Équipements Twin, a truck equipment distributor in Montreal, Quebec, uses its extensive inventory to supply a network of subdealers to sell throughout the province. And since acquiring two manufacturing companies and one of its subdealers, Twin has developed a network of truck equipment distributors to market its manufactured products across Canada and into the United States.

Doubling down to win at Équipements Twin

April 5, 2016
Distributor finds it easier to win bids by combining manufacturing, distribution

ÉQUIPEMENTS TWIN was started in 1953 by the father of twins. As the twins grew, so did Équipements Twin. When the twins grew up, the truck equipment distributor left home, too. It was sold to United Auto Parts in the late 1970s.

The Beaulieu family has owned Équipements Twin since 2001. Although there are no twins in the Beaulieu family, the company is more appropriately named now than ever before. That’s because through a couple of big acquisitions and plenty of baby steps, a small truck equipment distributor in a Montreal suburb has done two things—grown into a large truck equipment distributor and an expanding truck and trailer manufacturing operation.

A strong walk-in business is making Twin reluctant to move from its established location in the greater Montreal area.

“At the time we bought Twin, about 50% of the business was distribution,” Louis Beaulieu says. “We decided to expand our distribution considerably. We built up a network of 40 subdealers to help us sell and service snowplows. It’s a good system for both of us. A small company that may only sell three or four snowplows a year is limited in its ability to buy and stock. By serving as a subdealer for us, these companies have rapid access to our inventory and do not have to stock much. Plus, we are right here in Quebec, just as they are. They save freight and get the product they need quickly.

A tablet computer on the parts counter displays a continuously changing slide show promoting the company’s product lines.

“Also, we offer them technical knowledge for installation and help with diagnostics. And we speak French, so there is no language barrier as there could be if they worked directly with a supplier in the United States.

 “The advantage to us is that our subdealers provide us with a marketing presence that enables us to cover all of Quebec. And they do a great job. We estimate that our subdealer network sells about 85% of the snowplows that are mounted on pickup trucks in Quebec.”

Expanding product lines

At the time the Beaulieu family bought it, Twin was known for handling four main product lines—liftgates, tow trucks, winches, and snow and ice equipment.

Équipements Twin manufactures a variety of steel bodies, but distributes aluminum truck bodies such as this Truck Craft platform.

“The company was running well when we bought it. But we also knew that this business is seasonal and cyclical. As soon as we bought it, we began to diversify so that we were not as vulnerable in the four lines that we were selling.”

One of the first steps was to pursue the utility equipment business. Twin added the Reading line of service bodies, along with Time Manufacturing’s aerial devices.

“The utility business in turn led us to doing more business with municipalities,” Beaulieu says. “So we added more lines to help us serve that market, including air compressors and other equipment. Instead of a limited approach, we decided to build the entire truck, and to do that in multiple markets. And we have grown our capabilities to the point that we can do that for all but the most elaborate custom truck. We still manage the project, but we send CAD drawings to a US company when they need a really elaborate design.

”We also farm out some work to local manufacturers. Quebec is not a big market, and there are a lot of small orders. It’s important to us to maintain strong relationships and respect for one another. In our market, sometimes a company is your partner and other times your competitor. Not everyone feels this way, but I think they would if they took a long-term view of things. The market is too small not to.”

Buying into manufacturing

Thanks to Twin acquisitions—a truck body manufacturer that the company took over 2012 and a trailer manufacturer acquired in 2013—Équipements Twin now has its own manufacturing and fabricating operation.

Paint booth is large enough to accommodate two vehicles or a 53’ trailer.

In 2012, shareholders of Équipements Twin acquired the assets of Michel Gohier Ltée (MG), a truck body manufacturer based in the Montreal suburb of Laval. The company, which now serves as the manufacturing arm of Équipements Twin, is ISO 9001 - 2008 certified.

”Having a company like MG gives a distributor like us so much more flexibility,” Beaulieu says. “And it means a lot to some customers that we as a truck equipment distributor have our own manufacturing operation. It’s difficult to bid when you are only the liftgate supplier. Building the body has been the key for us. We have been awarded some big bids since we acquired MG, and we are building some long-term relationships with customers as a result.”

Snow and ice control is a major market for Équipements Twin.

Beaulieu says MG is known for its four-seasons body that can be used in the winter for snow and ice control and as an asphalt hot box throughout the year.

Centralizing manufacturing

 Équipements Twin followed up its MG acquisition by getting Fourgons PME, a small trailer manufacturer also located in the Montreal area.

Équipements Twin acquired Fourgons in September 2013. After operating two manufacturing operations for about two years, Équipements Twin decided to fold the company into the MG facility, located some 10 miles from Fourgons.

The utility market is another major source of business.

The move has enabled the company to achieve some manufacturing efficiencies and to serve a growing number of distributors. From its base in eastern Canada, Twin now supplies a network of distributors that reaches out to the West Coast as well as the eastern USA.

But the company also is looking south for added distribution in other snowy states. Twin exhibited at this year’s Work Truck Show in search of distributors for the line of snow and ice control products that it manufactures.

Branching out

The company has been working to diversify, both in terms of product line and geographically. To supplement the line of steel bodies that the company makes, Équipements Twin distributes aluminum bodies. Its truck body lines now include asphalt boxes, spreaders, and conventional dump bodies.

A Ferrari crane is tested in the Équipements Twin shop.

