Selling the complete package

June 1, 2004
MOST manufacturers roll out a new product line with a fair amount of fanfare. If the new product is to be successful, customers need to know about it

MOST manufacturers roll out a new product line with a fair amount of fanfare. If the new product is to be successful, customers need to know about it — the sooner, the better.

But when Venturo Manufacturing ventured into the truck body manufacturing business, it did so more with a whisper than a shout.

For some companies, low-key product announcements may be the style. But this seemed to be an unusual approach for a company that can trace its roots back to days when it was strictly a sales and marketing firm.

Venturo decided to offer its own crane bodies in response to requests from distributors. Crane customers, it seemed, were interested in buying complete packages, and Venturo distributors asked the crane manufacturer to provide bodies that were designed to match their cranes.

“There is a tremendous amount of growth opportunity for crane packages,” says Brett Collins, vice-president of sales for Collins Associates, the parent company of Venturo Manufacturing and the newly formed Venturo Crane Bodies LLC. “End users get single-source supply for a truck body and crane combination that meets their specific needs. Plus, when the truck body is designed exactly for the crane, the distributor can install the body and crane much faster. The special fabrication that sometimes is required to mount a crane on a service body is eliminated. Installation becomes a simple assembly process. Distributors can save at least five hours of shop time because items such as the bumper and outriggers have been built into the body.”

The company, however, was reluctant to enter the body manufacturing business.

“Venturo was born in California, and we have always had strong relationships with the manufacturers and distributors of utility bodies on the west coast”, Collins says. “It is not our intention, nor will it ever be, to compete with our manufacturer and distributor partners.”

To prove that point, Venturo made it a policy not to sell its crane bodies without cranes.

“We are not in the crane body business — we are in the crane package business,” Collins says. “We tell those who want to buy one of our bodies without the crane to buy a body from a manufacturer that specializes in that area or from our partner.”

That partner is Phenix Enterprises in Pomona, California. Phenix manufactures a variety of truck bodies, including service bodies and fire apparatus. Together with Venturo Manufacturing, the companies have teamed up to form Venturo Crane Bodies LLC.

By partnering with an existing body manufacturer, Venturo could begin manufacturing truck bodies with substantially less start-up costs. In addition, Phenix provides expertise in truck body manufacturing that the crane manufacturer did not have.

With input from both partners, Venturo Crane Bodies developed two basic models specifically for the Venturo crane line. Key features include dual-seal, double panel doors, protected gaskets, A60 galvannealed steel, and a uni-strut shelf positioning system that allows shelves to be infinitely positioned vertically along a track that is similar to track lighting.

Custom specifications

Although the company offers two basic models, the level of custom specifications is one of the strengths that Phenix brings to the relationship.

“We are a 50,000-sq-ft job shop,” says Todd Davis, a Phenix veteran and general manager of Venturo Crane Bodies. “We are not a high-volume manufacturer, so we can offer a highly custom body almost as easily as a standard model.”

CNC equipment help reduce setup times. Fabrication equipment includes a Delta 1000 turret press, two Cincinnati press brakes, and an older Strippit punch press.

“The CNC equipment helps, but that isn't really what makes us successful,” Davis says. “When you sell to fire departments like we do, you have to have craftsmen. The same guys who build crane bodies also build fire trucks.”

Fast exits

Manufacturing is done in three basic phases — fabrication, assembly, and paint. There is no assembly line.

One of the company's manufacturing goals is to provide custom bodies with minimum turnaround.

“We are able to provide custom bodies in four weeks,” Davis says. “To do that, we inventory enough steel to produce 100 bodies at a time. We can build basic side packs in advance, so that when the order for a custom body arrives, we order or fabricate whatever special parts are required and incorporate them into the body.”

The company also builds for stock, shipping from either Pomona location or the Venturo Manufacturing facility in Cincinnati.

Part of a plan

The decision to offer crane packages is consistent with a strategic plan that the company developed several years ago with the help of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

Strategic 8 is a program that the chamber offered to help local firms with strategic planning. Through it, companies take a close look at the things they do well and areas where they are weak.

“We evaluated what our core competencies are, where we can compete, and how we can differentiate ourselves from our competition,” Collins says. “We knew we could compete on a product basis; our products matched up well, and did what other guy's products did. But we decided we would really compete through our service, parts, and product support.”

In management's view, this translated into some very simple concepts. One of those concepts was inventory management — making sure the materials were there when needed, but only what is needed.

“We doubled our inventory turns,” Collins says. “Some of the money we saved through our kanban system helped us start Venturo Crane Bodies LLC.”

One of the most visible ways Venturo increased its commitment to customer service was to ditch its voice mail system for its incoming toll-free telephone number. The company had to hire more people to answer the phone, but management believes it was money well spent.

Improved product support includes a greater commitment to its “ready-to-ship” program. Venturo Crane Bodies LLC stocks as many as 20 bodies that are ready to ship from either Pomona or Cincinnati.

“We love to customize, but most of our success so far has been through our ready-to-ship program,” Davis says. “Availability and customer service have been the keys. It's surprising how success in business is based on such basic principles.”

The move into crane bodies is the latest for a manufacturer that started in the truck equipment business more than 50 years ago as a sales company.

The original company, Collins Associates Inc, was founded by Arden “Art” Collins as a manufacturer's representative agency in 1952. The company represented multiple manufacturers, providing sales, advertising and marketing services.

The company changed directions substantially when Art Collins' sons, Ron and Larry, acquired the company from him in 1978 and changed it from a sales and marketing agency to a manufacturer.

“We served small manufacturers who could not support their own sales and marketing staffs,” Brett Collins says. “As we helped them grow, they became large enough to hire their own staffs. We represented some manufacturers for many years, but there always seemed to be a cycle of replacing manufacturers we helped make successful.”

Liftgate line

One of the long-term relationships Collins Associates had was representing the Venco liftgate line. This was Collins' first venture into truck equipment manufacturing (1979). Two years later Larry Collins designed the Venco pickup hoist. The success of this product lead to a full range of scissors hoists sold through distributors and OEM manufacturers of bodies.

The company began manufacturing cranes when it acquired Santa Anita Manufacturing in 1989.

Through the years, the company has changed brand names (Santa Anita was renamed Venturo) and locations (manufacturing is now done at plants in Cincinnati and Jacksonville, Florida).

Generations have changed. Art's sons Ron and Larry continue to be active in the business. They have been joined by their sons Brett and Scott. All are stockholders of the company and have a vested interest in its success.

“One constant in our family's 52 years has been a commitment to the truck equipment industry,” Brett says. “It has taken a lot of flexibility, but we are going to do what it takes to remain successful in truck equipment.”