Jim Durham, sales manager, and Alex McKeown director of marketing and advertising, are part of the new management team at the 85-year-old Hoekstra Truck Equipment in Grand Rapids MI. Family owned throughout its history, Mark Hoekstra is now president of the company.
Jim Durham, sales manager, and Alex McKeown director of marketing and advertising, are part of the new management team at the 85-year-old Hoekstra Truck Equipment in Grand Rapids MI. Family owned throughout its history, Mark Hoekstra is now president of the company.
Jim Durham, sales manager, and Alex McKeown director of marketing and advertising, are part of the new management team at the 85-year-old Hoekstra Truck Equipment in Grand Rapids MI. Family owned throughout its history, Mark Hoekstra is now president of the company.
Jim Durham, sales manager, and Alex McKeown director of marketing and advertising, are part of the new management team at the 85-year-old Hoekstra Truck Equipment in Grand Rapids MI. Family owned throughout its history, Mark Hoekstra is now president of the company.
Jim Durham, sales manager, and Alex McKeown director of marketing and advertising, are part of the new management team at the 85-year-old Hoekstra Truck Equipment in Grand Rapids MI. Family owned throughout its history, Mark Hoekstra is now president of the company.

Hoekstra Truck Equipment, 85 years young, has refreshed facility, fresh approach to market

Aug. 1, 2014
Welcome to the sights, sounds, and smell of an 85-year-old truck equipment distributor getting a facelift...

THE drywall was still damp from joint compound. A fresh splash of paint was on the way. And the smell of new construction was in the air.

Welcome to the sights, sounds, and smell of an 85-year-old truck equipment distributor getting a facelift.

Hoekstra Truck Equipment, a multi-generational, family-owned business has been serving customers in and around Grand Rapids, Michigan, since just before the start of the Great Depression. Been there, survived that. Made it through World War II, too. And the company has successfully handled all the changes that the truck equipment industry has thrown at it over the course of doing business since the 1920s.

Management at Hoekstra places a high value on keeping this veteran truck equipment distributorship current—if not ahead of the game.

“What works today won’t work tomorrow,” says Alex McKeown, director of marketing and advertising.

Hoekstra completely redid its offices this spring and summer. A new customer waiting area will be ready for a rush of customers when the snow begins to fall.

The company, now in its fourth generation, is in the process of changing a variety of things—starting with the major update of the offices. The entire office area has been gutted. The subsequent redesign has two major goals: to more effectively welcome customers and to foster teamwork among employees.

First, the welcome mat for customers.

“We never had a customer waiting area before,” McKeown says. “That’s especially important during the winter when we have a lot of snowplow customers waiting for their trucks to be ready. In the past, they had been waiting in our employee break room.”

The new waiting area is one of the first things visitors notice as they enter the redesigned Hoekstra offices. Furnished much like the family of a home, the focal point of the area is a big-screen television that can deliver entertainment or double as a digital message board.

And now for the teamwork.

The office area is wide open now. Defined, individual territories have given way to sales pods—flat spaces where sales people can work on their laptops, check in with coworkers, and then leave. No walls, no cubicles. When people who usually are working outside the office are in, everyone knows it.

The new office area reflects the new reality of today’s sales approach, providing a place to put a laptop computer, fire off some e-mails, and go back to calling on customers. The open concept was designed to break down barriers to communication and to foster collaboration.

“The idea is to promote collaboration,” McKeown says. “This layout makes it easy for people to work together. This is especially true for our service manager. He spends a lot of his time communicating with our sales people.”

Hoekstra began construction on the project and was expected to complete it this summer.

Plenty to sell

Hoekstra is actually three companies in one:

•  Hoekstra Transportation--a bus distributor representing Thomas Built school and commercial buses; Daimler Sprinter mini buses; ADA vans; and MV-1, a mobility vehicle designed for wheelchair accessibility that meets or exceeds the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

•  Hoekstra Specialty Vehicles-- a dealership for Freightliner Sprinter Vans that specializes in designing and equipping Sprinter vehicles. “We are the largest Sprinter dealer in Michigan,” says Jim Durham, sales manager.

•  Hoekstra Truck Equipment, a full-line truck equipment distributor. Like many in the business, Hoekstra’s truck equipment operation employs three channels to sell its products: truck dealers, end users, and municipalities.

Snow and ice control equipment play a big role in the Hoekstra product mix. In order to level out some of the seasonality, the company has been strengthening its contra-cyclical line-up of lawn and garden equipment. With many of their snowplow customers working as landscapers the rest of the year, Hoekstra has taken on the Gravely line of professional grade lawn mowers and the RedMax line of lawn trimmers and blowers.

“We added these products about two years ago,” Durham says. “They have helped us have products to offer these customers all year long.”

Hoekstra covers the western half of Michigan with a sales staff of three, including Durham. One of them, Greg Mielezarek, is a certified arborist, enabling him to identify with the needs of landscaping customers.

New management software

In addition to their locations in Grand Rapids, Hoekstra Transportation and Hoekstra Special Vehicles also have a facility in Troy, Michigan, just north of Detroit.

With three companies under the corporate umbrella and operations in both eastern and western Michigan, communication can be a challenge. Hoekstra, however, has addressed that with new dealer management software from Procede Software.

Hoekstra bought the cloud version of the company’s Excede software. Hoekstra’s data is hosted on the Excede DMS remote application, providing Hoekstra personnel with access to the information they need, regardless of location.

“All three of our companies are on the cloud service,” McKeown says. “We share the same network, and our field people can easily call up the information they need using their mobile devices.”

Hoekstra sales personnel carry iPad tablets that can access and transmit data over cellular networks.

“We can stand next to a customer truck in the field and show a demonstration video,” McKeown says. “Or we can use it to contact our service department and start a work order.”

Helping customers fight snow

Hoekstra is gearing up for the coming snowplow season.

Like many in the snow and ice control business, last winter produced a banner year for Hoekstra Truck Equipment.

“It was brutal, and it was rewarding, all at the same time,” Durham says. “We were able to keep up with demand—we didn’t run out of stock. But last winter certainly challenged our shop. And the phones are already beginning to ring for this coming season.”

Hoekstra has committed to providing 24-hour service during major snow events.

“We will bring in two service techs, plus someone to run the counter,” Durham says. “We have a full-time service technician and five who normally do upfits. The installers are trained to do repairs, and they are the ones we draw from when we have a major snowstorm. We sometimes have to have everyone we have on duty to make sure we can take care of everyone.”

Hoekstra is in the process of moving much of its inventory inside. Locally built racks have just the right amount of clearance for these service bodies to be moved in with a forklift. When finished, the racks will store 24 service bodies inside the shop. A different set of racks has been designed for storing 18 dump bodies.

Here again, technology can be helpful. With the company’s new computer system, technicians log directly into the system. For routine jobs, they can see on the computer screen a list of all parts required to complete the work on the vehicle.

Showtime on the highway

One of the new ways Hoekstra has chosen to promote its products is with billboards. This year the company has one traditional vinyl billboard and a new digital billboard.

“Our objective is brand recognition,” McKeown says.

The truck equipment operation has the 55,000-sq-ft shop to itself since the bus dealership moved into a separate building in 2001.

Digital billboards lend themselves to a company like Hoekstra whose products are seasonal. After promoting its lawn and garden products this summer, Hoekstra will shift over to its snow and ice products in September.

“We have been rotating several products—Reading, Western, Gravely, as well as a message that promotes our 85th year of doing business,” McKeown says.

Hoekstra Truck Equipment was formed in 1928. Always a family owned business, the company is now under the direction of Mark Hoekstra. ♦

About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.