Kansas City Shop Latest for Jim Hawk

IM HAWK Truck Trailers, one of the largest trailer distributors in the Midwest, has strengthened its commitment to the Kansas City area with a new shop in Kansas City, Missouri.

The facility, completed in September 1998, provides the company with a number of advantages compared with its previous shop-not the least of which is its location.

"Between 40,000 and 80,000 vehicles pass by here every day," says Manager Jim Knotek. "It has helped us a lot to have this kind of visibility. We are right off the main interstate that carries freight from the Midwest to the Southeast. It's an excellent traffic area."

The branch is located in what is becoming a trucking center on Kansas City's northeast side. The facility is located just off Loop 435, an interstate linking Interstates 70, 29, and 35. Freightliner, Ford, and Kenworth all have dealerships nearby, as does Arrow, a major used truck dealer.

"Some of the largest truck dealers in the country are located here," Knotek says. "One of them, Midwest Kenworth, has approximately 20 branches."

The building opens up a variety of opportunities for the Kansas City operation, including the ability to sell more parts. The traffic is a plus (the previous location was off the main lanes), and the larger structure provides space that the branch never had before.

"Our old place was not set up to sell parts," Knotek says.

Jim Hawk has grown to be a significant player in the commercial trailer market. The company is based in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and has locations in East Peoria, Illinois; Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa; Fargo, North Dakota; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in addition to the Kansas City branch.

Spec'ing the Shop Multiple branches give the company an advantage when it comes to designing and building a new facility.

"The trailer industry has changed a lot over the years," Knotek says. "Shops built when trailers were limited to 40 feet in length just can't cut it anymore. Until we opened here in Kansas City, our Peoria branch had the newest facility. That shop has worked out well, and we chose the same basic layout when it came time to design a shop here."

Considering the greater lengths of today's trailers, the length of the shop bays was a major consideration. Jim Hawk decided to make its bays 70 feet long, enabling the shop to accommodate the longest trailers that are legal today-and still have room for mechanics to work at the front or rear.

The 140' by 150' building contains 10 bays. However, the building can be extended should additional bays be required in the future. Each of the bays is equipped with 16' x 14' doors for ease of entrance. Twenty-foot-high walls, crowning at 24 feet, provide ample height for roof repairs.

"This is the first brand new facility our company has built in 30 years," Knotek says. "We have done a lot of expansion and refurbishing during the past 30 years, and our Davenport branch is one we acquired from someone who built in the 1990s."

Exploring the Market Jim Hawk has a wide product line, including trailers it manufactures itself at a plant in Council Bluffs.

"Our main focus is selling and servicing Great Dane trailers," Knotek says. "We have just celebrated our 25th anniversary as a Great Dane dealer. Prior to that, we were a dealer for Brown Trailer until it went out of business."

The company also manufactures trailers, including storage containers and office trailers. Jim Hawk has the capacity to manufacture 10 grain trailers per week to go along with 12 containers it can produce weekly.

"We mainly rent the storage and office trailers," Knotek says. "The platform trailers that we produce are designed for transporting backhoes and similar types of construction equipment. It is a niche that Great Dane does not quite have a product for."

Jim Hawk has a staff engineer, Stan Navoczynski, who previously held a similar position for a major trailer manufacturer.

The Kansas City location sells a good cross-section of the trailer market. The dump business is good in the immediate Kansas City area.

"You have to move rock whenever you dig more than five feet here," Knotek says.

With its location in a Midwest transportation hub, the company sells a good number of Great Dane dry-freight and refrigerated vans. It does well with live-floor trailers in Missouri. Customers in Missouri also buy trailers for hauling lumber, and the Jim Hawk sales force reaches into Louisiana to provide trailers for hauling sugar cane.

Building a Parts Business Jim Hawk has been taking advantage of the benefits the new location provides in order to build up the branch's parts business.

"We patterned our building after the Peoria branch, placing our parts operation at the front and service in the back," Knotek says. "But we sell parts here just like we do trailers-we go out to the customer. We don't wait for the customer to call us. Not surprisingly, all of our branches do well in the parts business. Of course, we have had a lot more success since we moved into our new location."

The branch has two outside parts salesmen and three to four inside sales people who do telemarketing.

Jim Hawk promotes its parts sales with direct mail pieces produced at the Council Bluffs office. The company sends out quarterly mailings to a customer list containing approximately 8,000 names.

The branches produce sufficient volume to keep a 53-ft van trailer busy shuttling parts. The trailer arrives in Kansas City on Mondays, then goes east Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It then heads north to serve the Sioux Falls branch.

Largely to serve the trailers Jim Hawk manufactures, the company has its own parts distribution center.

"It doesn't do much good to be big if you don't take advantage of your size," Knotek says.

Going Digital Jim Hawk has been quick to use technology to sell trailers and parts. The company bought its first digital camera originally to help resolve warranty issues. With the photo taken, it was simple to e-mail the image. However, applications soon spread to sales.

"We can take a picture of a trailer with the digital camera and turn it into a flyer, e-mail it to a customer, or put it on our web site," Knotek says.

Jim Hawk has had a web site for more than three years and has seen a steady increase in activity. The company's in-house software technician manages the site. The site lists information about the Jim Hawk branches-including the inventory on hand at each branch. It also lists information about Independent Manufacturing, Jim Hawk's trailer manufacturing company.

Other Tools The company has upgraded its computer and telephone systems recently. The Karmak computer system, designed for trailer dealers, has now been implemented throughout the entire Jim Hawk operation. In the Kansas City branch alone, the company has six personal computers in the sales department, four in its parts operation, and two in the shop-one each for the service manager and the foreman. All are linked to company headquarters in Council Bluffs and to the other Jim Hawk branches.

A new telephone communication network through MCI allows the distant computers (and people) to communicate with one another. The system includes three-digit dialing between branches. "It's like having one big intercom system," Knotek says.

A company Intranet also helps the distant branches communicate internally. It contains parts and trailer inventories for the entire company. The Intranet posts sales figures. "You can track sales hourly if necessary," Knotek says.

All of which has made Jim Hawk more competitive-including in the Kansas City market.

"Kansas City has been a tough market, but we are developing our niches," Knotek says. "One of the secrets to Jim Hawk's success has been that we don't try to sell trucks. If you try to mix both, the tractor will win out every time. We sell trailers aggressively and don't wait for the phone to ring. We go out and call on the customer."

And with its new location in Kansas City, sales personnel have a little more to offer when they call.

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