Specializing in Consultant Selling

The president of the National Trailer Dealers Association runs a trailer dealership that does not have a shop. Neither does it have a parts department. But it has enough ideas about selling trailers to consistently finish at the top of its manufacturer's dealer network.

The Jack Olsta Company has been either the number one or two dealer for Heil Trailer International since it opened in 1987. Founder Jack Olsta can cite several specific reasons for that success-all of which can be traced back to a sales approach he takes to his specialized market that he terms "consultant selling."

"I have always believed in that," Olsta says. "We offer a high degree of expertise that enables us to give the customer a little more for the dollar. We seek to provide what's best for him."

Virtually all of the trailers The Jack Olsta Company sells are tanks. Within that niche, however, the company offers a complete package of new and used trailer sales, leasing, and financing options.

"We consider tank trailers to be specialized equipment that requires specialized knowledge to sell properly," Olsta says. "When we make a sales call, I don't want an order-I want a customer. That's why we don't really make sales presentations. Instead, we go to consult with our customers. Because of the technology that goes into tank trailers, we do that with new trailers as well as used models."

Used trailers comprise a major portion of The Jack Olsta Company sales. An agreement the company has with a large tank fleet has helped increase sales of used trailers. The fleet uses Olsta to market its used equipment-primarily tanks, but also an occasional van, dump, or platform trailer.

Under the terms of the agreement, the fleet supplies Olsta with a list of equipment it would like to sell. Olsta then manages the movement of the equipment, evaluates its condition, supervises any repair or renovation required, and appraises its value. The company also is responsible for advertising the equipment and getting it sold.

"This is a true partnership," Olsta says. "Disposing of used equipment is a major chore for large fleets. It is extremely important that any equipment that they sell is in proper shape. We are their agent for doing that. It is an important job that requires the customer to place a high degree of trust in our company."

Sales Only Although The Jack Olsta Company has no shop of its own, the company is not without a way of providing parts and service for the trailers it sells. Olsta facilities presently consist of office space leased from Heil Tank Service Inc facility in Huntsville, Texas, 70 miles north of Houston. Olsta, who joined Heil immediately after graduation from college, helped build and manage the facility when it opened in 1974. Heil continues to provide parts and service, while The Jack Olsta Company handles sales.

Olsta was working as a district rep for Heil when the tank trailer manufacturer offered him a dealership.

"Heil wanted to retain this facility, but they provided me with the opportunity to have a dealership in my own territory," he says. Although he was willing to purchase the entire operation, he is convinced that sales and leasing are where his company needs to be.

Olsta has maintained his dealership location within the Heil facility since the company's start. However, the company has cleared 11 acres on which The Jack Olsta Company will build new headquarters.

New Building The new facility clearly will provide the company more room. Olsta presently leases 1,200 square feet from Heil. The new standalone building will encompass 6,000 square feet. The focal point of the structure will be a 24' x 30' conference room that the company will use for training its sales representatives.

"We hold monthly training sessions for our sales staff already, and we don't have a place here to do it," Olsta says. "We meet at the Chamber of Commerce building, at the local university-wherever we can."

The conference room also will serve as a site for training the personnel of Olsta customers. "We want to create an atmosphere of helping our customers. We aren't just here to sell them a piece of equipment."

The Jack Olsta Company's primary product line is Heil Tank trailers. The company also represents truck tanks produced by Young's Tank in Boyd, Texas.

The company covers Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the western end of Tennessee for Heil. So concentrated are tank trailers along the petrochemical complex east of Houston that The Jack Olsta Company has two sales representatives in the Houston area in addition to offices just north of the city. Other sales representatives are based in Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Other representatives based on the West Coast and Salt Lake City specialize in leasing and used trailer sales.

Changes for NTDA One of Olsta's passions has been his work with the National Trailer Dealers Association. He is approximately midway through his one-year term as president of the association.

The organization has been in a transition phase recently, hiring its first full-time executive director.

"John and Sue Dorso have done a tremendous job starting and nurturing our association," Olsta says. "They have now sold their business and retired, requiring NTDA to hire a full-time administrator to guide the association to the next level."

NTDA is now under the direction of Linda Lauer, whose association management company has experience dealing with many of the small-business issues that trailer dealers face. The company also has extensive publication capability, along with a fulltime convention manager.

"This year will be one of building up our fundamentals and infrastructure," Olsta says of his plans for the association during his term as president. "We will be spending time developing our newsletters, membership directory, and convention. All of these are elements that need to be in place for our association to really grow."

It will also be a year in which the new executive director and trailer dealers get to know each other.

"We as an association need to talk to dealers more," Olsta says. "We must challenge ourselves to meet the needs of our members. Being part of NTDA has to be more than attending a meeting. We must provide value all year long."

The board of directors plans to be more active. They will be meeting four times this year-twice the rate of previous years.

Increased Professionalism Olsta sees NTDA helping make trailer dealers increasingly professional businesses.

"Trailer dealers need to be better marketers," he says. "Manufacturers are good metal benders. If we as trailer dealers are going to sell these products to a market that is growing more sophisticated, we will need to do a better job of marketing. We need to become better organized and do a better job of finding ways to add value for the customers we serve."One idea is to conduct management schools and sales schools for trailer dealers that are comparable to those held for the personnel of automobile and truck dealers. The management schools would upgrade overall skills of dealership executives, while the sales schools would groom students in salesmanship-not just product knowledge-Olsta says.

To further improve the professionalism of trailer dealers, Olsta supports the use of boards of directors. The Jack Olsta Company has had an outside board for the last seven years. It includes the head of the marketing department at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, a certified public accountant, and an insurance/investment professional.

Committing to the Future Olsta has extensive experience in tank trailer sales. He had been in sales and marketing with Heil since 1964. He served stints as district manager for Heil in Pennsylvania and Texas, and built the Heil service facility in Huntsville in 1974. Instead of looking back over those years, he continues to look ahead at what the future holds for his company and his industry.

"I want this company to have a future," Olsta says. "Bringing my son into the company has convinced others here that I am committed to the long-term growth. Other young people know that they can have a future here, too."

He has hired new management recently. His son John, who heads up trailer leasing operations, joined the company in October 1998. Taylor Craigen, new trailer sales and marketing manager, was a December 1999 addition. They join an experienced staff that includes John Stinson, used trailer manager, who, along with Jack Olsta, has more than 30 years' experience in the tank trailer industry. With the new additions, the company now has 13 employees.

"I have taken this company to where it is now, but we have brought people onboard to take us to the next level," Olsta says. "We will see some big changes in the next five years as we increase our product lines, market share, and territory."

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