Vickers Truck Equipment Doubles Sales With Distinct Parts, Trailer Operations

Oct. 1, 1997
STRONG in heavy truck and trailer parts and equipment sales, Vickers Truck Equipment in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a full-service trailer dealer that gears

STRONG in heavy truck and trailer parts and equipment sales, Vickers Truck Equipment in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a full-service trailer dealer that gears parts and trailer sales to different markets.

The company's distinct parts and trailer operations both have been recognized for excellence in recent years. Vickers has ranked consistently as a top Clement trailer distributor since 1990 and is Clement's top volume distributor in the country in 1997. The company also has received recognition from Euclid Industries and Holland Axle Products for outstanding parts sales.

"When we attend conventions of the National Trailer Dealers Association (NTDA) or the Council of Fleet Services (CFS), the numbers we hear from other companies really don't fit us," says Duff Bell, general manager of Vickers Truck Equipment. (The NTDA is a national organization of independent trailer dealers. CFS represents heavy parts distributors.)

Vickers Truck Equipment sells only about 18% of its in-stock parts to its service department. This is unlike many full-service trailer dealers that sell most of their parts inventories to their own shops. Vickers keeps a parts inventory valued at about $1 million and stocks many items for trailers that the dealer does not sell.

"We represent 60 manufacturers of parts and handle a broad line," Bell says. "We offer truck and trailer suspensions, brakes, axles, fifthwheels, and air components."

More Accessible Location Business at Vickers has grown significantly in the past six years. Annual sales, now at about $14 million, have nearly doubled, Bell says, although the company has not hired additional salespeople. Of the $14 million, new equipment sales represent about $10 million, parts sales are about $3 million, and service represents about $1 million.

One factor in Vickers' sales increase is the company's move three years ago to a more accessible location, Bell says.

In the move, Vickers Truck Equipment actually consolidated its operation. The company moved from a downtown facility that included two buildings with 40,000 square feet to a single-building facility with 26,000 square feet. Though smaller, the new shop has more usable space and has resulted in a more efficient operation, Bell says.

"We have seven acres of grounds to store inventory, compared to only three acres in the old facility," he says. "We are located in an industrial area west of downtown where many of our customers also are located, including trucking and construction companies."

The industrial park where the Vickers Truck Equipment shop is located also contains the corporate headquarters of Arnold Machinery Company, a construction and material-handling equipment sales and service operation. Arnold Machinery Company purchased Vickers in 1992.

Started in 1971 as strictly a parts house and service operation, Vickers Truck Equipment was sold by company founder Charles Vickers in 1983. The new owners, Dick Bell and Al Richer, added sales of construction trailers in 1984. But the company did not start offering full-line trailer sales until 1988.

Dick Bell, who is Duff Bell's father, is now retired. He spent more than 40 years in the trailer and truck equipment business, including 18 years as president of Tesco, a Salt Lake City truck equipment firm. He is a past president (1977-78) of the National Truck Equipment Association.

Richer now is pres ident and CEO of Arnold Machinery Company.

Strong Construction Market Another factor in Vickers' sales growth is a strong construction market in Salt Lake City, Duff Bell says. Vickers handles platform, lowbed, refuse, and construction trailers. Suppliers include Transcraft, Ravens, Trail King, Fontaine, Galbreath, and Clement.

"About 10 years ago, we saw an increased market need for dirt-hauling and construction trailers," Bell says. "Now that Utah is preparing for the winter Olympics in 2002, this market will become bigger. In Salt Lake, we're starting a major freeway project. We're tearing out a freeway and constructing a new one.

"We're also putting in a light rail system. All of this translates into equipment trailers. We anticipate an increased demand for these trailers over the next six years."

Road construction fleets represent a large portion of Vickers' business, Bell says. Even though company parts and equipment salespeople operate independently, they call on some of the same construction companies. The Vickers shop also does service on tractors and trailers in customer fleets.

Major Trailer Lines A major equipment line for Vickers is the Transcraft Eagle platform trailer, Bell says. Vickers sells approximately $1.5 million per year in Transcraft platforms. Drop-deck trailers manufactured by Trail King also sell well.

Vickers' top-selling new equipment supplier is Clement. Clement trailers represent 25% to 30% of the distributor's new equipment sales.

In the fiscal year ending in September 1997, Vickers Truck Equipment ranked as the top Clement trailer distributor in the United States in volume of sales. Vickers sold between $2.5 million and $3 million in Clement trailers this year, says Bill Garrison, vice-president in charge of sales for Clement.

Big-selling Clement trailers include Loadstar bottom dumps typically sold with pup trailers. Garrison estimates that Vickers has 50% market penetration in Utah in pup trailer sales and about 35% of the market in bottom dumps.

"Vickers has achieved the high sales success it has because of the company's desire and ability to provide good service to customers," Garrison says. "Vickers has a top-of-the-line shop, a tremendous parts inventory, and a company-wide attitude that places customers first."

