a lot since 1994, when Poska decided to form a leasing company stocked with trailers that the Team Trailer shop remanufactured.

Looking at the Crystal leased fleet, it's hard to tell that every one of the 75 trailers that Crystal leases were at one point wrecked beyond an insurance company's willingness to restore them. But today these 48-ft and 53-ft vans have a new lease on life and are providing service to a variety of customers.

“Insurance companies will not pay for repairs that cost more than 80% of the trailer's Blue Book value,” Poska says. “So we buy wrecks, usually for $1,000 to $2,000 and restore them.”

The company buys nothing older than 1998 models. But if the selling price is right, Team Trailer goes to great lengths to buy wrecked trailers. The company has traveled as far as New York, Texas, and California to retrieve wrecks. Mechanics do enough repairs on site to get the trailers road-worthy before towing them back home for the bulk of repairs.

By putting a little labor and materials in them, the Team Trailer shop can convert a total loss into a trailer that is in near-new condition. The restorations that the shop performs are extensive enough that, in the eyes of the Illinois state government, Team Trailer is required to have a rebuilder license. The license is more than a piece of paper. To earn it, the state critiques the processes the shop employs and validates the repairs that were done.

Technically, Crystal Leasing has no employees. Team Trailer personnel provide what few functions are required.

“Virtually nothing in our fleet is leased for less than six months,” Poska says. “We don't have a sales department, almost every trailer we lease is through word of mouth. And since we aren't offering full-service leases, the trailers don't require a lot of attention. We sign the lease, and that's about it.”

No Sales

Poska's trailer repair and leasing operations are a marketing guy's worst nightmare — not a salesman in either company.

“We haven't had a sales department in four years,” Poska says. “Since we have been in business, we have built up a list of about 1,000 trailer customers nationally.”

Still, the sales come in, partially the result of efforts by Bud Milazzo, service manager. Milazzo specializes in calling on railroads, identifying damaged intermodal equipment, and working up estimates for the repairs. Railroads either accept or reject Milazzo's estimates. Milazzo's counterpart for over-the-road trailers is Tim Roland. He is the service sales manager for Team Trailer.

Team Trailer does not sell any new trailers, but it sells a lot of shop labor. The company is an authorized repair shop for several major trailer brands, including Fruehauf, Hyundai, Stoughton, and Wabash National. The company also performs warranty work for HPA Monon.

Trailer repair is something that almost seems hereditary for Poska. His father was in the business and helped Bob learn the ropes. He first went to work as a 16-year-old, sweeping the shop floor and learning the names of trailer parts. He progressed to a mechanics helper, sometimes doing some repairs on days when the shop ran short of help.

After graduation from high school, Poska attended Southern Illinois University as an engineering major. He transferred to DePaul University his senior year, working in sales for his high school employer and attending classes at night.

Following a stint in trailer sales, Poska found a partner in 1991 to start what eventually became Team Trailer. The partnership did not work (the partner is now a competitor), but the operation did.

Cool New Shop

After years of growth, Team Trailer moved into a new 24,000-sq-ft shop in January 2000. The facility provides 10 service bays, including one for frame straightening, one wash bay, and another designated for a slide-in paint booth.

One of the unusual features of the shop — particularly considering the company's latitude — is air-conditioning.

“Don't think it doesn't get hot in Chicago,” Poska says. “One summer it was over 100° F two weeks straight. Our productivity was really affected. When the building contractor offered air-conditioning at a significant discount, I was sold.”

The shop lighting system, combined with windows in the doors and skylights in the roof, generates plenty of light for mechanics to work with the shop doors closed and the air-conditioning on.

It also gets cold in Chicago. To supplement the heating system, the company chose an air compressor that captures the heat produced when compressing air. A baffle sends the heat into the shop in the winter and out the roof in the summer. The 25-hp Kaeser compressor has a screw drive that Poska considers quiet and energy-efficient. The compressor also has proved reliable, and the manufacturer provides a discount on any service parts that cannot be delivered within 24 hours.

Nineteen technicians work in the shop. In addition, the shop is home base for three mobile service trucks. Two of the service trucks focus on one customer: Xtra Corporation and its intermodal equipment. The other truck is a general troubleshooter.

The service and repair approach has made life easier at a time when new equipment sales are soft. Business is good for both companies, Poska said in early February. Even in a down market, fleets continue to move freight. This causes wear and tear on trailers — and occasionally enough damage for the shop to rebuild and for Crystal to lease.

A repair shop and a leasing company. Sounds like the makings of a pretty good Team.

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