Pouring energy into parts

A snapshot from the archives of DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc illustrates how long the company has been in business:

Founder Louis DeCarolis Sr made a $295 down payment on a new $1,104 Chevrolet straight truck. After allowing for a $351 trade-in, DeCarolis owed an additional $38 a month for 12 months.

A snapshot from today illustrates how far the company has come since then:

DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc's fleet exceeds 3,000 vehicles at seven locations in western and central New York. That $1,104 wouldn't cover the cost of many simple maintenance orders on any of those vehicles.

The company — now guided by 62-year-old Paul DeCarolis, Louis Sr's son — has dramatically expanded its host of services, including truck, tractor and trailer leasing; customized maintenance agreements; heavy duty parts, sales, and service; storage trailers through their Warehouse on Wheels program; daily rentals; and driver training and safety programs.

To add another benchmark to the company's 65th anniversary year, DeCarolis moved the Heavy Duty Parts Division of its Rochester headquarters into a 24,000-sq-ft building that houses a 10,000-sq-ft parts warehouse, with remaining space being leased until it is needed for expansion.

“There's not another one like it in our area,” says Mark Davis, general manager of Heavy Duty Parts. “None of this would be possible without the support of Paul DeCarolis and his belief in this division. Being a relatively new entity of the company, we've been backed 100% by him, and he allowed us to make the investment in the new location and the people.”

Says Tim Coons, sales manager for Heavy Duty Parts, “It's particularly noteworthy in light of economic conditions. Everyone has been ultra-conservative with capital.”

Significant increases

DeCarolis held its grand opening week Sept 15-19, but it was purely ceremonial. Ever since the company moved its Heavy Duty Parts Division into the new building March 1, it has experienced greater efficiencies in both inventory and cost containment.

“Our first month, without even heavily advertising, our sales increased just by word of mouth,” Davis says. “We're showing our customer base we are dedicated to them by the investment we made. Before, I think they weren't really sure we were trying to be in the parts business, or what we were trying to do.”

It was the culmination of 23 years of growth.

After opening a new facility in Rochester in 1980, DeCarolis had a trailer fleet numbering in the hundreds and started looking at the possibility of enhancing the operation with an offspring of trailer parts, which would give DeCarolis better buying power for its fleet and make it more competitive in trailer service.

After securing the dealership for Trailmobile in 1982, the company found it was able to purchase all makes of trailer parts and components competitively, and pass these savings to parts customers. As customers found this new source of parts available to them, the Heavy Duty Parts business expanded. DeCarolis ultimately became the third-largest of Trailmobile's 265 dealers.

Remodeled facility

A facility in Geneva, New York, was remodeled and DeCarolis was becoming recognized as a quality source for trailer parts. As a result of the Trailmobile parts program, other parts lines became available and the parts offerings extended beyond trailer parts to include truck parts, shop supplies, and tools.

In 1989, the Heavy Duty Parts unit was established with the purpose of being a “total fleet supplier.” Through the years, DeCarolis supplied its branches and customers with the parts, supplies, tools, and equipment to keep their shops operating and their fleet on the road. A dedicated sales force was put in place, point-of-sale systems were established, and a delivery network was created.

“The biggest advantage of having the Heavy Duty parts group is buying power and support,” says Mike Margarone, vice president of sales for DeCarolis Truck Rental. “It's that simple. As far as us trying to be competitive against the nationals in the marketplace, having the Heavy Duty Parts division support us and being one of their customers gives us preferred pricing on parts to allow us to be more competitive in our contracts and what we charge on our lease agreements.

“The other advantage is that it gives us some value-added support to our customers, whether it's flatbed straps or anything else they may need in addition to the lease we provide them. We can support those needs in-house.”

Use what they sell

The Heavy Duty Parts Division's number one customer is DeCarolis Truck Rental, which has six service facilities spread across New York, so it is geared up to handle any need.

“We've always tried to profess to our customers that we use what we sell,” Davis says. “A product might be $2 less, but we have to be very careful because inevitably that part would end up on one of our vehicles. We don't always go for lowest price. We go for quality first. We know the cost of down time, road calls, loads that don't make it on time.

“To us, to make an extra couple of points on margin to buy a lesser quality part and sell it higher is not something we really want to do. It doesn't pay, and it would end up on one of our vehicles for sure and cost us money in the long run.”

Adds Coons, “That really differentiates us from our competition. We have to be so sensitive to that. We're not just selling parts. That goes back to our people. We have to be very knowledgeable to support our own shops — diagnose problems and troubleshoot properly, not just throw parts at a truck and hope to find where the problem is.”

A few years ago, it became apparent that Heavy Duty Parts needed a new home. It was sharing 4,000 sq ft with a trailer repair shop, and had no loading dock or staging area, and only a very small counter.

The answer was next door.

DeCarolis purchased an adjacent three-acre corner property and embarked on the task of refurbishing the existing tool and dye building, a four-wall structure designed as a machine shop. DeCarolis constructed divider walls — partitions that separate the lobby from the counter, warehouse, and shipping area — and retrofitted the building to its standards. The exterior was repainted, and a parking lot was blacktopped and striped. In the end, only the roof and four walls stayed the same.

Davis, who has been involved with the opening of DeCarolis facilities in Binghamton, Buffalo, and East Syracuse, was the primary designer of the new parts building. Collaborating with DeCarolis employees — some of whom have been in heavy duty parts for up to 20 years — he incorporated things that were used in other DeCarolis buildings along with the best things he has noticed about other facilities.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What would we like to see if we were a customer? What's the impression we would have if we walked in?’” Coons says. “Paul's big focus is on what a customer sees and his first impression. He's big on making everything look clean and up to standards.”

