THE TIMES (and the demographics) they are a changin’.
So says Bob Dylan (except for the part about the demographics), and so does Albert Therrien, chairman of Transport Services in Cleveland, Ohio.
“The industry has been dynamic in so many ways,” Therrien says. “Plenty has changed, and we are going to see an acceleration of change in the coming years. There are a lot of guys like me who started their dealerships in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Many of them are wondering ‘what’s next?’ What do I do with this business? They will be turning those companies over to a new generation that has different perspectives on how they should be run.”
For Transport Services, that already has occurred. Therrien’s son Adam joined the company five years ago, bringing with him several of his contemporaries and plenty of new ways of doing business. He has been president of the dealership for two years.
“I’m happy. Very happy,” Albert Therrien says. “We as an industry have been having a difficult time attracting young people. But that hasn’t been the case since Adam joined the company. With him in a leadership position, we have been able to interest other people similar to him. People who have talent, drive, and fresh ideas that we can use. And that’s great. They have added new energy to our company. Without that energy, Transport Services would not be playing to win. We would be playing not to lose. And when you play not to lose, you lose.”
Transport Services added five key people—all under age 35—during the past five years. They have two other things in common—little or no experience inside the trailer industry but expertise for the job they were hired to perform.
• A new president. Adam Therrien was made president of the company two years ago. Albert Therrien is now chairman.
• A new vice-president of operations to help tie together the company’s four divisions—parts, service, sales, and le
asing/rental. Transport Services brought Tom Soggs over from Stanley’s Black & Decker operation in Cleveland. “Tom did not know trailers at the time, but he certainly knows operations—and that’s what we hired him to do,” Albert Therrien says. “Procedures and processes make a big difference in this business.”
• A lead accountant to work with the chief financial officer in response to the additional financial requirements generated by the company’s growing trailer leasing operation. She has a master’s degree in accounting.
• Two new sales personnel. A young man and a young woman both bring experience from outside the industry.
“It’s amazing to see the marketing skills that other industries are developing that we only now are beginning to use,” Albert Therrien says. “My job now is to be a mentor and cheerleader. We all have different experiences and can learn from one another.”
One of the first things Adam Therrien did was to help the company apply advancements in technology in order to improve efficiency and communications.
“One of my first objectives was for us to put technology to use,” he says. “There is just so much out there that we can use to work smarter. “
One example—the Transport Services sales people all carry i-Pads. Standard apps that are readily available for the i-Pad help improved the productivity of the sales force. For example, by using a readily available mapping app, it’s easy to figure out the easiest, most efficient sequence for making sales calls. Another useful tool is use FaceTime, the video software that can be used to make video calls.
Apple promotes its FaceTime video call system as a way for people to be two places at one time.
“These tools are extremely valuable because they save time,” Albert Therrien says. “And time is really what we have to sell. That means we have to be as efficient as possible. Being busy and making money are two different things. We aren’t the Red Cross here. If it takes us 12 hours a day to get eight hours of productive time, we won’t last long in this business. I have seen a lot of people succeed and a lot who failed. The ones who succeeded know how to get the most from the time that they spent.”
An app for that
All the i-Pad applications mentioned so far are available off the shelf for anyone to use. But what makes Transport Services’ i-Pads especially useful is a custom application that grabs data from various locations on the company’s server, putting key data on the screen with the tap of a fingertip.
The app taps into its Karmak dealer management software as well as the company’s Salesforce customer relationship manager and the Transport Services website to deliver real-time information about customers, inventory, and shop activity.
Transport Services is a trailer dealer, but it also has a major leasing operation. At any given time, the company will have about 1,200 trailers and 250 ISO containers in its lease fleet. Additionally, its new trailer inventory averages approximately 100 units. And on top of that, the shop can be filled with customer trailers needing service and repair. The custom-designed app is the go-to tool that the company uses to track the status of that equipment.
“Every sale we make involves the use of this app,” Adam Therrien says. “We use it to know what we have to sell, and what’s on order. When we make a sale, it gets entered into the sales person’s i-Pad. The trailer or trailers are deducted from our available inventory and removed from our website.”
That information is also shared back at the office. It tracks the sale of new trailers and follows customer and lease units through the service department.
