How a company can live to be 50

Trailer/Body Builders April 2014 editorial

TODAY’s life expectancy for men living in the United States is 77.4 years. For women, it’s 82.2 years. Canadians do even better—living an average of three years longer than their American neighbors

But for companies—especially companies in the truck equipment business—a long life is becoming more difficult to achieve. Truck equipment distributors face an array of challenges as trucks become more complex, competitors become more sophisticated, and customers become more demanding.

The truck equipment industry’s trade association celebrated 50 years of service at the recent Work Truck Show in Indianapolis. That is a significant milestone for a trade association as well as for individual companies. We congratulate NTEA and the handful of members that are still around who helped start the association a half century ago.

How have these businesses thrived? Producing work trucks can be a deceptively subtle business. It may look simple from a distance, but as some of the articles in this month’s issue indicate, there is far more to building a work truck than bolting down the equipment and sending it out the door.

Companies prosper and whither for a variety of reasons, but none survive without a thorough knowledge of their business. That’s why the educational program at The Work Truck Show has expanded to such a great extent. Technology gives us new tools to use and products to sell. Chassis are in a continual state of flux. And government regulations affect can affect the way trucks run—or the way you run your business. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Washington set a new record in 2013 by issuing final rules consuming 26,417 pages in The Federal Register. Contained in those pages were 3,659 “final” rules for Americans to begin complying with right away and 2,594 proposed rules to worry about later.

Staying current in the truck equipment business is increasingly difficult because so many factors can impact a company. In the early years of the National Truck Equipment Association, the schedule was pretty simple—a couple of sessions in the morning, the show in the afternoon. One person could attend every workshop on the program.

Fifty years later, the NTEA offers 60 educational sessions in the same number of days—far more than Trailer/Body Builders can cover—or fit into a single Work Truck Show report.

As you thumb through this month’s issue, you may notice that we chose to write mostly about the workshops that present the nuts and bolts of truck equipment. “Where the rubber meets the road” may be important in tire business, but where the body meets the truck is critical.

The interface between equipment and the truck electrical system has become critical the past decade. Chassis manufacturers depend on electronics to control vital truck functions, and truck equipment manufacturers are using more electronics to operate equipment. Knowing how to take advantage of the efficiencies of today’s multiplexed electrical systems on trucks can provide shops with a competitive advantage.

The primary interface is where the body meets the truck at the frame. Sometimes the body and chassis are not an ideal match. For tips on modifying frames in a way that enhances overall truck performance, see Eddy Tschirhart’s advice, beginning on Page 39.

But if you think about it, the act of mounting bodies and equipment on chassis interfaces with virtually everything on the truck—axles, brakes, suspension, engine, transmission. Bob Aquaro goes down the list, system by system, and points out key things to consider in order to get the best fit between trucks, bodies, and equipment and to produce a truck that satisfies the customer. See Page 43.

And when the truck is finished, it has to be certified. As our story on Page 28 says, this involves far more than slapping on a certification label.

A number of companies in the truck equipment business have been around 50, 75, 100 years or more. Each have their own formula for lengthy lifespan, but we can’t think of any that have survived a half century or more by being known as the cheapest house in town. They have relied on the expertise that they have to sell.

As mentioned elsewhere in this issue, the ultimate goal is to know trucks, equipment, and customers so thoroughly that customers view your company as a partner or seek you out as an advisor. Anyone can give the product way. No one can give it away for 50 years. ♦

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