The company also recently developed an asphalt trailer that can be towed by a pickup truck. Designed for small, emergency pothole repairs, the trailer has its own heating system to keep the asphalt mix hot.

”People that have seen it like it,” Beaulieu says. “We are working now to find ways to engineer some of the costs out of the trailer while maintain its quality and functionality. We also are in the process of making sure it complies with applicable US standards, because we want to be able to sell it there, too.”

 Équipements Twin also has introduced two other prototypes: a snow blower that can be mounted on a pickup, fork lift or small tractor and a small trailer designed for use as a spreader.

“We set a goal to test two prototypes this season to make certain we market the right product,” Beaulieu says. “It’s a niche, but there is a market for a product like this.”

The trailer-mounted spreader is another niche product, this one designed to clear sidewalks.

Liftgates are a popular product with Équipements Twin customers.

“We always find ourselves to be a niche shop,” Beaulieu says. “The MG shop helps make it possible for us to fill those niches. And as upfitters, we are in the process of figuring out the best way for us to make it all work together in the best way we can.”

MG generates about 20% of the company’s sales. The majority of the company’s business still comes from upfitting.

Representing US manufacturers

Many of the lines that Équipements Twin sells are made in the United States. What advantages does the company provide its US suppliers?

Twin builds custom hot asphalt boxes tailored to customer’s need.

“As a Quebec company, we speak the language,” Beaulieu says. “But beyond that, Quebec is a different market. It has its own way of doing things, and we understand how it works.”

The company also markets aggressively, Beaulieu says.

“We invest heavily in trade shows,” Beaulieu says. “We do. And we aren’t just looking for co-op dollars from the suppliers whose products we represent. We spend our money to reach our customers.”

Canadian companies seeking to sell in the US currently enjoy an advantage because of the strength of the US dollar relative to the Canadian dollar—but not as much as one might think.

Équipements Twin acquired the Michel Gohier Ltée plant in Laval, Quebec in 2012. The facility now serves as the manufacturing arm of Équipements Twin.

“We have seen exports grow lately, but we can’t fully discount because much of the equipment we sell contains products made in the US. Those have become much more expensive from a Canadian perspective,” Beaulieu says. “Exchange rates can change quickly. That makes it a challenge—especially if we are bidding a truck containing international products that have long lead times.”

 Équipements Twin does not rely strictly on its subdealers to cover the country. The company also has a staff of outside sales reps, five in parts sales, and four managers who also sell and support the sales staff from its three locations (Montreal, Laval and Quebec City)—including the man, now 73 years old, who managed Équipements Twin when the Beaulieu family bought it.

Upfitting still first

The company, now certified by SSAB as a Hardox fabricator, frequently combines mild steel and Hardox to increase dump body durability.

Sales of snow and ice control equipment have surged now that Équipements Twin can build its own bodies. The company’s primary lines in this market are Fisher and Western snowplows.

Towing equipment is another key product line. Équipements Twin is a distributor for the Miller Industries family of towing bodies.

Liftgates continue to be a major source of sales, just as they were when the Beaulieu family acquired the company 15 years ago. Équipements Twin sells, repairs, and installs liftgates produced by Tommygate, Thieman, and Waltco.

This prototype asphalt trailer is designed for “hot-shot” pothole repair.

Cranes also remain a major product for Équipements Twin—mainly articulated ones. Ferrari provides the largest volume of sales, but Équipements Twin also sells some Stellar cranes and manufactures its own 1,000-lb-capacity model, called the Twin Lift.

Aerial equipment has been the company’s fastest growing market over the last five years. Five technicians specialize in aerial installations and service.

An asphalt trailer is being produced in the Laval facility. Twin is revising the prototype to be more price competitive.

“This market has allowed us to become a major player,” Beaulieu says. “Today, Twin remains one of the rare upfitters certified by Mercedes engineers for the installation of insulated aerials on Sprinter trucks. Plus, we recently became the first North American upfitter to install an insulated unit on a Ford Transit chassis.”

 Meanwhile, the winch business that was strong when the Beaulieu family acquired Équipements Twin 15 years ago remains one of the company’s top lines.

Making improvements

Équipements Twin is relatively new to manufacturing, but the company continuously seeks to do things better.

Équipements Twin has a long-term contract to supply dump trucks to the City of Montreal.

“Manufacturing was a challenge for us simply because we are new at it,” Beaulieu says. “We build good products, but we can always build them better. We hired a consultant to help us analyze everything we do—and not just in the plant. For example, we have examined the time requirements for us to do a drawing in order to reduce our lead time.”

The company also has begun to bring its multiple brands under the Équipements Twin brand.

“It helps us simplify our approach to the market,” Beaulieu says.

It’s been a good 15 years for the Beaulieu family.

Since acquiring Équipements Twin, the Beaulieu family has built up its municipal business with multi-purpose trucks such as this one: Ferrari articulated crane, Stellar hooklift, the company’s own MG dump body or steel deck, and Twin’s own Jessica side underride guards.

“Our grandfather owned a major contracting company, and our father shared its life serving his country in the political front and operating a large road construction company in Quebec,” Beaulieu says. ”When our father passed away, we started looking for something smaller where we could implement our family values.”

 The company is now run by two brothers, Louis as president and Francois as head of logistics

“We are supported by a great team of managers and employees,” Louis says. “But now we have three operations to manage instead of just one. ♦

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.