Home improvement

HOME IMPROVEMENT WAREHOUSES have sprung up across the country in recent years, providing the pros and do-it-yourselfers alike with the tools and materials they need to do the job.

Not all of these retail outlets are huge successes, however. When a local home improvement store in Colorado Springs went bankrupt recently, Layton Truck Equipment moved into the facility, converting the 80,000-sq-ft complex into a truck equipment mega-store.

The main building, a 45,000-sq-ft rectangle, is home for an 8,000-sq-ft parts store and a 27,000-sq-ft shop. Outbuildings, formerly used as lumber sheds, comprise the balance of the area under roof. Layton made a large paint shop out of one of these buildings. Another is available to keep snowplows, liftgates, cranes, and other truck equipment inventory out of the weather.

It took approximately six months to make the transition from lumber yard to truck equipment facility, but Layton is beginning to see the dividends. Sales of parts and accessories are already up 20% from a year ago, disproportionate growth when compared with truck equipment sales. The company expects further growth as the economy continues to improve.

“Colorado Springs is usually the last to go into recession and the last to come out,” says Steve Hayes, general manager. “Things are still slow here, but we are having our best year ever. We don't know exactly why, because we have had a number of changes going on — including the new facility. Are sales up because of the location? Greater visibility? Our larger parts showroom? The additional shop space?”

The truck equipment distributor has long had a commitment to parts and accessory sales, and the new location represents an even greater commitment.

“A lot of our sales growth has come from new customers,” Hayes says. “The new location is right in the middle of town, and our visibility is much higher. Until we moved, we had always been on the far east side of Colorado Springs. If you drove near our place, you were probably on your way to Kansas.”

Layton has benefited from the location, but the company also is getting a boost in accessory sales by having the ability to expand its showroom. The new showroom is twice the size of the previous one.

Add-on sales

The new location is making it easier for Layton sales personnel to sell additional parts and accessories to its commercial truck equipment customers.

With truck equipment sales in one location and its parts and accessories in another, Layton could not take full advantage of impulse buying that a good parts showroom provides. Now it is not uncommon for a sale to grow by 10% to 20% through the add-on sales from the parts department.

“Our equipment salesmen promote our parts department,” Hayes says. “They make people aware of the parts and accessories that we have available. It's a courtesy to the customer and a good business practice for us. For example, if we sell a customer a platform body, we should ask him if he needs any cargo straps to secure his loads.”

Layton sells a lot of products through its showroom that are not directly related to the truck equipment industry, but they are products that the end user needs. Hand tools are a good example. The company also has added shop supplies such as grinding wheels, welding supplies, and cut-off wheels.

Items such as these may not be big-ticket items, but they can add up. Layton recently sold a customer a platform body. However, sales of additional items actually surpassed the cost of the platform.

Hayes attends The Work Truck Show in search of new truck equipment lines to sell. Rich Tupper, the company's parts manager, attends the SEMA show in Las Vegas each year to discover products that may complement commercial truck equipment.

“We install a lot these — nerf bars, grill guards — on trucks equipped with commercial products,” Hayes says. “It's not unusual for a $400 grill guard to go on a commercial platform body. A lot of the commercial trucks in our market are individually owned. The owners want them to look nice They may use them for their business during the week and for personal use at nights and on the weekends. It's a different market and a different form of selling than you would use for fleet customers. They are buyers who don't mind spending a little extra for appearance items. After all, these products are just a small percent of the overall truck purchase.”

Running the showroom

Layton uses a combination of conventional wisdom and gut feelings to lay out the showroom.

“We locate similar items together,” Hayes says. “A lot of our sales are accessory items, so it's important to display them in a logical way so that a customer looking for one thing will notice the other.”

The company also makes it a point to cycle the items on display.

“We want to keep the showroom looking fresh,” Tupper says.

Products rotate in and out according to the season and at a rate that management senses is right.

One constant is the “discount rack” or “bargain bin” that the company keeps in the back of the showroom. The products change, but the location will remain the same.

“It's a good way to move overstocked or obsolete products,” Hayes says. “We put the same type of price tags on products that you would find at a garage sale.

“We always have something in the clearance bin. Our customers like it, but we will never put this up front. First impressions are important, and we never want to create the image that we are price-driven or a discount store. We want attractive displays and equipment up front. Putting the bargains in the back makes a statement about our priorities.”

What they sell

Layton stocks a wide range of truck equipment, along with its parts and accessories. The company handles Knapheide service bodies; Henderson snowplows, spreaders, and dump bodies; Rugby dump bodies and hoists; Western and Meyer snowplows; Texoma platforms and ranch bodies; IMT service trucks and cranes; Autocrane cranes; Tommygate and Eagle Lift liftgates; and Ramsey and Warn winches. Layton also is a warehouse distributor for Thieman liftgates.

Accessory lines include Drawtite hitches, Weatherguard toolboxes, and a wide range of pickup accessories. The company also handles engine performance parts, including computer chip upgrades for diesel engines.

“We buy a lot of our accessories through warehouse distributors,” Hayes says. “These companies provide us with quick service and competitive prices. With so many products and so many different trucks, it's impossible to stock everything. We stock a representative sample of the accessories we sell and place a quick order to a warehouse distributor for those that we don't have on hand. Usually we get next-day service.”

The farmers and ranchers in the area make light duty trailer parts popular items. Among the better selling items are axles, wheels, brakes, fenders, tiers, and jacks. These, too, are supplied by parts supply companies, either Quality Trailer Products or Redneck Trailer Supplies. Layton typically receives weekly shipments of parts for light-duty trailers.

Getting it installed

The L-shaped configuration of the shop makes it easy for Layton to set apart accessory installations from general truck equipment jobs. One side of the “L” is for accessories, the other for truck equipment. But because no wall separates the two shops at the corner, mechanics and materials are free to flow between the shops as needed.

Depending on the purchase, customers can have their accessories installed while they wait, come back later, or set up an appointment to have the accessories installed. Most of the installations are through appointments scheduled in advance.

Four installers work in the accessory shop. Each job is assigned to one installer, with one of the four installers specializing in van interiors.

Making the switch

Layton moved into its new location January 1 after the six-month conversion process was completed. To make the conversion go more smoothly, the company hired an architect to plan the project and a general contractor to execute it.

To transform a lumberyard into a truck equipment facility, the contractor gutted the building — removing the existing floor covering, ceiling, wall covering, and wiring. From there the contractor erected the wall that separates the shop from the offices and parts store. The electrical system also received a major upgrade.

Despite the larger parts warehouse that the new building provides, Layton has kept its parts inventory unchanged.

“The new showroom lets us move more inventory out of the warehouse and onto the showroom,” Hayes says. “It's still a little early for us to know how much this has affected our inventory turns, but we do know that our parts and accessory sales are up.”

But almost a year after moving, Layton management and its customers are convinced that the company's new home is a definite improvement.

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