ONE OF THE CHALLENGES of operating shops in multiple markets is to tailor each location to maximize its ability to meet the needs of the particular market that it serves.
A good example is the new Central States Thermo King shop in Oklahoma City. When designing its new 42,000-sq-ft shop, which opened in January, Central States sought the input of Mike Nelson, general manager, who has served as a Thermo King manager in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City since 1994.
The design of the new Oklahoma City facility reflects an interesting mix of products that Central States offers. The company is part Thermo King dealer, part trailer repair shop, and part truck equipment distributor. Management has developed a facility that enables the company to perform all three functions.
“No two dealerships in the Central States group are the same,” Nelson says. “Each marketplace is different, and each shop has to be designed to serve it.”
Central States is no stranger to designing shops. Besides the Oklahoma City and Wichita dealerships, Central States operates facilities in St Louis, Missouri, and company headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. Central States also has satellite locations in three cities in Kansas — Salina, Dodge City, and Garden City — and one in Guymon, Oklahoma.
As a Thermo King dealer, Central States is no stranger to serving fleets that transport meat — especially in Oklahoma. Extensive experience in transport refrigeration in the Midwest helped Nelson adapt easily to the market in Oklahoma and Kansas. He started out in the business at age 15 working part-time for an independent dealer in Iowa. “The experience I had in Sioux City helped me to progress well in Wichita and Oklahoma City,” says Nelson, who now is general manager of both Central States branches.
“Kansas is beef country,” he adds. “Refrigeration units are in demand by carriers who transport beef from several meat packing plants in the state. But other equipment such as dump trucks and platform trailers are needed for agriculture, construction, and coal mining (in southeastern Oklahoma near the Arkansas border).
“We are hoping to broaden our horizons by thinking out of the box on transport refrigeration and diversification.”
Those in the transport refrigeration business typically serve fleets that use van bodies and trailers to transport different types of food. But when Nelson talks about thinking outside the box, his thoughts go well beyond van bodies and into some nonstandard applications around Oklahoma and beyond.
Going to the Dogs
One of the more unusual applications the company developed recently was a “Greyhound” bus for hauling greyhounds.
“Greyhounds don't have sweat glands,” Nelson points out. “Some of these dogs are valued at $25,000 or more, so it's in the owners' best interest to keep them comfortable.”
Central States modified the existing heating and cooling systems in order to keep the dogs comfortable. In particular, that meant getting air-conditioning to the dog pens located on either side of the center aisle that runs the length of the bus. Central States equipped the vehicle, a used passenger bus, with a compressor powered by the bus engine. A remote thermometer visible from the dash enables the driver to know the temperature of his “passenger” compartment.
Some prime cattle also are raised in Oklahoma — some of which ride around in air-conditioned comfort.
“These special applications sometimes require as much time to research and engineer as they do to build,” Nelson says. “For example, we need to know how many Btu a cow or bull will produce. If the trailer and refrigeration unit are under spec'ed, the cattle will not be comfortable. If they are overspec'ed, the refrigeration unit will short cycle. It will not draw off enough humidity, and the trailer will not have adequate air flow.”
Getting on Track
Nelson says that the Oklahoma City location will provide refrigeration for anything that has wheels and transports either people or food. But even that definition might not be broad enough. The greyhound bus transports neither people nor food, and other projects are designed for stationary applications. For example, Central States has worked with oilfield service companies to deliver mobile offices built to operate in some of the most hostile temperatures the earth has to offer.
The company also is developing refrigeration systems for use on the rails. The nearby Trinity Industries tank car manufacturing plant recently announced that it will begin shifting over to produce refrigerated railcars. Plans call for the facility to produce 1,000 per year. With an agreement already in place between Thermo King and Burlington Northern, Nelson believes his company has an inside track on controlled temperature transportation on the rails and on the road.
Central States has planned to build a larger facility in Oklahoma City since 1995, Nelson says. In recent years the entire environment around its facility had been changing. Located well off I-40 near the Oklahoma City airport, the industrial flavor of the area was giving way to new hotels, motels, and restaurants that were opening up to serve the airport's growing passenger traffic. And with that air traffic has come street traffic — congestion that had made it increasingly difficult for Central States customers to access its location.
The new location, only a few exits west on I-40 from the old site, will provide easier access in addition to putting the company in the heart of a growing center of trucking-related businesses. The shop sits on 8.3 acres and faces I-40 on the south side of the freeway.
“Three truck stops are located near here, and a fourth one is coming,” Nelson says. “We anticipate increased drive-in traffic.”
The middle section of the building houses offices and the parts department. On either side are service wings. The west wing is equipped with eight work bays for trailer repair, and the east has 10 bays for Thermo King service and repair and special equipment work, including recreational vehicles.
“Thermo King repairs and service account for about 49% of our business; trailer shop repairs account for the other 51%,” Nelson says. “Central States Thermo King owners (Ronnie Kahn, Walt Thomas, and Allen Lane) took into account these percentages when they planned the new building.”
The walk-in parts counter is only a few steps from the facility's front entrance, and it provides easier customer access than the previous shop, Nelson says. Having separate service wings for Thermo King repairs and trailer work also provides for a more efficient operation.
140-Ft Double Bays
Work bays are double deep totaling 140 feet long, north to south, and are accessed by nine doors on either side of the building. Each of the 18 bays is about 16 ft wide, except for a bay on the east wing to be used for special equipment installations. It has 10 extra feet on either side of the door.
The special equipment bay will be used for RV repairs and for installations of Qualcomm satellite tracking equipment and Meyer snowplows. Central States in Oklahoma City will become a Meyer equipment distributor and already has products on order, Nelson says. A two-ton bridge crane serves the entire east wing, which includes Thermo King installation and repair stations.
A new frame straightening bay, 70 ft long and 16 ft wide, is included in the trailer repair wing. Vertical columns on both sides of the bay divide it into four sections. Once hoists are installed, catwalk rails between each pair of vertical columns can be lifted to any height. Using the catwalks, hoists, cable, and tie-down rails embedded in the floor, mechanics will be able to jack or pull equipment from any direction.
“Today we do mainly refrigerated and dry van trailer repair,” Nelson says. “But we want to increase our capacity to work on enddumps and flatbeds. I'd like to move toward becoming a full-service truck equipment shop.”
Central States Thermo King in Oklahoma City even can do tractor service, using an off-site two-bay shop. “We do maintenance on a dry van fleet at their facility,” Nelson explains. “They use all owner-operators, but they formerly ran an in-house shop, which we now operate.”