THE OLD PLACE just wasn't big enough for a distributor determined to grow.
Astro Truck Equipment, a distributor based in Detroit, Michigan, moved into a larger shop last summer, a maneuver that management believes will take the company's operation to new heights.
“Our old place only had 12,000 square feet and just 2½ acres of land,” says Don Anderson, president. “We had 1,200 square feet of offices there, and our parts warehouse occupied another 800 square feet. That did not leave us much space to install truck equipment. The business was out there, but we had reached the point where we couldn't push much more work through the shop.”
The new facility gives Astro the ability to do much more as a distributor. At 30,000 square feet, the facility is more than double the size of the old location. In addition, the building is located on five acres, giving the company the space it needs for chassis pool and shipthrough operations.
“Two years ago, we got a Ford chassis pool,” Anderson says. “When that happened, we really became cramped. Plus, we couldn't do shipthroughs. Now we can do some.”
To be eligible for shipthrough programs, distributors must have a facility capable of handling the volume. The shop must be located near a truck plant.
“We had ‘ship-to’ programs where chassis manufacturers ship chassis directly to us and we are responsible for getting the completed truck to the dealer. Now that we meet the criteria for shipthrough programs, we can receive trucks, equip them, and then ship them to the dealer through the chassis manufacturer's freight system,” Anderson says.
Recognizing its need for a larger facility, Astro began searching the Detroit area. The company eventually selected the site of a former Hertz Penske service location.
“The building also was home for a vacuum and sweeper operation,” Anderson says. “It has a history as a place where people work on trucks, so we didn't have to do a whole lot of modifications to it.”
Astro had to perform some electrical work, painting, and paving to convert the location into a truck equipment facility, but the bulk of its efforts went into setting up the parts room.
The location offers some geographical advantages — including being 30-40 miles from its major competitors.
“Customers on the west side of Detroit were not being served as they should,” Anderson says. “This location is convenient for a lot of the customers in the Detroit area.”
A place that works
The 30,000-sq-ft building has 20,000 square feet of shop space. The remaining 10,000 square feet is split between offices and parts.
“No boxed inventory outside,” Anderson says. “No storage trailers. We now have enough room to store what needs to be stored inside. In the old parts department, we only had room to keep parts for the equipment we sell. Our new location will allow us to get more heavily involved in accessory sales.”
The building also has a large conference room that Astro uses for sales training programs for area truck dealers. Anderson likes the idea of conducting the sales training at the Astro location because it makes it convenient for trainees to go out into the shop and see what they have been studying in the conference room.
Astro got a facility at a price the company considers affordable.
“We have a lease-purchase agreement,” Anderson says. “The building will be ours after five years. It is about the same outlay as our other place, and we own it at the end of the lease.”
Shortly after the company moved into its new facility, more than 500 customers visited it, attracted in part by an offer of free service for snowplows.
The company's “Test & Tune” promotion is aimed primarily at the company's landscaping customers. It was held in conjunction with the Michigan Green Industry Association.
The event, a physical for snowplows, offered free inspection and free fluid change for electrohydraulic plows — plus dinner and refreshments for those who own or operate them.
“It's also a time for us to show customers what we have that's new,” Anderson says. “Snowplow operators are not the only ones that are there. We get a lot of truck dealers, and for the first time, Ford Motor Credit attended.”
The event is an annual occurrence at Astro, one that is popular with company and customers alike.
“We say on the invitation that it runs from 5 to 9 pm,” Anderson says. “But we usually have people showing up at noon, and it is midnight before we close.”