Shop of the future

WITH A CHAIN of factory branches and years of experience in its portfolio, Great Dane Trailers has learned a thing or two about what works in the trailer business.

Yet the market continues to change, and trailer shops need to change with the times.

The company recently opened a new 58,000-sq-ft facility for its Charlotte, North Carolina, branch. This facility will bear a strong resemblance to other shops that the trailer manufacturer will open in the very near future — reflecting new realities of serving current and future trailer customers.

Bigger bays, brighter lights, productivity-enhancing features, and a deeper commitment to the parts business are but a few of the features the trailer manufacturer built into its new generation of trailer sales, service, and repair facilities.

The Charlotte operation has been one of Great Dane's stars over the years, and its new home is expected to allow the branch to perform even better.

“Our previous location was outgrown and outdated,” says Jim Barrus, branch manager. “We didn't have enough room to store trailers or to warehouse our parts. We had been renting two separate yards for trailer storage. Our goal was to get everything on one campus because our efficiency had been suffering. We also wanted to improve our customer service through increased trailer and parts inventories.”

Objectives obtained. Of the 58,000 square feet under roof, 24,000 is used for parts inventory. The 17-acre site provides the branch with plenty of room to inventory new and used trailers. The 20-bay shop handles almost anything that wears out or gets damaged.

New stuff

The shop is equipped with several items designed to make it easier for technicians to do their job. Among them:

  • A service pit for trailers with limited ground clearance.

    This is great for working on race car trailers,” Barrus says. “Most NASCAR teams are based in North Carolina, and we get a lot of their service work.”

  • Translucent panels for improved shop lighting. Great Dane installed panels at the top of the walls, rather than using skylights. Skylights tend to leak, Barrus points out, and they are faster to accumulate dirt.

  • Adjustable scaffolds. Six of the 20 shop bays are equipped with these scaffolds that fit snugly against 96-inch- or 102-inch-wide trailers. Barrus says the ability to compensate for changes in trailer width is important because of the relatively large number of 96-inch-wide trailers still on the road.

  • Overhead cranes are particularly useful when handling full-length Thermocube panels.

  • Paint booth. The 60-foot booth complies with NFPA and OSHA regulations, Barrus says. “We are just now getting the word out that we have a paint booth.”

More to come

The Charlotte facility is patterned after a branch Great Dane opened in Little Rock in 1999 — but is twice the size. The Little Rock opening was the first new Great Dane branch in 18 years.

Now, with the market poised for a rebound, Great Dane has kicked off a series of new and upgraded facilities for its factory branches. Charlotte is the first. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, location will open a new shop early this year. The Dallas, Texas, branch also is scheduled to open a new building soon.

Other locations are being renovated. All will get the same standardized color scheme and carpet used in Charlotte.

“Parts will be emphasized as the new buildings are built,” Barrus says. “Future facilities may not have a parts warehouse as large as the one we have here, but they will be proportional. Parts are a major portion of our business. As our line has expanded, we are having to devote more space to our parts operation.”

The Charlotte branch has a fleet of four trucks to deliver orders to its customers. The Mitsubishi Fuso trucks are equipped with 22-ft van bodies — the only trucks in the Great Dane branch system not mounted with stake bodies.

“Our drivers love them,” Barrus says.

The trucks deliver parts within a 120-mile radius of Charlotte, reaching cities such as Columbia, Florence and Greenville, South Carolina, and Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, twice weekly. The trucks carry such products as wheels, flooring, landing gear, drums, and lights.

“We have been extremely pleased with the new location,” Barrus says. “Morale has skyrocketed, and we have become a lot more efficient.”

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