Conventional wisdom says that truck equipment and truck trailer sales just don't mesh. But then, there's not a lot that's conventional about the new Utility Trailer Sales of Boise facility in Boise, Idaho. But there is wisdom in getting extra business from a territory that the company already serves.
Not many trailer dealers have a fully equipped Reading service body mounted on a Ford Super Duty as the featured product in their showrooms. But then again, not many truck equipment distributors have a parts counter designed to look like a Utility 3000R refrigerated trailer.
It all combines in an unconventional way that allows this veteran company to generate revenue that it would otherwise not produce if it operated strictly as a truck equipment distributor or a trailer dealer.
But before we write of conventional wisdom as wrong, let's talk to Steve Bowman, the company's truck equipment sales manager as well as trailer sales.
“You can't combine the two,” he says flatly.
Okay, so what's going on?
Bowman is one of the few people at the Utility Boise operation whose responsibilities span trailers and truck equipment hats. Virtually everyone else in the company operates either on the truck equipment side or is involved in some facet of trailer sales, parts, or service. The twain does not meet, except maybe at the water cooler.
“We are really separate businesses operating under one roof,” Bowman says. “I have been in the truck equipment business for 43 years. I don't think you can make this work any other way.”
Both operations — Utility Trailer Sales of Boise and Utility Truck Equipment Sales — in effect are two companies operating under one roof. Utility Trailer Sales of Boise does exactly what the name implies, operating as a Utility Trailer dealer. Utility Truck Equipment Sales is a distributor serving the same general area as the trailer operation. Both are subsidiaries of Utility Trailer Sales of Idaho, the parent company that also owns a separate operation in Idaho Falls, 280 miles east of Boise.
The company sells Reading service bodies; Omaha Standard farm bodies, platforms; and service bodies; Crysteel dump bodies; and Morgan vans. Truck equipment lines include Auto Crane cranes and bodies, Monroe Truck Equipment spreaders and large snowplows, Versa Lift aerial devices, Waltco and Maxon liftgates, and Western snowplows.
Utility of Boise got into the truck equipment business because the company was able to hire the people that enabled the company to do so. Bowman had been the branch manager for a truck equipment distributor in Boise. When he could not buy the operation, he went to work for the Utility trailer dealership.
“We started selling truck equipment here in 1989,” Bowman says. “We have been able to grow it to a $6-7 million a year business. That's in addition to the money we bring in through our trailer business.”
Bowman supervises a trailer sales staff and another for truck equipment. The two outside sales reps for Utility Trailer Sales of Boise are responsible for the entire Utility Trailer line, along with Carrier Transicold refrigeration units.
Making the sale
Three people sell truck equipment, but they also represent the CPS line of dump trailers.
“That's our main overlap between trailers and truck equipment,” Bowman says. “We sell our dump trailers through our truck equipment operation because the same customers who buy dump bodies also buy trailers.”
The sales guys split the territory geographically. In the case of truck equipment, one rep handles the west Boise market and travels north to the Canadian border, one handles the east Boise market and travels east to the Wyoming border, and the other sells into eastern Oregon and northern Nevada.
Truck equipment sales reps need to know their stuff. That's especially true if they are working under the same roof that houses a trailer dealership.
“One of our jobs is to keep truck dealers out of trouble,” Bowman says. “We need to be truck experts who know the chassis as well as the bodies and equipment, to know what will work and what won't. We've succeeded at that. People call us all the time for advice about modifying chassis and mounting equipment. We get a lot of questions, especially about truck frames. Fortunately, we have some people who have been in this business 20 years or more who know what they are talking about.”
Multiple companies, one building
The two Boise operations had outgrown their previous location, leading management to build a new home — one that keeps the two companies separate yet provides the efficiencies of operating within the same site.
The 66,000-sq-ft facility, built on a 24-acre site, has a total of 27 bays. It replaces a nine-bay shop that included a covered bay outside.
“A lot of times, our technicians were working the equivalent of 19 bays,” Bowman says. “That's how much we were having to work outside. It can get 15 or 20 degrees below zero here in Boise in the winter. Not surprisingly, our shop guys are really glad we moved.”