“The showroom point-of-sale retail has been a big part of our increased sales and margin,” Davis says. “We have 1100 sq ft of shelving and islands that can rotate around and change stock. A customer can walk in and grab products and do that impulse buying.

“You walk in and there's an 1100-sq-ft showroom and a 24' counter with three manned computer stations. We have a purchasing office, shipping office, and employee area. Everything is laid out by product line. Before, it was difficult to put stock away and pull stock and service a customer in an acceptable amount of time. It's less than half of the time now. It's been a huge advantage to us.”

All computers are point-of-sale and Internet-based. DeCarolis is working to get quick links on the screen to vendor catalogs, which will speed up the process of serving the customer.

Inventory changes

The expanded warehouse gives the company a better handle on inventory.

“We're certainly able to carry more lines and more depth in each line,” Coons says. “It allows us to purchase better because the purchasing people can see what we have and what we need. We've actually reduced inventory by having a better control on it. We've tried to stick to JIT-style inventory and being able to see. We've probably reduced our inventory by $150,000 — most of it slow-moving and obsolete things.”

DeCarolis had hired three people — taking the staff to 15 — and is looking to hire two more.

“We have people dedicated to keeping the showroom current with seasonal products and stock,” Coons says. “They take ownership and pride in what they're doing.”

He says DeCarolis' position in the heavy duty parts marketplace is solidified by the company's customer-driven model.

“The parts market is a mature market in that there aren't new monies coming into this type of industry,” he says. “In a technological industry, new technology and new products are available, whereas in our industry, it's rather mature.

“As a matter of fact, with longer warranties and longer-life products, the aftermarket business is suffering a bit. We think our position is an advantage because we are customer-need and service driven. We will get whatever the customer needs when he needs it. We don't just do parts. We do shop supplies, cleaning supplies — anything that a transportation company would need, whether they be a repair facility or leasing company.”

From the very beginning, Louis DeCarolis Sr knew that the only way he could support his customers' needs was by expanding DeCarolis Truck Rental's multidimensional image with a wide range of products and services.

Truck leasing, once the domain of giant companies, has become lucrative for a number of small, regional firms. In recent years, changes in the industry, including deregulation, convinced many executives that they did not need to own a fleet of trucks. Leasing became an option to enhance their bottom lines by eliminating excessive payroll and business expenses. Executives preferred to deal with local vendors with proven track records for reliability and trustworthiness. This paved the way for regional leasing companies.

Top company

Out of this evolution, DeCarolis — which has been recognized many times as one of Rochester's 100 top companies by the Chamber of Commerce — became one of the “new breed” of regional companies that demonstrated it could successfully capitalize on the potential of truck leasing.

The company was the vision of Louis Sr, who bought a truck and used it to transport migrant workers to and from farmers' fields. Shortly after that, Clapp's Baby Food asked him to haul produce to its processing plant. DeCarolis Trucking Company was born.

In the early years, DeCarolis specialized in heavy-duty trucking and outside repairs, sometimes renting out its own equipment to customers. Later, it added a truck terminal, and expanded into warehousing in the 1950s. The business grew quickly with the addition of a truck stop, a Diamond Reo truck dealership, a Thermo King refrigeration franchise, and a rental and leasing company.

Louis Sr died in 1961, and was succeeded by his two sons, Louis Jr and Paul. When Louis Jr was killed in a plane crash in 1966, Paul assumed command and began to phase out the sales and outside service business to concentrate exclusively on the rental and full-service leasing.

Fleet and customer needs grew as customers looked to DeCarolis for other services. Trailers became a prized commodity, with hundreds added to the fleet. Sizes increased from 40' to 53'. Paint and collision demand intensified, and DeCarolis' state-of-the-art paint booth was the only one in the Rochester area that could accommodate large trucks and trailers.

New corporate headquarters were built in 1980 on 15 acres at 333 Colfax St — just one mile from where Louis Sr opened his first truck stop. A maintenance facility was attached that would serve as an additional transportation resource for customers owning their own fleets, as well as for specialized work on DeCarolis-owned equipment.

Greater capacities

This new maintenance facility now had the space, state-of-the-art equipment, and trained specialists to handle more in-depth paint and collision work, as well as perform any phase of van body and trailer repairs. Fabrication, frame modification, and after-market installations were much-needed services for DeCarolis' transportation customers.

The growing customer base was traveling more frequently in other upstate cities, and over-the-road customers were starting to travel coast to coast and border to border. DeCarolis, to support these customers, became affiliated with Ameriquest, a nationwide network of independent truck leasing companies.

The Buffalo branch opened in 1987. With a shop and rental and lease base, DeCarolis now had service and support for its Rochester customers and the springboard to build more full-fledged branch operations. Steady growth warranted a new state-of-the-art facility in 1996.

In 1988, the Syracuse branch opened after the purchase of DeLuxe Leasing, a major storage trailer competitor. Originally, it was intended to operate only as a storage trailer business and provide emergency maintenance services for current customers traveling in the area.

Almost immediately, DeCarolis began renting and leasing power equipment and further establishing a base to provide complete transportation services. As this business grew, a new Syracuse facility was built in 2000.

Other branch facilities, in Geneva, Henrietta, and Perry, were created to support the needs in those areas.

DeCarolis' fleet of 3,000 vehicles travel over 45 million miles annually and are supported by a staff of over 170. That's a far cry from one truck transporting migrant workers to and from farmers' fields.

“You take a look at the past five years at how many small and medium-sized businesses — even large businesses — have failed,” says marketing coordinator Rob Merlo, “and we're still going strong. We're anticipating growth in the future. We're extremely proud of the fact we've been around for 65 years.”

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