AT THE BEGINNING of 2005, Delta Trailer was planning to expand its facility in Geismar, Louisiana, by 6000 square feet just to accommodate the heavy load of service work it was doing.
And then came a blockbuster deal with Comcar Industries to build 30 tank trailers over a four-year span.
Delta kicked its expansion plans into overdrive to accommodate the light-manufacturing project, morphing the new building into a 10-bay, 15,000-square-foot addition that would cost $500,000 and include six offices (three of which can be rented to any customers that want satellite operations) and a full break room, dressing room and showers for employees.
The building opened in April, paving the way for Delta to step up its work on the Comcar project.
“It was meant to be,” president/owner Huey Beason says. “It's definitely a good adventure for us. Basically, we just outgrew the building we were in. We've needed it for quite awhile, and the project is justification for doing it. It makes sense to add on and then to lease.
“It's going to definitely help us in production. It'll help us get all the jobs out quicker. It'll get the smaller jobs out quicker because we won't have to be pulling the trailers in and out as much. That takes one-third of the total repair time.”
Comcar Industries has been Delta's top customer since Beason opened his doors in November 1999.
Comcar evolved from the growth of Commercial Carrier Corporation, which began hauling cement in 1953, and is one of the 15th largest trucking groups in the US. Headquartered in Auburndale, Florida, it has five trucking firms situated across the nation, offering 52 strategically located terminals to haul virtually any commodity anywhere in the United States.
“We've done repairs for them,” Delta manager Rodney Green says. “Wherever they go and start a new terminal, we go in and do a maintenance terminal for them. We've grown a relationship with them and it's turned into more work. They trust us.”
Haul both ways
The project calls for Delta to build combination chemical tanks that will haul liquid sulfur and fertilizer. The sulfur can be hauled to one destination and unloaded, then fertilizer can be loaded and hauled back.
The trailer has a 3800-gallon tank barrel and frame built by Brenner Tank. Surrounding the tank barrel is a hopper trailer barrel, which is being fabricated by Delta. The hopper has a full-length door on top that will open by a system of air-operated gears. The dry product is dumped into the hopper and, at the unloading point, a set of clam-shell-type doors opens by air ram at the bottom to allow the product to drop out. The liquid side is loaded though a standard 20" manway and discharged out the rear with a 6" manually operated valve.
“They run millions of miles, 24/7,” Green says.
Delta obtained old engineering drawings from Fruehauf trailers and made modifications.
“We have enough background and knowledge to do what engineering needed to be done,” Green says. “We were able to take a couple of trailers they had built that were 10 to 15 years old with over a million miles, look at the problem areas, and find some solutions.”
The changes include:
Widening them from 96" to 102".
“They were already running a 102" axle, but the tank trailer itself was only 96" wide,” Green says. “When we widen them 6", it'll drop the center of a gravity a little lower. The problem with these trailers is they tend to be top-heavy. Just widening them will put more product in the bottom.”
Changing the internal ring supports to correct a flexing problem that was causing cracks.
Modifying the top door, which operates like rack-and-pinion on a car, to make it heavier.
Green says he expects to complete five trailers this year, then seven in 2007, eight in 2008, and 10 in 2009.
“The uniqueness is that it's a dual-purpose trailer,” Green says. “There's only a minimal market because there are only a few people who use these two specific products. But it's one piece of equipment — even though it's expensive — that will be able to haul product 24 hours, seven days a week, and haul it in two different directions.”
Delta had not yet begun constructing the new facility when Hurricane Katrina roared through southeastern Louisiana on the morning of August 29 as a Category 3 storm — possibly the largest hurricane of its strength to approach the United States in recorded history, with its sheer size causing devastation over 100 miles from the center.
Geismar, located about 70 miles northwest of New Orleans, did not bear the full brunt, but Delta had to shut down for four days because there was no power. Many of the employees' homes were damaged, and it took a few days to locate the employees who lived in heavily wooded areas and couldn't vacate their properties.
Green says Delta Trailer's business took a 10% hit for the following month. From an expansion standpoint, the picture got complicated because permits and contractors were difficult to obtain.
“It just slowed everybody down,” Green says. “Once the contractors realized there wasn't a massive amount of work being done in New Orleans, they came back. They just ran down to do the little stuff.”
Delta started the new building in February, finishing it the second week of April.
The new facility has 25' wide bays — 5' wider than in the old building — and 18' ceilings that accommodate overhead cranes.
Delta took one of the old bays and turned it into a fabrication bay. In the near future, Green anticipates that the company will spend $500,000 to purchase a 12' press, 10' shear, and 10' roll.
The company also took a 3000-square-foot area in the old building and turned it into a parts department that will serve as a central warehouse for all the satellite facilities. Green estimates that it should increase the company's parts sales by $200,000 a year.
“That definitely will help us and our customers to have more parts on hand,” Beason says. “We couldn't keep many parts in the old building. We had to cycle them faster. Now we can put them on the shelf. A lot of times people would ask us for certain parts and we didn't have them. We didn't have anywhere to put them and we were using them. Now we'll have walk-in sales or we'll deliver. We'll add a delivery person and a delivery truck.”
Location, location, location
Delta will continue to service tank trailers, taking advantage of its prime location between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, just off Interstate 10.
“Geismar is probably the most perfect location you could have for a tank-repair shop,” Green said. “Seventy-five percent of our customers are within 10 minutes. You'll see 15 trucking companies if you drive 15 minutes in any direction. That's why we get all of these quick repairs. Our competition so far hasn't moved here. We have all we can do every day.
“We'll work on any type of tank trailer, from the cryogenic type that haul liquid oxygen and nitrogen through general chemical trailers down to milk and water haulers or sanitary products.”
Delta also has a facility in Houston and seven satellite facilities where maintenance is performed.
“If ABC Trucking has a tank trailer operation and needs mechanics, we'll go in and put in a shop foreman and take care of their equipment,” Green says. “We've added one facility in six years, and the rest have been satellites. Next year, we're going to focus on picking up more of these accounts. We're getting better at it. We know how to manage it. We know what kind of people to hire. We've been doing it for three years, and it's getting easier. We know what we tell them we can do and what we can't do. At first, we were eager to do everything for them. We found that backing off a little bit was simpler.
“Our growth in the next five years will be in satellite operations. Putting in a true, full-blown tank-repair shop is very difficult. There's nowhere you can go and hire a tank-repair mechanic. There's no school or training grounds. Even if you go to a trucking company and hire one, you spend two to three years working with him.”
Green says Delta's long-range goal is to develop the remaining six acres of its 10-acre property, possibly adding a terminal and a small industrial park to serve the trailer industry.
For now, those six acres are occupied by horses owned by Beason and Green. They're a welcome diversion when things get hectic.
“About 4 o'clock, when you're about to pull your hair out, you go out there,” Green says, “and the next thing you know, you're not thinking about anything other than taking care of that horse.”