Utility Trailer Sales Southeast Texas sets up a one-stop shop with ten times the space and a variety of products that drive sales

Oct. 1, 2008
If the parts-display area at Utility Trailer Sales Southeast Texas' old location in Pharr was more like a convenience store, then consider the parts-display

If the parts-display area at Utility Trailer Sales Southeast Texas' old location in Pharr was more like a convenience store, then consider the parts-display area at the new facility a full-fledged supermarket.

At the old facility, the parts display was 900 square feet, occupying a cramped 30'×30' area. The counter was small and most of the parts weren't even in view — they were stored in the warehouse.

At the new 57,000-square-foot facility — which opened in June 2007 — parts are king. The display area is more than 10 times bigger — 12,000 square feet — and is anchored by a counter consisting of the front and side section of a 52' reefer, furnished with six computer terminals.

Just like in a supermarket, the front of the room has aisle end sections featuring eye-catching items designed to stimulate sales. In many cases, they are items that customers would not expect the facility to carry — such as Freon and hose kits for recharging systems.

“We rotate product quite a bit on the end caps,” says parts manager Robert Garza. “We'll bring something up here and show it so customers know we have it. Once we've established that, we'll move it and bring something else up, so we're constantly showing something a customer might not think we have. We want to be a one-stop shop. We have whatever a customer needs for a pickup truck or big rig.”

Just like a supermarket, the area has shopping carts and baskets. That's not something Garza would ever have thought to have in the old location because that area was so small and so parts-shy that large-scale shopping was not encouraged.

“Generally, when people come in now, they see a few more items than they came for,” says Jonny Loring, president/general manager of Utility Trailer Sales Southeast. “They'll say, ‘I need this, and oh, I need that.’ Usually, they walk out with more than they came for. They'll come in waves. Guys are coming with their family. We didn't ever see that across the street at the old location.”

Says Garza, “You'll see them walking down aisles and putting things in their cart like they're at a supermarket. This is more family-friendly, I guess you could say. Before, their wives would sit in the car and wait. Now the wives come in and might see something and say, ‘This might make a good Christmas present.’ “

The concept has been heartily endorsed by Loring's father, Jon, CEO of Utility Trailer Sales Southeast. Five years ago, he used it at the Houston location on Wallisville Road, 345 miles northeast of Pharr. Even though it is just seven miles from the other Houston location on Blaffer Street, they found that the Blaffer sales actually went up while Wallisville kept growing.

Jonny says that despite the economic downturn, parts sales are up $50,000 in Pharr over what they were in the 12-month period before the move to the new facility.

“We're stocking $900,000 in parts inventory,” Jon says. “And if you're stocking that much, you're selling a good bit.”

The sales have been fueled by the increased popularity of items that were not moving as well or being displayed at the old location — chrome parts and accessories, along with safety-related products.

“In this part of the world, they like chrome and lights,” Jon says.

“A lot of flash, lot of chrome,” Robert adds.

“In Houston, they sell a lot of air bags,” Jon says. “Our market is different. We don't have that down here. For example, we sell more brakes. People do their brake jobs here. In Houston, they send them more to the shop. There are just more owner-operators down here. Owner-ops are just about on the way out around the nation, but down here, they're more prevalent. These guys are individuals and probably have been in business for themselves for so long, it'd be hard for them to work for somebody else.”

Garza says their customers include a few major fleets, smaller regional fleets, and owner-operators, most with between four and 10 trucks.

“We've got customers with 1500 trailers and others with 10 trailers,” Jon says, “and the 10-trailer customer is just as important to us.”

Says Garza, “Every customer is an individual customer, and we treat them as fairly as possible. We get them what they need in a timely fashion.”

Since the Mexican border is just eight miles away, that is a huge part of the facility's business.

“Most of our Mexico business is walk-in customers who buy product and install it themselves,” Garza says. “The other Mexico business we do is through agencies, where we bring in orders and deliver them to the agency and process the paperwork through that agency. With a few, we have established accounts.”