According to a corporate trademark known as the "silver service" guarantee, customer satisfaction is the only policy of Arnold Machinery Company. This same guarantee is extended by all of Arnold's subsidiaries including Vickers Truck Equipment.

The silver service guarantee means that the company will buy back any piece of equipment customers have purchased if they are not satisfied with the product, Bell says.

In striving to achieve good customer service, Vickers does not limit itself to a single market. The company allows its four outside equipment salespeople to operate independently from its three outside parts salespeople. The trailer and parts departments are separate profit centers.

"Our parts and equipment salespeople mostly call on different customers," Bell says. "About 25% of the customers they call on overlap, but they have different contacts within these customer companies."

For instance, Vickers sales and management representatives call on four separate contacts at a highway paving company that is Vickers' largest customer. Parts salesmen call on the paving company's parts buyer, while trailer salespeople call on the customer's equipment purchaser. Vickers' service manager calls on the company's fleet manager. "And I call on the company president and vice-president to make sure they are happy," Bell says.

Parts Deliveries Vickers sells parts to customers in a 100-mile radius of its shop in Salt Lake City. Outside salesmen make weekly parts deliveries to customers in outlying areas. Daily parts deliveries are available to local customers. The three outside parts salesmen operate company-owned pickups to make deliveries. Besides these, the company has two more pickups used for emergency parts deliveries.

"We deliver to some customers up to six times a day," Bell says. "Besides fleets and construction companies, our customers include city and county repair shops and competing parts houses and trailer dealers."

Because freight deliveries to the western part of the country are sometimes unreliable, Vickers sells to its competitors, and vice-versa, Bell adds. "Like any market, we have competitors. But our niche in suspension parts and construction equipment has contributed to our success."

Niche in Suspensions Though Vickers Truck Equipment sells a broad line of parts, the company does not cater to the light truck and accessories market. Vickers has a small parts display area and a 10,000-sq-ft warehouse.

"We don't cater to the impulse buyer," Bell says. "Our customers come in for a purpose. For example, they may be looking for specific items to repair truck or trailer suspensions or brakes. Our major suppliers include Euclid Industries, Holland Axle Products, Midland-Grau, and Firestone."

Vickers carries a full line of air suspension and spring suspension products, representing about 50% of the company's total parts inventory. Vickers sells about 200 steerable air lift suspensions per year.

"We sell suspension parts that may seem more complicated to some customers than they anticipated," Bell says. "We offer to install these parts for customers. Suspension installation often involves frame lengthening, frame shortening, and adding axles."

Cabinet Storage Besides suspensions, the company stocks a complete line of parts for heavy-duty trucks and tractors, as well as truck equipment and trailer parts. A full line of parts is stocked for van, refrigerated, and tanker trailers, plus refuse trucks and cement mixers. (Vickers sells 20 to 30 cement mixers per year.)

Before moving to a smaller facility three years ago, Vickers planned to use space more efficiently by installing cabinets for parts storage. Vickers invested $50,000 in the cabinets, which are manufactured by Stanley Storage Systems Inc, Allentown, Pennsylvania. The parts counter rests on top of some of the parts cabinets, and other cabinets are nearby. An eight-drawer cabinet stores about 3,200 pounds of products; each drawer can accommodate 400 pounds of product.

"This cabinet system has saved us about 8,000 square feet of warehouse space," Bell says. "Using the cabinets, we keep the fastest-moving items at the parts counter for fast retrieval when customers ask for these items."

Karmak Computer System To help manage its parts inventory, Vickers Truck Equipment in 1992 purchased a computer system from Karmak Inc, Carlinville, Illinois. The system allows Vickers parts salespeople to look up parts according to part type number and to compare the costs of all manufacturers for any part type.

The Karmak system also allows Vickers parts people to use a computer to generate stock orders instantaneously. The computer shows inventory availability and where parts are located in the warehouse. Parts locations are shown by letter and number combinations designating particular aisles and slots within the aisles.

"We've used velocity pricing that can be computed with the Karmak system," Bell says. "Velocity pricing allows us to be more competitive on our fast-moving parts items, and to increase the price on slower-moving items."

The Karmak system is a complete purchasing package that includes customer analysis and vendor information. Rated one of the best programs for inventory control, this system meets the needs of Vickers because it is geared specifically to the heavy truck and trailer industries, he adds.

Though geared mainly to parts management, the Karmak software used by Vickers was upgraded in recent years to keep track of service work. The 14 Vickers mechanics working in the 14-bay company shop use hand-held scanners to record the time they start and finish service work. Mechanics scan barcodes opposite their names and the types of repair jobs they perform, capturing the exact time spent completing each task.

"This system allows us to bill every minute of our mechanics' time, rather than relying on hand-written records," Bell says. "Even though the parts and service departments are run separately, each department offers its services to the other and to our customers as an additional benefit of doing business with us."

About the Author

Foss Farrar