Springing forward

March 1, 2003
THE spring ahead, fall back technique for remembering which way to move the clocks for daylight savings time seems to apply only halfway at Donovan Equipment.

THE “spring ahead, fall back” technique for remembering which way to move the clocks for daylight savings time seems to apply only halfway at Donovan Equipment.

Falling back does not seem to be an option.

At a time when many grouse about current business conditions, the Londonderry, New Hampshire, truck equipment distributor is trying to whittle down a six-week backlog.

At a time when many companies are looking for ways to slash costs, Donovan is moving into a 73,000-sq-ft home for its truck equipment and spring shops.

At a time when some companies are trying to preserve what they already have, Donovan has completed the purchase of 26 acres in an industrial park near Boston for future expansion.

The new building actually is home to two companies. Donovan Equipment is a full-line truck equipment distributor. Donovan Spring is a major spring shop, offering sales and service for spring suspensions. Combined, the two companies generate approximately $20 million in sales annually.

The facility measures 120-ft deep and 500-ft wide. Parts and offices occupy the center of the building, with the truck equipment shop on one end and the spring shop on the other.

“We really don't have a lot more total square footage than we did before, but our new building makes us a lot more efficient than we were at our old location,” says Bob Bhutto, sales manager. “The old shop had multiple buildings. Putting everything under one roof makes things run a lot more smoothly. It also makes it easier for the truck equipment shop and the spring shop to share tools and equipment. Everything is right there. Our overhead is down, and so are our administrative costs.”

The location of the new shop also is providing advantages. Roughly half of the company's sales come from metropolitan Boston. The new shop is on the Boston side of town and is more convenient to Interstate 93, the main route to Beantown.

“Proximity to Interstate 93 was important,” Bhutto says. “Our old location was in the middle of Manchester, and it was tough for heavy trucks to get to our shop. Now we are just off the exit before Manchester, and we are 19 miles closer to the Massachusetts border. We have made things a lot more convenient for our customers.”

Building in efficiency

In designing the shop, Donovan was looking to improve efficiency. Although Donovan built a number of labor-saving features into the shop, management says the most effective thing was just the basic design, featuring drive-through bays. The 120-ft bays are cut in half by a service aisle that runs the length of the shop, enabling a smooth flow of parts and equipment to each job.

“The overhead cranes are a big help, but the drive-through bays are really great way to move trucks and equipment easily,” Bhutto says.

Service pits also help technicians with under-chassis jobs such as PTO installations.

Special-application bays house Bee-Line computerized alignment equipment, six stalls for new installation of truck equipment and four for repairs. The facility also includes four fabrication bays.

At the end of the truck equipment side of the building is a paint shop equipped with two 44-ft DeVilbiss paint booths.

“We only had one booth in our old place, and we had to send out about 40% of our paint work,” Bhutto says. “Now we can paint bodies and cabs, and we have enough paint capacity to offer painting services to outside customers.”

Door height was another consideration. Dump trucks grew larger and more popular at Donovan, but the height of the doors at the old location remained constant. The largest trucks could only get into the shop with some air released from the tires. That's not the case at the new location, where 16-ft doors allow trucks in with room to spare.

Paying for efficiency

The most efficient shop is just a building unless it is staffed with skilled, motivated technicians. Donovan has been using a flat rate system to compensate the shop.

“About 80% of the work our shop performs can be flat rated,” Bhutto says. “We have been using this system since the early 1990s.”

Based on data collected by the National Truck Equipment Association, Donovan developed its own flat-rate manual. Bhutto and Donovan's service manager teamed up to determine the average installation times for the jobs the company performs. Technicians get 40% of what Donovan charges for the job. They are paid an hourly rate for those tasks that are not flat-rated.

When paid on a flat-rate system, technicians understandably want the shop organized as efficiently as possible. To help reduce the amount of time technicians spent away from the job, the parts department pulls the parts that the job will require. This package of parts is ready when the technician begins the job.

