Big difference in Big D

SOMETIMES being last is a blast.

At least that's the way Glen Williams looks at Great Dane Trailers' new branch facility in Dallas.

He was willing to wait as Great Dane opened new facilities in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1999 — the first new Great Dane branch in 18 years — along with Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2003, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2004. That's because in the process of waiting, Williams believes he has ended up with a facility that is better than any of those. All four facilities are similar in design, but Williams was able to tweak his plant to include the most desirable aspects of the others while adding some features they don't have.

“Each successive one has been perfected and fine-tuned,” says Williams, who has been the branch manager since 1992 and has helped it to win Great Dane's Branch of the Year award in 1993, 1996, and 2004. “That has worked to our advantage. We've got the best one. They learned from the first one.

“This has been great. It's been a long time coming. I'm really excited. The workload has increased, but people are more motivated just because they're coming here every morning to a first-class facility.”

Williams was involved in the initial search for property, which started in 1997. At that time, the Dallas operation was scheduled to be the first. The delay in the purchase of property meant that Little Rock, Charlotte, and Lancaster moved to the top of the list. Once the property was secured, Williams says he gave Great Dane's Savannah headquarters his “wish list.”

“And boom! We're here,” he says.

On this day in late May — about six weeks after the staff first started working in the facility — Williams has received some good news. Great Dane-Dallas has received its dealer license from the state of Texas and can officially and legally start invoicing trailers. In addition, the fire marshal left a few hours ago after approving the 65' × 16' paint booth. Tomorrow, they'll indoctrinate the high-tech heated booth.

Strategic location

The 40,000-sq-ft facility — with a parts warehouse that occupies 20,000 sq ft — is perched on an 18-acre spread on a hill in the Southport Industrial Park, with a view of the majestic downtown Dallas skyline nine miles to the north.

With twice the yard space and shop capacity of the old locale at 4415 Irving Blvd (four miles northwest of downtown Dallas), the new parcel was strategically selected for its highly desirable location in a rapidly expanding section of southern Dallas, just off Interstate 20 at the Bonnieview exit.

Irving Blvd has been the traditional truck center of Dallas, but Williams says the six-mile I-20 corridor between I-35 and I-45 is “the Irving Blvd of the future,” with Freightliner, Kenworth, and Peterbilt all having purchased land there in the past five years and other trailer companies setting up shop.

“All that construction on I-45 is going to be the largest intermodal yard in the United States — Union Pacific's,” Williams says. “All this ties in with the NAFTA Highway. It catches them between Mexico and Canada. This is kind of a crossroads. That means more business, more service for us.”

Great Dane will maintain the Irving Blvd location as a parts and service facility to serve existing customers. But the new facility also has parts and service.

Right now, the Great Dane-Dallas' service facility is open from 8 am-5 pm Monday through Friday, but Williams envisions the day when it will be open for a double shift seven days a week. A drivers' lounge has been built with a telephone, television, and coffee machine.

Additionally, Dallas is poised to become the newest Great Dane used trailer regional center, accepting a high volume of trades and becoming a distribution hub for previously owned trailers. These features will enable the new Dallas branch to become a one-stop-shop for trailer sales, parts, and service.

A large lot

Regional used trailer manager Randy Acker benefits the most from the new facility in terms of gaining the most additional space.

“I'm not bashful,” he says. “I'll fill it up.”

The lot is not only twice the size and is designed to accommodate 400 trailers, but it has a cement-like surface that is a mixture of gravel and caliche, an amorphous (non-crystalline) mass of calcium carbonate (limestone) mixed with clay.

“Before, we had to rent three yards for trailer storage, and they were dusty, dirty, muddy,” Williams says. “That was a logistical nightmare, being crammed into that small area. You might have to move three trailers to dig out the one that was sold. And they'd always want to buy the one that's stuck in the back. The ones in the back always sell first.

“Now we have them all lined up. All the 48' and 53' reefers are in one line. All the 48' vans are on one side, all the 53' vans on the back side. It's enabled us to be much more organized. They're all prepped, inspected, and ready to go. It's enabled us to be much more organized. And because there are no more muddy rental yards, our drivers are so pumped. Just something that simple.”

Including Williams and Acker, Great Dane-Dallas has four trailer salesmen. Williams says he is looking to hire two more salesmen in an effort to increase market share in north Texas.

“The next couple of years are going to be good,” he says. “It's cyclical. We're definitely in recovery. I guess we're past the recovery.”

Inside the plant, service manager Daryl Hamlin and parts manager Eddy Sarten are pretty pumped, too.

The old plant was built in 1960, when trailers were 38' × 96", and had just seven bays. The new layout has 14 bays with 16' tall entries and 14' wide door openings (2' wider than those in Charlotte), along with five scaffolds.

“It's easier to get around the toolboxes and welders,” Hamlin says. “Safety-wise, it's much better. There's less clutter. If a trailer were to catch on fire, you could easily maneuver around everything. When there's less clutter, it's going to be safer. Fewer trips and falls, let alone fires.”

Williams says the larger area also means that trailers can be completely inside and the doors can be closed — something they could never do in the old facility.

“Even though we only have three or four months of winter, that's big,” he says.

Other features

The shop also has 12' overhangs outside (which Charlotte doesn't have), allowing the doors to remain open during storms without drenching the bays; overhead cranes that move laterally and longitudinally from end to end; a stand-alone, covered bay in which two trailers can be washed simultaneously; state-of-the-art lighting, with translucent panels and skylights, about 5' in height, that run the entire circumference of the building (“You can walk around at night and it's just like daytime”); and walls consisting of 1' thick concrete that's 8' high.

“There's no sheet metal that you could bang or knock holes in,” Hamlin says. “Most steel buildings come all the way to the ground in steel. Ours are truck-driver-proof.”

Sarten, asked what he likes the most about the parts operation, says: “Space … space. We've just never had that before.”

He says they're carrying 2600 parts numbers and $1 million in inventory, as opposed to 2100 parts numbers and $750,000 in inventory at the old location.

“We can buy in better bulk quantities,” he says. “It's on the shelf when the customer comes in. They don't have to wait for a stock trailer. It means better service and delivery. We don't have to move everything to get to something. We're getting a lot of drop-ins and owner-operators. It gives us the opportunity to expand.

“Two trucks go out every day. Our response time is much better now. Before, you'd have to move four or five products to storage and unwrap a tarp or two. Now we go out and use the forklift and get it. We don't have to chase all over town for parts. We have a place to stock it.”

As is frequently the case when a company moves from an outdated, cramped facility to a modern, spacious one, morale has increased exponentially. Williams has noticed that employees' posture is more upright, their smiles more pronounced. They're loving this.

And he's loving them. He declined a request to pose alone with some trailers on the lot, saying he wanted everyone together for a shot. And so everyone gathered in the service department.

“Those are the thoroughbreds,” he says. “I'm just the head coach. We have the best of the best. They all win awards every year — top sales people, top service people, top parts. I have a great job because I'm surrounded by great people.”

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