The house that snow built

SEVENTY-FIVE MILES up the Hudson River from Yankee Stadium, “the House that Ruth Built,” is another structure.

But this structure simply exists to get a job done. It isn't famous, and it wasn't constructed by a baseball legend. One could say that it was built by snow and for snow.

Hudson River Truck & Trailer, a truck equipment distributor in Poughkeepsie, New York, relies on snow and ice equipment for a major portion of its sales. Western snowplows and Rugby dump bodies were the first two lines of truck equipment the company took on when it was formed 14 years ago, and snow and ice control equipment remains a big reason for the company's growth.

In 2001 the company moved into a new 10,000-sq-ft shop. Earlier this year Hudson River Truck & Trailer completed an additional 8,000-sq-ft building, this one dedicated to warehousing and installing these products.

The latest building gives Hudson River Truck & Trailer 5,000 square feet of inside storage for snowplows. It also provides four bays in which to install and service them.

“We had been renting a warehouse to store our snowplow inventory,” says Matt Maneri, president. “Having our inventory right here has really helped our efficiency.”

The company is still getting its latest building organized as a snowplow warehouse and does not expect to need the additional bays until the 2003 season.

“We had our best year in history last year,” Maneri says. “Our customers were going crazy over the 0% financing, which tended to get them to buy trucks a little earlier than they might have planned. We have slowed down a little because of that and because of fairly light snowfall last year. Business is still real good, and we have been able to trim our backlog. As the owner of a business, I was glad to know that I had plenty of work coming in, but it was tough last year telling a customer that it would be as long as 10 weeks before we could get his truck to him.”

A product for all seasons

One of the downsides of the snow and ice control equipment is its seasonality. Hudson River Truck & Trailer addresses that by selling other seasonal products that peak in other times of the year.

“We are always looking for new lines to sell,” Maneri says. “About eight years ago, we added trailers to our equipment lineup. They are now 30% to 40% of our business. That's good, because they sell well in the spring when the plow business drops off.”

Hudson River Truck & Trailer sells a wide range of these trailers, from light to heavy-duty models. They include applications such as dump, landscaping, and heavy equipment hauling. Suppliers of these trailers include Bri-Mar, Big Tex, CAM Superline, Phelen, Carmate, and Pace American.

On the truck equipment side, the company handles Knapheide service and platform bodies, Galion and Rugby dump bodies, Rugby and Venco hoists, Thieman and Ultran liftgates, and Weatherguard toolboxes and van interiors. It also fills in its snow and ice equipment line with Fisher and Western snowplows, along with Torwel and Downeaster spreaders.

Ready when needed

Sales of snow and ice equipment have grown every year because of the manufacturers Maneri represents and the customers he serves.

“Like a lot of other distributors, we take advantage of the early order programs that our snowplow suppliers offer,” he says. “It's an advantage for us and for them. Beyond that, it's just a matter of providing good service — being open when the customer needs you.”

Providing service, though, can be a balancing act. When the company is a family business, it can mean choosing between work and a personal life. Maneri says he looks out the window frequently when snow is in the forecast. If it is night or the weekends when snow might be coming, he needs to be ready to open the shop.

“We have outstanding employees who understand that our customers expect us to repair their equipment whether it is a normal business day or New Year's Day.”

Overcoming burnout

In 1988, Maneri started his company as a one-man operation. He had a small shop (1½ bays) behind a house. He began with a lawn service business but got into truck equipment after the death of the truck equipment distributor for whom he had worked as an installer.

Hudson River Truck & Trailer moved into a rented facility which Maneri eventually bought. However, the business soon faced a huge challenge when a fire destroyed the facility.

“That fire made us more determined than ever that we would succeed in this business,” Maneri says.

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