Says Jon, “We started going to Mexico in the late ‘70s. We know a lot of people. If you treat people the way you want to be treated, over the years everybody knows you're going to be honest with them. You've got to make money when you're in business. But you don't have to make it all at once. Just grow your business and keep growing it. And do it in such a way that everybody's happy.”

“A lot of it is word of mouth,” Garza says. “If somebody comes in and gets treated right, it spreads quickly. A lot of people found out right away where our new location was. We only moved across the highway. But believe me, people found out the way the facility was set up, and they were coming in here. They were saying, ‘So and so told me. He already came in and said I need to come look at it.‘

“Word is spreading through the grapevine. Truckers communicate. If you treat them right, they talk good about you. If treat them wrong, they talk very bad about you. And the bad spreads a lot quicker than the good. We're doing the right thing, because it's spreading to the good.”

Then there's the Utility name.

“Everybody knows there's quality there,” Jon says. “They test their product before they put it out on street. They know it's going to do good. And if there is a problem, they will take care of it.”

Known to all

Marketing is limited to a flyer program and advertising in a local-level truck magazine.

“In this particular area of the Rio Grande Valley, everybody pretty much knows everybody, almost from Laredo to Brownsville,” Jon says. “They know we're here because we've been here so long.”

The parts-display area has six sections of gondolas, plus extensive wall space.

“To utilize the most of our wall space, we went with flat wall, which is more expensive but for the money is well worth it,” Garza says. “We can hang tons of LED lights and anything that has display potential. We have tons and tons of different LED lighting. We've gone above and beyond, just to accommodate all the guys with trucks, having them nice and neat. LED lighting is a plus when you want to be seen, not just for DOT reasons.

“We use that display all along the north wall and west wall, which gives us no wasted space. On the end, we went with shelving for basic bigger objects like air filters, cam shafts, and U-bolts.”

Garza says the area was set up to make it easy to instantly see the variety of items available. An attempt was made to group similar items together.

One area has lights and cargo control — tarps, straps, bungees, winch bars. There's an electrical aisle, which also includes air brakes and slack adjusters. Farther on down are air hoses and air valves. Then suspension products and all kits, studs, and nuts. In the next section, fasteners and door products. There's also a section for all hinges for any kind of trailer, a section for safety products such as strobe lights, safety lights, headlights, and flares, and another one for bearings, seals, and hubcaps.

“I chose to have open space in the back for display purposes,” he says. “Here we have every kind of mud flap you can imagine, toolboxes, wheels, seats. Back here we can put cab guards, quarter fenders, half fenders. We have bumpers on racks. Along the wall is all chrome — anything they want to add to a truck.

“It's all in the open concept. We don't frown on the customer coming in and saying, ‘Well, maybe this is it. Can I open this box?’ By all means go ahead. The customer is free to shop and look.

“We have catalogs for specific items that we don't stock. We'll special order. We do a lot of customer requests. I think that's something a lot of companies don't do anymore. You come in and say, ‘I need this gizmo for this ‘38 truck.’ Well, if we don't have it, we're going to find it for you. We're not going to send you somewhere else. We bring it in from anywhere we need to. We bring in pieces from everywhere from New York to Oregon. We'll take that extra step to bring the customers to us and keep them. Purchase orders come onto my desk every day where we bought some gizmo and brought it in for a customer. If it's something that you're going to be needing on a constant basis, we'll stock it for you.”

And they stock a lot of unexpected products: jack stands, wash brushes, oil filters for tractor-trailers and Thermo King units, oil products.

“This retail space has made a big, big difference in how we can take care of customers on a daily basis,” he says. “And all 12,000 square feet are in AC. Its' not like they're in a warehouse, all sweaty and sticky.”

Jonny says 75% of Pharr's parts sales are walk-in and 25% delivery. They have three delivery vehicles, with daily local delivery and scheduled days for other areas in south Texas.

Through their ADP inventory system, they run a weekly stock order report to track what to bring in.