“We have a lot of internal customers with units in the shop,” says Tom Soggs, vice-president of operations. “We put the data on a shared drive that provides us with a real-time schedule. It tells us the work bay, the mechanic, and estimated time of completion. We know exactly where things stand when the customer calls. With all of that information available to us, the phrase ‘we will have to get back to you on that’ disappears.”
What’s for sale
The app also tracks inventory—including what is available for sale or lease and what has been sold.
“If a customer says he wants a certain trailer, the software can lock that unit for a certain number of days so that we can complete the deal,” Soggs says. “As soon as it is locked, the sales rep who locked the unit is then responsible for closing the sale. Clicking a button on the screen labeled ‘My Locks’ generates a list of all the units that are in inventory but not available for others to sell.
“The same holds true for trailers that are in our shop for service, whether it is for major repairs or minor service. And the latest capability is for us to be able to see the trailers that we have purchased but not yet received into inventory. The app really gives us an accurate picture of everything we have for sale and short-term rental.”
And by keeping better track of its rental and leasing fleet, Transport Services can do a better job of keeping up with preventive maintenance.
“This enables us to extend the life of the trailers in our fleet,” Adam Therrien says. “Lease customers want equipment that’s in good condition. By doing a better job of maintenance, we can get more use out of those assets. We are going above and beyond what is required for federal regulations.”
Albert Therrien’s oldest son Jason owns Thunder::Tech, the marketing firm that Transport Services uses. It was his company that developed the app for Transport Services. It took eight months of custom programming to bring the Apple app to fruition.
“It really has been a family effort,” Adam Therrien says. “We worked together on it for months and have since worked together to refine it.”
21st century marketing
Jason Therrien has helped Transport Services expand its marketing horizons. A redesigned website provides the dealer with a way to display every trailer and container in inventory.
The company traditionally has viewed its sales territory as the northeast quadrant of Ohio. But that is changing.
“Internet exposure has enabled us to grow our brand, something we felt was extremely necessary,” Adam Therrien says. “Here we are in northern Ohio, but we have sold people in California, South Dakota, and Florida. Our reach has definitely expanded.”
Aggressive marketing has helped the company grow its parts and service business, too.
“Our shop has 11 service bays,” Albert Therrien says. “But we can expand that through the use of mobile service trucks. We have offered mobile service for a long time, but we only recently have begun to promote it.”
Marketing can encompass a wide range of activities and concepts. Here’s a list of some things (beyond the things previously mentioned) that Transport Services has been using to market itself:
• Billboards on the Ohio Turnpike.
• New rebranded logo.
• More personnel in the sales department.
• Hiring a marketing agency.
• Modernizing the facility.
• Parts and service specials.
• E-mail promotions.
• Use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
• A digital sign in front of the building.
• Procedures that help promote effective follow-up.
Transport Services has spent around $1 million dollars on upgrading and adding to its corporate headquarters in the last two years.
“We will expand the parts department to include the first two bays of the shop,” Albert Therrien says. “We have a new sales person and will be adding a second delivery truck.”
The addition to the building included a large conference room.
“We used to have one, but it got filled up with other offices,” he says. “It’s something we needed for our customers, our vendors, and our employees.”
The shop is next on the list. Transport Services will improve lighting and ventilation.
Getting more respect
Albert Therrien is convinced trailer dealers should work to earn more respect.
“As an industry, we don’t train our sales people to sell professionally,” he says. “Too often we sell on price, and we are brainwashed by customers into thinking that our price is too high.”
The same holds true for the service side of the business, he says.
“Truck dealers can charge $20 an hour more for working on the same suspension that a trailer mechanic can service,” he says. “We have begun to offer truck repair, and we pay our mechanics extra to work on trucks. That seems a little unfair, but that’s how the market is. People can charge a higher labor rate to fix a truck than to work on a trailer.”
Trailer mechanics are also under-recognized. Therrien says a nearby diesel technical school offers aspiring mechanics an 18-month program. During that year and a half, the curriculum devotes minimal time to trailer repair.
“Our vice-president of operations talked to the school about trailers,” Therrien says. “He conducted two classes with 120 and 140 students in the class. We hired four of them.”
One thing that hasn’t changed: trailer dealerships remain a people business. And new people bring new ideas, especially for entrepreneurial businesses.
“So many of us are people who make something out of nothing,” Therrien says. “Professional managers then take it to the next level. In a sense, that’s what we have done here. When Adam came here, he brought with him a bigger picture. Together we are figuring out ways to do things better.” ♦