Getting what they wanted
Utility of Boise has it all under roof and surrounded by walls now. And consistent with the philosophy of keeping trailers and truck equipment activities separated, the two shops are walled off from one another, although the real purpose of the wall is to control the noise that tends to be generated in the trailer rebuild bays.
“Truck equipment and trailer shops really don't have all that much in common,” Bowman says. “The two shops perform two different types of jobs, and the technicians have to have different skills.”
The new facility provides the company with eight truck equipment bays, five bays for working on refrigeration units, eight trailer repair bays (including three that are equipped for performing complete trailer rebuilds), three bays that are set up as a fabrication shop, and three dedicated to paint operations — one bay each for washing, prep, and paint application.
Utility of Boise broke ground on the new facility in 2007, and the company moved into the new location in October 2008.
Long before the first shovel hit the ground, management was talking in detail with its employees to find out what could be built into the new shop to improve productivity, quality, and comfort.
“We sent a questionnaire to all of our employees,” says Sean Kilkenny, president. “We redrew our plant probably 100 times trying to get it right. Our goal was to get the right flow and optimum efficiency.
“After we heard from everyone, we had meetings with all the managers. Now that it's built and we've been in it awhile, I can honestly say that we have no regrets on any part of the design. We got to build our dream place.”
Not surprisingly, getting out of the weather was big on the wish list. The new location brings everyone inside, with three times the bays that the company had at its old location. But being able to work inside was a given in designing the shop. The big question was where to put everyone. How should the shop be designed to minimize lost motion and how should it be equipped?
Painting for the first time
For the first time in its history, Utility of Boise has its own paint booth — a 65-ft × 16-ft × 16-ft downdraft model capable of accommodating today's longer trailers with room to spare. Along with the paint booth, the company built in a wash bay and another bay to prep equipment for painting.
“At our old location, we had to farm out our painting,” Bowman says. “It was costing us $350,000 a year. Even with a downturn in the economy, our paint booth stays busy all the time. We use it for our own work, and we also paint for other companies.
Utility of Boise also acquired a paint kitchen, giving the company the ability to match truck and tractor paint schemes. Sherwin-Williams paint is standard.
Moving the steel
The shop also provides more space for steel storage and light fabrication.
“It's a service that the truck equipment guys use most, so we located it next to the truck equipment installation bays,” Bowman says. “And since truck equipment uses a lot of parts, we made sure that the parts warehouse was close by.”
Material handling has been substantially upgraded, Bowman says.
“We always had a crane problem at our old place,” he says. “We solved that with three bridge cranes that cover the entire truck equipment area. We do the same thing on the trailer side, but the need isn't nearly as great. A single bridge crane is working well there.”
Managing the operations
The company combines its parts sales into a single operation.
“It's hard to find people who know truck equipment, trailer, and refrigeration unit parts,” Kilkenny says.
Maybe so, but the company was able to find 10 people to work in its parts operation. Three are in outside sales, two work the front counter, two drivers handle pickups and deliveries, and the three in the warehouse keep the shelves organized while also serving the needs of the trailer, refrigeration and truck equipment technicians. A single parts manager supervises the department with help from a warehouse manager.
On the service side, Utility of Boise employs separate managers for its truck equipment and trailer shops. Each major area within those shops has its own foreman. An operations manager oversees parts and service.
“Our operations manager makes sure the two departments are pulling together,” Bowman says. “Things can get very territorial otherwise. The operations manager has an interest in both departments. Sometimes he has to serve as a mediator — the parts department needs space. Service needs space. Sometimes both departments need steel. We aren't unique in this — it's something I think that is built into the nature of parts and service departments. An operations manager can help things work smoothly.”
Utility of Boise is in its second generation of management. Sean Kilkenny's father, Jack, started the company in 1973 after working 11 years for Utility's dealership in Salt Lake City. Sean Kilkenny has been running the company since his father died in 2000.
Under Sean's direction, the company opened the Idaho Falls branch in 2002. The location provides parts and service for the eastern portion of the state. Sales remain based in Boise.
Kilkenny isn't finished. He recently bought 10 acres in Spokane, Washington. The property is 425 miles north and west of Boise, but it's right across the street from a new truck stop.