Two years ago BRI-MAR Manufacturing was building trailers in a barn. Now the company has 1997 sales of approximately $4 million and was ranked in the July 1997 issue of Entrepreneur magazine as the country's 44th fastest growing small business. Sales are up from $800,000 in 1995 and $2.7 million in 1996. The company now builds trailers from its updated, 26,000-sq-ft facility in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
BRI-MAR builds hydraulically operated light-duty dump trailers with GVW ratings from 3,000-lb to 20,000 lb. BRI-MAR manufactures of 17 standard models of hydraulic dump trailers plus 40 or 50 custom models each year. "The 6 x 10-ft trailer is our most popular model," says Brian Wise, president of BRI-MAR.
As a young company BRI-MAR took its time to narrow its market niche to only light-duty dump trailers. The company initially built a variety of trailers including equipment, utility, and dump trailers, but found that it could be more profitable by focusing on light-duty dump trailers.
According to Wise, demand for this type of dump trailer has increased dramatically in the last 10 years. "The number of roofers and landscapers that use our trailers has risen significantly," says Wise. "Our trailers make up a large part of the market because we offer many models with features that others don't have." Items such as a standard remote control, enclosed battery box, tubular frame, and a reinforced tailgate design have made BRI-MAR trailers popular.
Wise says he was confident of success when he established the company. "There really wasn't any fear that we wouldn't have enough work to stay busy," says Wise. Wise and Marcus Blank, BRI-MAR shop foreman, began the business after leaving another trailer manufacturer where Wise served as the plant manager and Blank supervised welding.
Wise attributes much of the company's success to low overhead costs. "I do all of the purchasing, production control, and inside sales," says Wise. "We were able to enter the market with a quality product at a good price." BRI-MAR also cuts costs by using only one outside salesman and one shop foreman.
Assembly Line Production Wise and Blank designed the plant at BRI-MAR to facilitate fast and efficient trailer production. "Raw materials come in one end of the building and go out the other end as a finished product," says Wise.
All BRI-MAR trailers use hot-rolled steel for their structural and sheet components. Trailer frames and dump bodies are fabricated and assembled near the end of the shop where the raw steel is stored. The partially assembled unit then goes to the next station for weld cleaning and preparation before being painted. Trailers are moved into one of three 15 x 34-ft paint booths where they are sprayed with primer and two coats of PPG acrylic urethane paint.
After being painted, trailers pass to the final assembly area where the lights and Monarch hydraulic power units are added. Depending on the model of trailer, wheels are added to a second axle in the final assembly area. After all systems are tested, the dump trailers are shipped to a BRI-MAR distributor.
A third assembly line has been in operation since November 1997 and a fourth line is planned for 1998. An uncomplicated plant layout provides BRI-MAR with ample room to expand and increase production. "Even if we double our production capacity, we're not increasing our overhead by very much," says Wise. "The additions will not significantly increase costs because of the simple layout of the shop." The fourth assembly line likely will be added in another building at the company's current location next year.
Production procedures at BRI-MAR require that 10 of the same model trailer be built at once. Current production is about 35 trailers per week. A high of 40 is a good week, according to Wise. The shop operates four days a week for 10 hours per day August through February and five days per week for 10 hours a day the rest of the year.
Labor Incentive Program BRI-MAR plant employees are compensated per piece produced. This piecework rate increases production because employees are paid more for higher output. "We base our rates on how much time it initially took us to build the product ourselves," says Wise.
The plant is divided into four sections for small parts welding, trailer welding, painting, and trailer assembly. Sections are paid independently because they sometimes must work at different rates. "Painters and assemblers must work extra hours at times to equalize production, but all our employees are doing well because of the piece rate " says Wise. Piece rate compensation has satisfied the employees as well as furthered the company's rapid growth.
Trailer Sales BRI-MAR sells trailers through 120 dealers in 30 states. Although primarily distributed in the east BRI-MAR has dealers in five states west of the Mississippi.
"We should have dealers in California within six months," says Wise. BRI-MAR self-delivers trailers to dealers that are within about 600 miles. Deliveries of more than 600 miles are made by common carrier in loads of 10 to 12 trailers.
Dean Bercaw, BRI-MAR sales manager, brings suggestions for design changes back from customers and distributors and works with Wise to execute them. Bercaw travels with a special demonstrator trailer that can carry three smaller BRI-MAR trailers for use in sales demonstrations.
BRI-MAR trailers are warranted for one year against workmanship defects. Blank handles quality control in the shop, checks welds on trailers before they are painted, and inspects the entire unit again before it is fully assembled. Trailers are tested for proper operation before being shipped to distributors. A reputation for good service has contributed to BRI-MAR's success. "An ownership partner in the shop makes a difference in the quality of our product," says Wise. "Quality hasn't been a problem."
Past, Present, and Future During its growth over the last two years, BRI-MAR has moved from its initial location on Wise's property to a 5,000 sq-ft building at its current location. The spring of 1997 brought another move into a recently vacated warehouse on the same property. BRI-MAR now occupies both buildings but is using only one for production.
Due to limited space, BRI-MAR was unable to expand production and sales last year as much as Wise would have liked, but he expects that to change rapidly. "We should double in size within the next two years and continue to grow steadily over the next five," says Wise.
Although growing rapidly, BRI-MAR is still able to do most of its bookkeeping work in-house. The company hires an accountant to handle payroll and quarterly financial reports. Wise still does all the work for accounts payable and accounts receivable, but as the owner of the country's 44th fastest growing small business, these days may be limited.