W & B expands into Oklahoma

Nov. 1, 2004
For most of the year, with its intersection of Interstate highways 35 as a north-south corridor and 40 running east and west, Oklahoma City sits astride

For most of the year, with its intersection of Interstate highways 35 as a north-south corridor and 40 running east and west, Oklahoma City sits astride the path of a significant portion of the nation's truck traffic, says John Chisolm, president of W & B Service Company, a chain of Carrier Transicold refrigeration unit dealerships with headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and 16 sales and service outlets spread across Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. All except Austin, Texas, which is a mobile service point, provide full sales, parts, and service operations.

Interstate 35 provides an unbroken path from the upper Midwest all the way to the Mexican border at Laredo. At right angles, Interstate 40 runs all the way from the Atlantic coast of North Carolina to south central California. For several months every year, I-40 is the best route to use for fleets that want to avoid delays from poor weather, Chisolm says.

With all that traffic, Oklahoma City offers an ideal location for a refrigeration unit dealership that concentrates on selling service as much, if not more than it concentrates on unit sales. With that in mind, W & B recently purchased the assets of Oklahoma Transport Refrigeration, which was owned by the Barrett family, operators of Sooner Great Dane in Oklahoma City. W & B's ownership became effective on October 1, 2004.

The Oklahoma City branch is relatively small in its present form with a 6,000-sq-ft, three-bay shop on a three-acre site on west Interstate 40. It is staffed by Todd Wheeler, the branch manager, a parts manager, and three service technicians. For comparison, W & B's location in San Antonio, Texas, has eight technicians working in the refrigeration department; Houston has 11 refrigeration mechanics, and the Dallas headquarters employs 25 technicians for reefer work. Chisolm says that a refrigeration shop has to have at least six technicians to provide reliable service without overworking the staff.

The Oklahoma City branch operates from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, and has technicians on call 24 hours, seven days a week. On any given day, one of the three technicians provides mobile service. Oklahoma City has two trucks equipped for remote service and will have three by early 2005, Chisolm says.

Chisolm readily admits that the fleet population in and around Oklahoma City has dwindled in recent years with the disappearance of Fleming, Scrivener, and Rocor International. However, he points to all the pass-through traffic on the interstates as a reason to build a high-service dealership. In addition, the area is home to distribution centers for U S Foodservice, Sysco Corporation, Ben E Keith Foods, a large Budweiser beer distributor, and a rebuilding truckload carrier operated by the Freymiller family.

W & B plans for Oklahoma City to build revenue primarily by providing service to pass-through traffic. It should become the third largest service shop in the W & B network, growing rapidly to a staff of 10 employees by the middle of 2005, Chisolm says. Operating a large number of locations spread across a wide area provides W & B the opportunity to ensure that its customers receive consistent service wherever they stop in the company's territory, he says.

In addition to depending on passing carriers for service business, W & B plans to grow locally by forming informal partnerships with local fleets. “We have to convince fleet managers that they don't need service technicians as long as their units are covered by warranty,” Chisolm says. In fact, our technicians can be just as, or more, efficient than an in-house refrigeration maintenance department, because the customer pays us only for the hours needed, not 40 hours a week whether or not refrigeration work is necessary.”

In total, the W & B chain of dealerships sits in the middle of the national traffic pattern. “If a carrier wants to use Interstate 10, 20, 30, or 40, it has to go across W & B territory,” Chisolm says. “If a carrier wants to operate in or out of Mexico, it has to go past as many as five W & B locations.”

After taking over operation of the Oklahoma City branch, W & B staged a sales blitz during the week of October 25, bringing in sales and management personnel from throughout the organization to call on every potential customer in the territory. To cap the week, the new company hosted an open house and barbecue attended by roughly 150 customers on October 29, 2004.