CREDIBILITY is crucial for truck equipment distributors. Customers literally place their businesses and their employees inside the trucks that distributors assemble. Safety is paramount, as is making sure that the completed truck will do the job it was designed to perform.
So it should not be surprising that building trust is a key component in growing a successful truck equipment operation. It's one reason why programs such as NTEA's Member Verification Program exist. Additional programs are out there, too, and Elpers Truck Equipment in Evansville, Indiana, is involved in them. Specifically: ASE certified technicians and crane inspectors certified by the Crane Institute of America.
“One day we might be selling a wheelchair lift; the next day we sell a crane,” Jim Elpers says. “There are so many aspects to this business, and you have to know what you are doing for each of the hats that you have to wear.
“It's important that customers have confidence in the people who work on their trucks. Having ASE certified technicians in the shop helps. It also helps to take advantage of the training that our suppliers offer. Training is essential in our business.”
Elpers' emphasis on expertise comes through clearly with a visit to the Elpers Truck Equipment website. Yes, visitors can find photos and information about the types of truck bodies and equipment the company handles, but three ideas dominate the home page: the company's status as an MVP member of NTEA (and why that's important), the presence of ASE certified technicians (and why that's important), and the Crane Institute of America's certification of the company's crane inspectors — and why each of these benefits the customer.
“Making the customer aware is important,” Elpers says. “For example, the guidelines for MVP are stringent. They apply to the safety aspects of our shop. They address product liability insurance, which is important to a company that is in the type of business we are in. And they help us structure our business so that we can be more professional.
“A company that meets these standards has more to offer their customers. As distributors, we know what it means, but I'm not sure enough of our customers do. We probably need to do a better job of educating end users about the significance of programs such as this. That goes for NTEA, other MVP members, and our company, too.”
Going to school
Elpers Truck Equipment technicians go to a local tech school for training. When finished, they are certified for hydraulics, electrical, and welding.
“I have six guys in my shop right now,” Elpers says. “Four of them are ASE certified. The other two are helpers.”
Getting certified as a crane inspector is not quite as convenient — requiring a trip from Evansville to Atlanta — but is worth the time and effort, Elpers says.
“It provides us with an extra service that we can offer,” he says. “It is not something that's commonly available in our area.”
The company's inspector is authorized to evaluate cranes with capacities up to 100 tons. The inspection involves searches for cracks and leaks, evaluation of rotation bearings and holding valves, as well as conducting load tests. Larger cranes are required to be inspected annually under Mining Safety and Health Administration regulations. Mining is a major source of the company's crane business.
Servicing service trucks
The company's best market is service trucks.
“That's our forte,” Elpers says. “We have Diamond Authority status with IMT for the sales of service trucks, and we have customers all over the Midwest. It's something we have worked to develop, and we have built a lot of relationships over the years.”
The company provides field service to its customers, using a pickup equipped with toolboxes.
“We have been considering setting up a special truck that could help us expand our capabilities some, but we have been getting the job done with a pickup.”
Back at the shop, the company has technicians who specialize in service trucks. However, these specialists also have been cross-trained to handle the full array of jobs that Elpers Truck Equipment sells.
Elpers Truck Equipment moved into a new shop in 2009. The facility, which includes 7 ½ acres north of Evansville, has made life a lot easier and productive.
“We started in a small, four-bay building in downtown Evansville,” Elpers says. “We quickly outgrew it to the point that we were storing inventory at my farm.”
A small lot in downtown Evansville presented challenges for the company as well. Trailers filled with inventory had to be unloaded from the street.
The new location north of town puts the company near a number of truck-oriented businesses, including Kenworth, Peterbilt, and International dealerships. Penske and Ryder are all in the same industrial park.
The building had been used by a local refuse hauler. Elpers gutted the front of the building, putting in new flooring, knocking out walls to create space for a parts counter. That was pleasant compared with the work that was done in the shop.
“We had to steam clean the shop,” Elpers says. “It was nasty.”
Covering the territory
Evansville is 100 miles from Louisville, 130 miles to Saint Louis, and convenient to most of the company's major customers. Even so, covering the territory involves a lot of travel.
Elpers Truck Equipment has a sales staff of two. One covers the local market, and the other is on the road constantly. Jim Elpers handles a mix of clients in the Evansville area and in more remote markets.
“I have some house accounts that I have taken care of for 25 and 30 years,” he says.
Elpers celebrated 30 years in the truck equipment business last year. Most of that time was spent working for an established company. He started Elpers Truck Equipment in 2003.
“We aren't a real big company,” he says, “but we move a lot of iron through the shop.