Fast truck equipment

IT WORKS for McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell. A truck equipment distributor in Union City, California, has discovered that the concept also works in its business.

The fast-food industry has made a fortune delivering food to customers fast. The experience of Carter Industries has shown that speed thrills truck equipment customers, too.

“Our specialty has been installing stuff while the customer waits,” says Ron Colla, sales manager. “That's what really helped us build our reputation in our early years, especially with contractors. Our business has grown (and truck equipment installations have become more complex) that we can't do that as much as we would like, but we try to get customers' trucks ready as quickly as we can.”

Carter Industries caters to small fleets, dealers, and municipalities. Many of the company's products lend themselves to Carter Industries' quick turnaround approach. The company sells a variety of commercial truck accessories such as bed liners, bed mats, and toolboxes from five manufacturers. Other accessories include van and pickup racks, fuel transfer tanks, trailer hitches, brake controllers, and tarp systems.

The approach is working. The company moved into a new, larger shop last year to keep pace with its growing business. Although Carter Industries tries to get jobs through the new shop quickly, it does not have a drive-through. However, it does have “drive-to” service. Instead of requiring every customer to come to its facility, Carter drives a fully equipped service truck to install selected new equipment remotely.

Many shops offer mobile service to repair or provide preventive maintenance on customer locations. But it is unusual for a truck equipment distributor to offer such a service for new installations.

The 16-ft high-cube van runs the full width of the state of California, driving as far as Reno, Nevada. Most of the installations are van interiors, and 90% of the work is done at truck dealerships.

“Dealers call ahead to schedule an appointment,” Colla says.

In addition to van packages, the “drive-to” service includes installation of pickup racks and toolboxes. To help the mobile installer do his job, Carter Industries has equipped the van with an air compressor and generator. Full-height shelving provides ample storage for tools, equipment, and inventory.

Truck dealer promotion

A major portion of the service truck business involves installation of Adrian Steel van packages under the Chevrolet Commercial Customer Choice and the GMC Fit for Profit programs.

Under the terms of the program, General Motors sets the criteria for qualified customers who are eligible to receive a choice of several packages with the purchase of their GM van or pickup. That includes a van interior package for the G or M van, a pickup rack and toolbox package, or a toolbox only package. These installed van and pickup accessories are offered at little or no extra charge to the customer.

Carter Industries is responsible for providing the dealers in its area with training and assisting them with paperwork, Colla says. From the standpoint of paperwork, the dealer who sells a vehicle that is eligible for the Commercial Customer Choice and Fit for Profit programs submits the documentation to GM headquarters and to Adrian Steel. Adrian cuts a purchase order to install the specified equipment, and Carter Industries performs the installation. Carter then invoices Adrian for the work performed.

New shop

Carter Industries brought customers in to see its new location June 7. The facility enables the company to bring its entire operation under one roof. The 63,000-sq-ft building, located on 8¼ acres, replaces seven leased buildings and four storage lots that the distributor previously had.

“That was the whole idea behind our move,” says Don Haddan, general manager. “We wanted to consolidate under one roof.”

Surprisingly, the cost of the new structure is not substantially more than what the company was paying to lease seven separate buildings and the storage lots. One major advantage — the company owns its new location. Another major advantage — a huge increase in efficiency.

“We are paying a little more to be here, but the improved productivity we are getting actually makes the move profitable,” Haddan says. “Having everything right here allows us to get so much more done with a smaller staff than we had before.”

The 8¼-acre site includes 1¼ acres available for future expansion. The rest of the property is paved, creating a yard that can accommodate 600 vehicles.

As a pool account, Carter Industries keeps about 250 vehicles in stock, primarily vans and chassis cabs. Some have GVW ratings as high as 17,000 pounds, but most are Class 4 and under.

Increasing efficiency

In designing the shop, Carter Industries gave a lot of thought to maximize efficiency and reduce operating costs. Here are several of the major additions management included:

  • Overhead cranes

    Approximately half of the shop — the area where handling of heavy items is concentrated — is covered by overhead cranes.

  • Centralized gas mixing station

    Carter Industries uses a mixture of liquid argon and carbon dioxide for welding gases. The liquefied gases are stored in cryogenic tanks and mixed (75% argon, 25% CO2) when needed. Buying the gases in bulk saves money, and the centralized mixing system eliminates the risks incurred when handling bottled welding gases. The mix of argon and CO2 improves penetration and generates a clean weld that requires less clean-up time, Haddan says.

  • Bulk welding wire

    In addition to distributing truck equipment, Carter Industries manufactures some of its own accessories such as pickup racks. Purchasing welding wire in 275-lb boxes from Lincoln Electric drops the cost of welding wire by 30 cents per pound and reduces the amount of time shop personnel spend changing out reels of wire.

  • Long-term supplier contract

    Carter Industries has a five-year agreement with Praxair Inc. The two companies analyzed Carter's usage history for such welding consumables as wire, gas, and tips. The result — a 20% reduction compared to the way Carter had been buying these supplies.

Environmental issues

Carter Industries is in the San Francisco Bay area just south of Oakland. Some of the most rigorous environmental regulations in the country are found there, and the new location had to comply with all of them.

Wastewater was one area of concern. The company does its own painting and must clean bare metal with a phosphate solution to prepare the surface. To make sure this wastewater meets the limitations for pH and suspended particulates, the company collects it in a sump and a holding tank to give suspended material time to fall out of solution. The pH of the water is automatically monitored. As the tank nears capacity, the pH is checked and adjusted if needed before the wastewater is discharged into the public sewer system.

