Equipment Distributor Grows from Dealer in Rural New York

Robert Green and Linda Cortese had no intention of starting a full-line truck equipment distributorship when they began installing Meyer snowplows from the service bays of Robert Green Chevrolet/Oldsmobile incorporated in 1986. The dealership traces its roots to Robert's father who founded it in 1968. Green and Cortese were both working as service department administrators for the dealership when it began installing snowplows.

Although based in snow and ice control equipment Robert Green Truck Division is now a full-line truck equipment distributor. The truck division's main lines are Crysteel, Monroe custom body, and Henderson spreaders as well as Meyer and Diamond. This equipment makes up 40% of the business but affects slightly more through other equipment sales according to Robert Green, president of Robert Green Truck Division.

"We were fortunate to find suppliers that were willing to take a chance on a dealership that thought it could be a truck equipment company," says Linda Cortese, general manager and corporate secretary of Robert Green Truck Division. "Until 1990 it was basically an after-hours job," says Cortese. "In the evenings and on weekends we would put our bids together."

Both Green and Cortese attribute much of the company's success to the help and guidance that they have received from the NTEA. Although snowplow installations began in 1986, their interest in the truck equipment industry developed more fully when they attended the 1990 NTEA SuperShow. "We went to every booth and talked to everybody, then we decided what lines we wanted to carry," says Cortese.

In 1993 the truck equipment business moved to its own property and the following year became a separate corporation. The five-acre property contained a building with a two bay shop area. Early this year additions were completed updating the old building to an eight bay shop. The expansion included remodeling and addition to the office area as well as the shop. By spring the new facility was fully-functional and the company celebrated its grand opening The new facility provides 10,000 square feet of shop and office space and employs 15 people.

Winter weather was a problem in Green's old facility. "We spent a lot of time researching the best way to heat the new shop," says Green. After considerable research Green settled on in-floor radiant heat. Three changes were evident from the first day the radiant heat went into use. "We saw our employee illness rate fall immediately," says Green. "Since much of the shop personnel's time is spent on the floor this was a perfect system." The recovery time to a normal temperature after having the bay doors open was much faster according to Green. Heating costs were also reduced.

The new facility includes a 30 x 18 x 18 foot Futurecure paint booth. The booth bakes at 140 degrees for 40 minutes and then cools for 40 minutes. Green uses BASF acrylic-urethane paints. "This paint is more expensive but it is also more durable and better suited to truck bodies," says Green. Truck division products look like they have a factory finish due to the combination of BASF paint and the baking process. The booth also emits fewer toxic emissions and increases efficiency in the shop. "It used to take all day for a body to dry, but now we can do the whole paint and dry process in 120 minutes," says Cortese.

Approach to Business Green attributes the company's rapid expansion to several philosophies. The first is marketing success which, for Green, consists of a good location and satisfied customers. The company's location in rural Monticello, New York is isolated from many other competitive dealers according to Green. "We can do it all without dealers in our backyard," he says. The area has a high population of people with vocational backgrounds as well as a relatively low cost of living and low cost of labor. "The area lends itself to growth," adds Green.

Secondly, Green attributes growth to a "we" approach to business. This approach leaves many decisions in the employees' hands. "The company is very employee directed," says Green. One example of employees making an executive decision in the business arose when they were asked whether or not the company should take on a particular product. Promotions are also awarded from within so employees can move up in the company.

Cortese and Green keep the business in the public eye by frequenting conventions that have potential customers. Several of their more recent conventions include the New York state school superintendents of buildings and grounds convention and regional and county functions. Green also upfit a truck for Swenson and Meyer snowplows that was displayed at the most recent NTEA SuperShow.

The business advertises on two billboards located on highway 17 North and South of Monticello. The billboards tell where the business is located off of the highway and which exit to take. Radio advertising is also a part of Green's marketing plan. Green uses three stations from October through March. Commercials are broadcast with the local weather report and go out 75 times monthly.

"Our location just off the highway attracts many customers," says Cortese. "We see a lot of contractors and other people in the business from the New York City area in the winter months that are here to hunt."

Green operates a Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership as well as a Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep dealership on either side of the truck division. Although the truck division is now a separate corporation there's cooperation between the dealerships and truck division. "We do business on a joint basis," says Green. "The businesses share a computer system."

Fifty 1997 model medium-duty trucks are being finished for a contract with the state of New York. The truck division is also the low bidder with the state of New York in 1998 for five medium duty contracts, two pickup contracts, and four light-duty cab and chassis. If awarded, these bids could total between 1,000 and 1,500 trucks.

Green's normal business ranges about 200 miles around Monticello, but they upfit vehicles for businesses as far north and south as Maine and Virginia and as far west as Chicago. Outside sales are handled by four sales people. One handles heavy-duty trucks for municipalities, one handles commercial customers and another is in charge of wholesale customers and dealers. The fourth salesperson sells inside to wholesale customers and dealers. An administrative assistant helps Cortese by putting orders in to GM and taking care of all forms and paperwork for delivery to customers.

Customer Service and Bailment Pool Because Robert Green strives to provide quality customer service the shop is kept open on Saturdays. "Most contractors work five days a week," says Cortese. "We are able to get their equipment in for repair or service without interrupting their business."

Green operates a Chevrolet bailment pool. "We must meet quality standards and pass a yearly inspection through Chevrolet," says Cortese. "This includes careful documentation of all procedures and wiring." As a designated pool member Robert Green Truck Division is required to meet stringent requirements set by Chevrolet. "Requirements range from how much insurance coverage we must carry to how high the fences surrounding our property are," says Green. An action plan must be followed to meet yearly updated standards. "We follow an installation guide to ensure consistent installations," says Green.

Production Quality Shop and service personnel have gone through GM school as well as manufacturer training from the snow and ice control equipment manufacturers that the truck division sells. One service employee has also been to a factory school at Braun corporation for installation of handicapped equipment. "We enjoy what we do," says Cortese "There isn't anyone here that thinks this is just another job, we're all proud of their work."

"We offer a minimum of one year warranty on everything," says Cortese. Many products that Green sells come from the manufacturer with a more extensive warranty. In many cases Green has repaired products outside of the warranty period. "From a good business standpoint, you have to treat the customer like you want to be treated," says Green.

Green uses a three-phase quality control process. First, each vehicle is inspected by Green's chief engineer or shop foreman from a engineering/mechanical standpoint. Next, the vehicle is checked by a salesperson from an aesthetics standpoint and then it goes to a prep technician for a final review. Before vehicles leave the site each phase of the review must be signed off on a quality control checklist. "Three people sign the list and the original copy goes in the glove compartment and leaves with the vehicle," says Cortese.

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