To make sure that the parts are in inventory, the parts department is notified when a job is logged in.

Organizing the shop

Two foremen and a service manager oversee the Donovan shop.

“We run dedicated teams — two per bay,” Bhutto says. “That's the case for repair bays and installation bays.

“We start our new hires in the repair bays. As they gain experience, they can move into new installation. We pair new hires with experienced technicians, and we constantly change them around and cross train them.”

Despite the cross training, individual technicians excel at different jobs.

“When the shop gets really busy, we send the same jobs to the same technicians in order to get the work out as efficiently as we can,” Bhutto says. “But in a flat-rate shop, it's good to send the technicians a variety of jobs.”

Within any flat-rate system, mechanics sometimes have a difficult job in which they don't meet the time posted in the flat-rate manual. To maintain the high level of motivation that a flat-rate system offers, shop management makes it a point to assign a simple job to a technician after he has completed one which may have taken longer than the flat-rate manual specifies.

The truck equipment shop works 7:30 am-5 pm Monday through Friday and 8 am-noon on Saturday.

“We are looking into adding a second shift for repairs,” Bhutto says, “but the labor shortage in our area has been a big problem.”

Big in dumps

A full-line distributor, Donovan Equipment has long been heavily involved with dump bodies and trailers. Its fabrication department, also located within the new building, is capable of manufacturing dump bodies. However, the company now distributes them, instead. Among the dump body lines Donovan represents are Beau Roc Inc, Brandon Truck Equipment, and Michel Gohier Ltee. The company also has been named the top distributor for Godwin Manufacturing Company.

Associated product lines that Donovan handles for dump body customers include tarping systems (Pioneer Cover All), hydraulic cylinders and hoists (Mailhot, Harsh International), and suspensions (Watson & Chalin Manufacturing, Silent Drive, and Eveley).

In recent years, however, the company has further expanded into products such as Tommy Gate and Anthony liftgates, roll-off hoists (American Roll-Off), and snow and ice equipment. The snow and ice lineup includes Fisher snowplows, Torwell spreaders, and the Monroe line of snow and ice equipment.

Bigger in parts

The new location has enabled Donovan to grow its parts business. A walk-in showroom now places 80% of the company's parts inventory in front of the customer instead of on a shelf in the warehouse.

The building is arranged so that virtually all roads lead through the showroom. Management had some success with the concept at the old location and wanted to make sure the new place had one, too.

“When we set up our first showroom, our parts sales tripled,” Bhutto says.

Just because traffic flows into the showroom does not mean that sales take care of themselves. The company has a parts manager, three people working the counter, and four in the stockroom.

Two salespeople promote parts and service in Donovan's trade area. One is based in Massachusetts, the other in New Hampshire. Both call on major fleets in the area, delivering parts all along their routes.

“You can only do so much business over the counter,” Bhutto says. “That's why we added the route salesmen.”

Using outside sales personnel to promote service business is a new emphasis at Donovan. The company now has the shop capacity to meet the increased business.

The truck equipment salesmen cover an area ranging from Portland, Maine, to New Haven, Connecticut. Their role is to introduce Donovan to the prospective customer and to serve as a liaison with the company.

“Our outside salesmen are to meet briefly with people and move on,” Bhutto says. “The relationship our company has with our customers should be greater than just a link to a salesman. If the only thing a customer knows about a distributor is through the salesman, the salesman will take the account with him if he changes jobs.

“We encourage our customers to become involved with our entire company. Most of our sales are customer-initiated. That's why we have inside salesmen — to be able to take care of the customer's needs when he calls.”

Customers include end-users, truck dealers, and municipalities. The municipal market is one area Donovan is targeting for growth.

“We want one-third of our sales to come from municipalities in this area,” Bhutto says. “Every municipality has trucks, and they tend to buy trucks regardless of what the rest of the economy is doing.”

All of which is helping Donovan to spring ahead.