National treasure

The Newest Reading Equipment & Distribution facility in Pontiac, Michigan, is not exactly your father's truck equipment shop.

Sure, the company sells bodies, equipment, and accessories in the local market, but that's not what this shop is all about. Reading Equipment & Distribution opened the 74,000-sq-ft facility about 18 months ago for one specific reason: to serve the truck equipment needs of major fleets on a national basis.

The location — the sixth operated by the Bowmansville, Pennsylvania — company, was set up for high-volume installations of truck bodies and equipment. A quick glance of the facility shows that the mission was accomplished. For example:

  • Workflow is more assembly line than the more traditional bay approach. To that end, there are no individual shop bays with overhead doors. Trucks enter the building through one door and leave through another.

  • The freespan structure has no intermediate supporting walls, giving a high degree of freedom for routing the ever changing influx of trucks in a way that makes the most sense for that particular mix of orders.

  • Most inventory is stored on one end of this open space, making it easier to retrieve the equipment the trucks require — particularly during the winter in Michigan.

  • The 4½-acre site has parking for up to 300 chassis. The company is leasing another 2½ acres to have parking for an additional 150-200 vehicles.

“We are here to serve national fleets,” says John Laskarides, branch manager. “We are set up to move 300-400 trucks per month through our shop.”

The facility, located just outside the shadows of the Pontiac Silverdome, previously had served as a manufacturing plant for Dana axles for light-duty trucks. Reading Equipment & Distribution took possession of the property in July 2006 and spent the next couple of months tailoring the site to Reading Equipment & Distribution's particular operation. Production started September 11, 2006.

Reading's Pontiac location staffs its high-volume operation with a staff of only 19. The company has a shop foreman, nine mechanics, two painters, a quality control inspector, a porter/driver, a shipping and receiving clerk, and an inventory control/parts manager. The office staff consists of a branch manager (Laskarides), fleet coordinator (Curt Weinrach), and office manager (Shelley Laskarides).

Three pieces of pie

While national fleet sales and service represent the reason Reading Equipment & Distribution opened in Pontiac, it is not the only one.

“We recognized the importance of working with the OEMs,” says Norm Ziegler, chief operating officer of Reading Equipment & Distribution. “We offer ship-through services for Ford, GM, and most recently Dodge. But there are three pieces to the pie in Pontiac.”

Ziegler lists those pieces as follows:

  • Reading Fleet Services. That is the national, ship-through oriented operation through which Reading Equipment & Distribution serves major fleet customers.

  • Support for authorized distributors of Reading Truck Body.

  • Sales and service for the truck equipment market in the Detroit metropolitan area.

“Pontiac is the epicenter of Reading Fleet Services,” Ziegler says. “But it is more than that. It also enables Reading distributors who do not have a chassis pool of their own to indirectly get into the pool business. We are in business to help them do that. But in addition to serving our national fleet customers and other Reading distributors, we have done a lot recently to serve the local market in Detroit.”

The Big Three

Permeating its ability to serve local or national customers is Reading Equipment & Distribution's status as an authorized freight re-entry and ship-through operation for each of Detroit's Big Three.

The Ford freight re-entry program involves the F-250-550's. This program allows national customers to utilize pool units to ship them to an authorized Ford dealer anywhere across the United States. The Ford ship-through program involves the F-150's, a vehicle Ford produces at its plant in nearby Dearborn, Michigan. The remainder of the Ford ship-through truck line-up is manufactured outside the 50-mile radius of the Pontiac plant. As such, Reading Equipment & Distribution also uses its Pontiac facility as a remote ship-through point for F-250-550's built in Louisville and F-150's built in Kansas City

The Pontiac facility also qualifies for General Motors' ship-through program for the company's ¾-ton and 1-ton trucks being produced in Pontiac and Flint.

Reading Equipment & Distribution also is an authorized ship-through location for the growing line of Dodge commercial trucks. Those vehicles are produced in metropolitan Detroit, St. Louis, and Mexico.

Supporting distributors

With the increased popularity of chassis pools, it has become difficult for local truck equipment distributors to compete for certain types of business unless they have a chassis pool. Not everyone does, of course, which is where the Pontiac operation comes in.

“It's one way Reading Truck Body can help its distributors,” Ziegler says.

Reading Truck Body has two chassis pools — one for Ford, the other for General Motors — based at the Reading Equipment & Distribution Pontiac location. If a Reading distributor needs to draw from the Ford pool, for example, he calls Reading headquarters in Pennsylvania and orders a chassis. Reading Equipment & Distribution can then install the equipment that the customer needs and deliver it to Ford's transportation center in nearby Wayne, Michigan, where the completed vehicle is put on a railcar and eventually delivered to the customer's local Ford dealer.

“We've been pleased with the transportation systems of Ford, GM and Dodge,” Laskarides says. “It usually takes two plus weeks to get the completed truck from Pontiac to the local dealer. Much of that time is spent at the rail yard.”

Serving locally

Although not set up specifically to serve the Detroit market, Reading Equipment & Distribution increasingly is getting local business.

“People are becoming more and more aware that we are here,” Laskarides says. “They know Reading's reputation as a truck body manufacturer and are interested in doing business with us.”

“Sales to the local market have been increasing, and we have taken some steps to help make that happen,” Ziegler says. “We now have a display area and a parts room that we did not have when we first opened. It's a fully functional truck equipment shop for the local market. We offer equipment sales and installation, parts, and service.”

The Pontiac location has a full line of truck equipment to offer, including the full line of Reading service bodies, dumps, and platforms; TBEI dump bodies; Meyer and Western snowplows, and Liftmoore and National cranes.

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