A combination of diverse skills, knowledgeable personnel, and respect for the customer makes Best Trailer & Equipment a rapidly growing concern.
In August 1998, the 14-year-old company moved from South Holland to Lynwood, Illinois. Its new 26,000-sq-ft facility sits on a 71/4-acre parcel.
"We'll probably expand again in two to five years," says Sue Bosman, co-owner of the company with her husband Duane. "We purchased an open area next to the building that will eventually be used for a 60-ft expansion of the shop."
The new facility is double the size of their previous shop and has triple the land. "Location is very important to the success of a company," says Bosman. "This place is ideal. We have expressway access to highways 294 and 394. Another plus to this location is its proximity to the world's largest commercial limestone quarry and the trucking industry that comes with that."
The former facility is for sale, but until that time the Bosmans are renting it out to several different companies.
Diverse Skills and Talents "Our diversity has always been our strength," says Bosman. "Duane is a talented engineer. When he brings a trailer in for repair, he knows what needs to be done and how to do it."
Bosman comes from a banking background and describes herself as a people person with sales and financial knowledge.
"We respect each other's talents," says Bosman. "Our diversity gives us an edge. We started out providing service to the refuse and rock-hauling industry. Then we started selling and servicing dump trailers. Later we added waste transfer trailers, and now flatbeds."
Best Trailer is an authorized dealer for Ti-Brook, Mac, and Chaparral aluminum flatbeds. The most recent addition to the fold is Manac, a Canadian company that manufactures steel flatbeds.
"We became a full-service dealer for Ti-Brook Inc in 1988," says Bosman. "They were the first trailer line we took on, and that's when we really started to grow."
Three people handle the sales efforts for Best Trailer. Each of them may sell any item, but they have specialties. Bosman heads up fleet sales, Dawn Hopper specializes in flatbeds, and Dean Bosman handles sales of dump and waste transfer trailers.
"Most of our marketing is done face-to-face," says Bosman. "We do lots of cold-calling, in-house telemarketing, and knocking on doors. We also advertise in trade publications and target customers through direct mail."
Bosman says much of their fleet business comes by way of referrals from other fleets, or from owner/operators brokered to a fleet.
Mailings are done three or four times a year mainly to trucking companies, waste companies, and companies that advertise in the Yellow Pages, trade magazines, and local papers.
Salespeople at Best Trailer are given a choice as to the method of compensation. "Most want a salary at first," says Bosman. "Once they get comfortable with what they are doing, they tend to switch to commission. Whatever they want is fine with us. We try to keep our employees happy."
Bosman says the advantage to paying salespeople a salary is that they are more likely to actually help customers get what they need, as opposed to just trying to make a sale. "The customers appreciate being treated fairly, and so they tend to come back to us for their other needs. We are low-key in our sales efforts. There is no used car salesman mentality here. If a trailer can be repaired, we don't try to force the sale of a new one. This builds a trusting relationship with our customers."
Best Trailer covers a sales territory from Peoria to the Northern Illinois border and three counties in Indiana.
Ready Inventory "We keep a parts inventory of roughly $250,000 to $300,000 on hand at all times," says Bosman. "We sell lots of aluminum and steel sheets, tubes, and rounds."
Inventory is taken on a daily basis and tracked with software developed by Karmak Inc, Carlinville, Illinois. The software can be used to track all sales and repair work. Bosman says they do not use bar codes, because it's hard to code big metal pieces that are cut and sold at various thickness and lengths.
Parts are stored in a 3,000-sq-ft parts room, and metal pieces are stored in the main shop.
Service Equals Sales "Trailer sales and trailer service equally drive the business," says Bosman. "With that in mind, we now have nine repair bays, thirteen mechanics and mechanic's assistants, and we are planning to add 5 to 10 more employees within the next year."
Bosman says that it is very difficult to find workers right now. "We have had pretty good luck with people we train ourselves. In fact, we trained about 75% of the mechanics we presently employ."
According to Bosman, they try to keep one mechanic available at all times to perform quick jobs such as replacing lights.
Fabrication and remanufacturing are mainstays of the business. The company also performs insurance-related repairs on trailers that have been damaged in accidents.
Waste companies are another big source of business for Best Trailer. Waste Management of Chicago is their biggest customer in that industry, Bosman says.
A 12-ft, 250-ton press brake and a 12-ft shear that can cut 1/2-inch steel plate are the backbone of the shop. Bosman says they also use punches, a cut-off saw, and lathes.
"We bought the shear and press brake when we first started," says Bosman. "They served us well then, and they continue to do so."
Although they are no longer manufacturing chassis for mobile medical units, a former mainstay of the business, Bosman says they intend to start manufacturing again in the near future. "We have left a large area of space open in the shop for when we start manufacturing again. We will probably find some niche item to manufacture. That seems to be the best way to remain competitive. Come what may, we will continue to adapt and diversify."