“When we first moved in, they used to send an inspector out weekly,” Haddan says. “Now they test us monthly, mainly to check for excessive levels of heavy metals and oil.”

Powder coating

One way of reducing emissions in the air is through powder coating, since this method of coating does not generate concern over volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as conventional painting might.

The Carter Industries shop includes an 18-ft powder-coating booth in which the company coats a variety of the products it sells and manufactures.

“We had a 12-ft booth at our old location,” Haddan says. “The Bay Area Air Quality Management District limits us to 800 pounds of VOC emissions per year. Mostly for environmental reasons, we try to powder coat everything we can.”

Despite the advantages of powder coating, paint remains the coating most commonly used. To apply it, Carter Industries has two spray booths — a 35-ft booth that it moved from its previous shop and a new 50-ft sidedraft booth.

“We didn't feel the need for a full downdraft booth,” Haddan says. “The sidedraft booth gives us the advantages of a downdraft booth without any special underground preparation.”

A sweet aroma

Both booth designs use airflow to pull overspray away from the object being painted. But while a downdraft system sends overspray directly below the floor, the sidedraft booth pulls it away from the object and toward the sidewalls. Once it has passed through the filter on the inside walls, air is pulled down toward the floor, then upward just inside the outer surface of the wall before being exhausted through the roof.

Carter Industries is standard on Sherwin-Williams Genesis acrylic urethane, a paint touted for its low levels of VOCs.

“We are required to log how much paint and VOCs we spray,” Haddan says. “With a permit that only allows us 800 pounds of VOCs and 2,900 total gallons of paint sprayed per year, a low-VOC paint is important.”

Even so, the company has taken an additional step in an effort to avoid offending the senses of those living in the houses 100 yards away. Both paint booths are equipped with an odor modification system that automatically injects a fragrance into the exhaust stream every 15 seconds when the exhaust fan is on.

The main idea behind the new Carter Industries shop may have been to bring everything under one roof, but the company nevertheless built a wall between its truck equipment and truck accessory installation areas.

“The skill sets are different,” Haddan explains. The truck equipment installers are cutting, fitting, and fabricating to install such items as dump bodies, service bodies, cranes, and liftgates. By contrast, the accessory installation shop is designed for bolt-on installations and quick vehicle turnaround.

While doors abound at both shops, the number of doors does not directly correspond to the number of trucks that can be serviced simultaneously. Because the depth of the bays can allow more than one vehicle, the truck equipment shop can accommodate up to 22 trucks. The van and pickup accessories shop can handle 12.

Selling accessories

Another focal point of the Carter Industries facility is its 4,600-sq-ft showroom.

“This really is a well-rounded display of commercial truck accessories,” Colla says.

Filled with toolboxes, air compressors, and a wide range of other products, the display is maintained by a staff of three — including the counter manager.

“We have been promoting our accessory sales pretty heavily,” Colla says. “We have been using billboards, direct mail, and will soon have an e-commerce site.”

As a chassis pool account, Carter Industries already has much of the computer technology in place to implement an e-commerce system. With a password, area dealers are able to check the level of their brand of chassis Carter has in stock. In addition, visitors to the company's web site are able to request quotations for a variety of vehicles. Those quotes can be delivered to the customer via phone, fax, or e-mail.

But Haddan is working now to enhance the information that customers and prospects can receive electronically. For example, he expects to be able to give dealers the ability to check the status of their jobs via the web site. He is working on that objective through the use of Connx, a third-party ODBC driver (open database connectivity) that accesses the data already in the company's Spokane Computer management software and puts it into a Microsoft Access table that is more compatible with Internet applications. Instead of displaying individual records, the data will appear in a spreadsheet format that customers can scan quickly.

“The information will be selective,” Haddan says. “The only data a given dealer will be able to access will be those jobs that we are doing for him.”

To maintain that selectivity, customers will be required to input the purchase order number and the job number, which is the same as the quotation number.

Also on the “to-do list” is to list job openings and to promote the specials and close-outs that Carter Industries may be offering. The company also plans to use the site as a way to get sales literature into the hands of customers and prospects quickly. The literature will be stored in Adobe Acrobat format where it can be easily downloaded with no appreciable degrading in quality or resolution — unlike the fax machine.

A growing concern

Carter Industries got its start as a job shop in 1961. Founder Wayne Carter fabricated truck racks, toolboxes, and other custom accessories for truck owners in the San Francisco Bay area.

As the business became increasingly established, however, Carter began distributing more of what his company sold. By the late 1970s, Carter Industries was distributing general truck equipment from its location in San Mateo, just across San Francisco Bay from its present site in Union City. This led Carter to relocate to new quarters in Redwood City, 10 miles south of San Mateo.

The most substantial growth has occurred since 1994. It was then that Adrian Steel purchased the company to obtain a general truck equipment outlet in the Bay Area.

“We had eight employees then,” Haddan says. “We are up to 47 now.”

Carter Industries joined several other truck equipment distributors that Adrian owns. Others include ADSCOM Corporation in Glen Burnie, Maryland; AE Truck Equipment Company in Saint Peters, Missouri; AG Van & Truck Equipment in Dallas, Texas; Commercial Truck & Van Equipment in Norcross, Georgia; and Frontier Truck Equipment in Denver, Colorado.

These six companies join six independently owned truck equipment distributors to form the Road-Redi bailment pool. Much like the fast-food guys, the Road-Redi network operates from coast to coast. They stock Chevrolet and GMC commercial vans, chassis, and pickups, along with leading names in truck bodies and equipment. All designed to deliver. Fast.

Just don't ask if you can get fries with that.

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