Is it a ghost...or just the snow?

Sept. 1, 2004
People in the eastern half of Wisconsin are seeing ghosts. Ghost sightings started around Appleton, Wisconsin, and have spread. In nearby Green Bay, they

PEOPLE in the eastern half of Wisconsin are seeing ghosts.

Ghost sightings started around Appleton, Wisconsin, and have spread. In nearby Green Bay, they took over a building that had been the home of a couple of truck equipment shops.

But the ghosts aren't real. They are a figment of Dan Casper's imaginative name-recognition program.

With a name like Casper's, recognition is not a problem, and the Appleton truck equipment distributor is making the most of his famous name. Ghosts there are everywhere — on the letterhead, the mudflaps of the trucks the shop completes, the sign out front. Casper's Truck Equipment consistently portrays its logo of a friendly ghost driving a truck.

But it takes a lot more than a ghostly image to be successful in the truck equipment business. To get those truck bodies and mudflaps into the marketplace, Casper's has to make the sale. Management attributes the success it has enjoyed to the consistent use of truck equipment basics — an aggressive marketing program, doing the job right, and getting it done on time.

To do that, the company has developed methods, including techniques designed to maximize the time available for the sales force to sell, a homegrown computerized management system, and streamlining the paper trail from the front office to the shop after an order has been placed.

Casper's does not believe in waiting for the phone to ring. The company employs a staff of four in the sales department to cover a sales territory that includes the eastern half of Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and bordering counties in Illinois.

“We see a lot of people,” says Jason Sagorac, sales manager. “Each of our three outside salesmen has a territory — north, central, and south. Each has a specific call list, and we do a lot of cold calls. We establish who we are, explain what we do, and try to get them to tour our shop. If we can just get people to see our shop, it really helps. We also help with the bidding process and provide extra service after the sale. By going beyond what is required, we have developed a solid reputation with our municipal customers. This has helped us win business when we were not the lowest bidder.”

Keep on selling

Casper's makes every effort to keep its sales staff doing what it is paid to do — sell.

The three outside sales people are rarely seen at the office. They live in their territories, and they office out of their homes. Brief weekly sales meetings are the primary reason to come to the shop. Otherwise, they are out making calls.

For the same reason, Casper's does not expect its salesmen to price jobs. Sagorac and Dan Casper handle that responsibility through the use of a software package that the company developed using Microsoft Works, an integrated word processing, spreadsheet, and database package that frequently comes with the purchase of a new computer.

“We really do want to maximize the time our guys have available to sell,” Sagorac says. “Having them carry around a laptop and working up prices, we feel, takes away from that time. Plus, by centralizing the process, our salesmen aren't having to negotiate price, and we make sure that our pricing is uniform. The customer in the northern part of the state is going to get the same price as a customer in the south.”

The do-it-yourself system allows management to move easily between the databases where customer and product information are stored and the word-processing software that generates quotations and follow-up correspondence.

Mainly municipal

Approximately 40% of Casper's sales come from municipalities.

“We sell them a lot of different equipment, from pickups equipped with snowplows to computer-controlled trucks with wings and spreaders,” Sagorac says. Knapheide service bodies and platforms are the company's best selling line. Other truck body lines include Bibeau, Henderson, Rugby, and Galion dumps, Stellar hook loaders, Henderson and Air-Flo multi-purpose dump bodies, Rugby platforms, and Delta Waseca van bodies.

Counties and the state of Wisconsin are Casper's customers, too, as different government entities increasingly piggyback bids. The City of Milwaukee, for example, frequently sends out bid proposals on which nearby counties and smaller towns may also tag along.

“We do a lot of business with the State of Wisconsin,” Sagorac says. “It started with the department of transportation, but we do work for other agencies such as the department of natural resources.”

Casper's also makes frequent sales calls on truck dealers.

“We are proactive,” Sagorac says. “We run a lot of demos to sell snow and ice equipment — from a pickup with a plow to a heavy-duty truck equipped for municipal service.”

Major acquisition

The company reached a milestone earlier this year with the acquisition of Henderson Truck Equipment in nearby Green Bay. The move provided the company with additional lines of truck equipment (including Henderson Manufacturing's line of snowplows, spreaders, and dump bodies). Casper's also picked up the inventory that Henderson Truck Equipment had in stock, the backlog, and three employees.

“It's really difficult to find qualified employees in our market,” Sagorac says. “We were pleased to add three technicians to our shop. Even now, a lack of personnel is what limits our growth. We are storing some of our inventory in our shop right now. If we had enough technicians to handle the volume, that inventory would get relocated right away, and we would be using those bays for installations. The market is strong enough that we could move a lot more volume through the shop. We just need some additional help to make that happen.”

One thing Casper's did not acquire in the deal was the Henderson Truck Equipment shop. Dan Casper already owned the building and had been leasing it to Henderson.

“Henderson was not the first truck equipment operation in that building,” Sagorac says. “Before Henderson occupied it, Monroe Truck Equipment leased it when they wanted a location in Green Bay.”

Years of growth

Casper's sales were flat during the recession of 2001-2002 — the only time the company has not grown since its start in 1993.

The company began as a partnership between Dan Casper, Randy Johnson (another memorable name), and Dennis Feit. The company was named TEAM Wisconsin-Kaukauna because of its location in a small town along the 30-mile drive between Appleton and Green Bay.

The company grew steadily between 1994 and 1998. In October 1998, Casper purchased all the stock and renamed the company Casper's Truck Equipment.

Casper's moved to its present location in January 2000, purchasing a building that previously was home to Appleton's Freightliner dealership. The company made significant modifications to convert the building from a truck dealership to a truck equipment shop. Casper's was able to get more efficient use of one of the existing drive-through bays by dividing it up and creating bays that are perpendicular to the way the original drive-through bay ran. The company got additional shop capacity a year later by expanding the building, effectively doubling the available shop space. And Casper's made it easier to handle truck bodies and major pieces of truck equipment with the installation of four bridge cranes.

Managing more space

The building came with more office space than Casper's needed, so the company has leased space to two truck-related businesses. One of the companies is a driver leasing operation which is unrelated to what Casper's does, but the other is a hydraulics supply company that provides the shop with the custom hoses it needs for municipal snowplow trucks.

“It's a nice fit,” Sagorac says. “Mid-States Hydraulics is right here. They provide us with pumps, fittings, and custom hydraulic hoses. We don't have to use our mechanics' time to make the hydraulic hoses that we need. We work hand-in-hand with Mid-States.”

The combination of a spacious shop and a shortage of technicians makes it important for the company to move as many trucks through the facility as possible.

The shop officially is open from 7 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. However, the company sometimes works Saturdays, and overtime is not uncommon.

“When we need to meet a deadline, everyone steps up,” Sagorac says. “Overtime is voluntary, but our guys appreciate the extra money. We have in the past offered an additional incentive — a bonus to the individual who works the most overtime for the period.”

But as is frequently the case with small companies, it is the owner who is on call 24/7. At 5 pm, the phones at Casper's are turned off. Calls coming in after 5 pm are routed directly to Dan Casper's cell phone.

“Dan has taken calls at 4 am,” Sagorac says. “It's important to him that we take care of the customer.”

Casper has spent his entire career in the truck body and equipment business. Dan and his father owned Casper's Mobile Equipment, a company that manufactured custom truck bodies. When Monroe Truck Equipment bought the company, he stayed on to serve as foreman. After brief stints as a shop manager for two other companies, he started the TEAM partnership en route to operating his own company. From that point on, the market has been seeing ghosts.