Teaming up to sell truck equipment

IF TWO HEADS are better than one, imagine what three can do.

Stan Coveleskie and John Murray did not necessarily have that cliché in mind when the two distributors agreed to link their two truck equipment operations almost four years ago. Nor did they do so with the intention of adding a third company 18 months later.

But the benefits the three companies have received by forming a fourth — Florida's Body Company — have been evident to all.

Coveleskie's SIA Truck Bodies, Murray's General Truck Equipment, and Bob Frey's Truck Equipment Sales are all strong in their respective markets. From its location in Largo, Florida, SIA covers the greater Tampa Bay area on Florida's Gulf Coast. General Trailer handles the Jacksonville area on the Atlantic coast. With the addition of Truck Equipment Sales, the partnership can blanket northern and western Florida. Truck Equipment Sales is headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, but it also has branches in Dothan, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida. The three locations enable the company to cover southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The three distributors generally represent the same lines in adjacent territories. Together they form an even stronger presence in a market that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.

Synergy

Under the partnership, the three companies perform warranty work for each other, swap inventory, and install equipment that one of the other partners sold. The arrangement also lowers delivery charges to the customer, strengthens the total buying power of the three partners, and enables them to do a better job representing their suppliers.

“We have a mutual trust that when one of us does warranty or installation work for the other, the work will be done right,” Coveleskie says. “That's because we share a common interest.”

Each company brought something different to the table when they formed Florida's Body Company.

“John's is a diverse company with strengths in a lot of areas,” Coveleskie says. “Bob is especially strong in the municipal business. One of our strengths is with our Ford truck pool program.”

Florida's Body Company is a legal corporation, but its members retain their independence. Yet when the assets of the three companies are added together, the sum is an entity with 30 acres of land, 143,000 square feet of buildings, and more than 200 employees — 26 of whom are sales personnel or managers with an average of 15 years' experience.

Florida's Body Company does not generate a single sale. Rather, each individual company gets credit for the sales that it generates.

Even so, the partnership does require some scorekeeping, and SIA is responsible for the accounting. Computer technology is a forte at SIA, thanks in large part to the custom management system developed by David Goodwin, a graduate of Microsoft training programs who now works for SIA.

“We call it ‘D-Soft’ because it's David's software,” Coveleskie says. “With it, every terminal in our company can access everything our employees need. It is password-restricted. Some stations have the ability to read and write. Others simply read what's in the system.”

D-Soft works in conjunction with Spokane Computer's TE Quote.

“It's a work in process,” Goodwin says of the Visual Basic programming he has created to work with Microsoft Access. “It started as a tool to handle our management of pool chassis. We just kept adding modules.”

Getting it right

Coveleskie credits the software for helping the company eliminate mistakes — from quoting the equipment to delivering completed vehicles.

“Our sales mistakes were down 90% the first year we had the program in operation,” Coveleskie says. “Mistakes also were reduced in the shop because the system lets mechanics know what's coming, when, and makes sure they have what they need to produce the truck that the customer ordered.”

SIA mechanics are compensated by means of a flat-rate system. A frequent complaint of flat-rate systems is the amount of administrative work required to make sure each mechanic is paid accurately. The company's computer system tracks each mechanic, each job performance, and determines what he earned on each.

“The system allows us to accurately track the number of hours we have in fabrication, installation, and paint,” Coveleskie says. “It really helps us plan our labor needs.”

Coveleskie started SIA in 1991 after an extended stint working for his father-in-law, John Borbeau, at Keyser Trailer. As one experienced in working with family members, Coveleskie had given considerable thought to family businesses when his son Trak joined the company six years ago.

When Trak joined the company, he had to agree to a series of 20 points that Stan Coveleskie had developed. Among them:

  • You are always my son, but you may not always be my employee.

  • We will not argue in public.

  • We will call each other by our first names while at work.

  • We will not discuss business at home.

  • You will be provided an opportunity to work here, not a guarantee.

  • You will work harder and longer than any other employee.

  • You will get to work before me and will leave after I do.

  • Your performance will be reviewed often and fairly.

  • I will pass the baton to you when you are ready.

“Virtually every day, I give Trak a lesson on what I have learned in 37 years,” Coveleskie says. “I think we have made a good team. We combine experience with youthful exuberance.”

Apparently so. The father and son presented a session at the recent Work Truck Show explaining the 20 points and how they work.

Future move?

Looking back, Coveleskie and his partners have been pleased with the results of Florida's Body Company and are looking to expand the relationship to South Florida.

As Coveleskie sees things, Florida has four major population centers — Fort Lauderdale-Miami, Tampa-Saint Petersburg, Orlando, and Jacksonville. With its current arrangement, Florida's Body Company has them all covered except for Fort Lauderdale-Miami.

That void has Coveleskie looking south.

“We really need a presence in South Florida,” he says. “We either need to bring someone to the table or open a new shop of our own.”

When that happens, the partnership really will be Florida's Body Company.

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