“It tells us how many pieces of each product were sold each week, and we order based on that order history,” Garza says. “Some of the fast-moving items we always bump up a little bit so we don't run out. We overstock a little bit, but not too much. Our main key is customer service and not running out of parts. We don't want the customer to walk in and discover we have run out.”

The evolution

When Garza started working at the Pharr facility in 1990, there was not even a service area. Service technicians worked off an uncovered 40'×40' concrete slab — rain or shine. Three trailers served as the storage area for drums, extrusions, springs, and landing gear.

The service area arrived in 1992, along with service manager Joe Stephens.

In subsequent years, they kept adding to the property to increase the size to 10.5 acres, but the result was a facility that was not as efficient as they wanted it to be.

“It wasn't laid out right,” Jon says. “It was a T-shaped property, long and narrow. We got an acre at a time. It was just pieced together. We started with one building — the office and our parts department — then added the service department, which was not attached to the main building. Then we attached the parts warehouse to the opposite end. Then we put both buildings together, and added more space to warehouse. Things got very crowded. And it was just a mudhole over there.”

Says Jonny, “It was operable. But the guys work hard and deserved a better place.”

When they moved across Highway 281 to occupy the 18-acre spread, they leased 4.5 acres of the old property and left the rest vacant, with plans to lease it.

The new facility is the company's largest and includes a 9600-square-foot parts warehouse, 10,000 square feet of office space, and a 14-bay shop.

Garza and Stephens (now the service manager in Houston) were instrumental in designing it, taking the best aspects of the 40,000-square-foot Wallisville Road location and adding a bit more space.

“With everything we've ever built, we ran out of room, for the most part,” Jonny says. “With this one, we still have room to grow. We have a back slab already laid so that we can add another six bays for future growth, so it would be a 20-bay shop.

“We made the retail space bigger than in Wallisville. We have a service department, which Wallisville doesn't have. We made space to have a service parts man incorporated in the back, so he can service the mechanics from the back window instead of them having to come to the front counter. Our previous shop wasn't logistically sound — the parts warehouse and mechanics were separated by a lot of space.”

The parts warehouse is encased in fencing, with aisles separating the racks where all overstock and bulk items are stored.

“Everything is inside, with the exception of suspensions,” Garza says. “We order 20 of them at a time, so we don't have space for them inside. But everything we used to have outside in the old building is now inside: rails, aluminum extrusions — all on cantilevered racking. We are a lot more efficient because everything here is on a rack. If somebody looks in the system for a part number, you're going to find it with not a lot of confusion. For inventory purposes, it's easier.

“It's much cleaner. In the old place, when you went to cut aluminum rails in 100-degree heat, that was not the best place to be. You were going to burn your fingers just touching that thing. Here, being inside keeps everything nicer and newer looking and in better packing. That's what we want customer to see — we are striving to be better at what we do so we have parts that look like they are well-kept. That's a key for when you buy something. That's a plus.”

New service manager Rudy Liendro, who served as interim service manager in San Antonio until December, says they have been adding new equipment on a monthly basis, including a 20-ton lift jack two months ago.

He sings the praises of the new facility.

“This is a lot wider between bays than most facilities,” he says. “There's room so that we can easily move toolboxes or forklifts or heavy equipment. We can move scissor jacks without having to worry about hitting another trailer. In San Antonio, it is not as wide. The mechanics really enjoy it. They're not bumping or hitting anything.”

They're also enjoying the temperature. At the previous shop, there were only two small doors on the north side. In this shop, there are nine doors facing south and five doors facing north, facilitating the air flow from the southerly breeze.

“It's a nice place to come work,” Garza says. “I feel morale has picked up. When you come into a newer facility, I kind of see people taking care of the facility. They want to keep it looking nice. They want to keep their areas nice and tidy. It does make a big difference.

“We have a place to grow here. We can grow the mechanics and the bays. The guys are happy. It's a good feeling to want to come to work. Not a lot of people want to go to work every day. But when you can enjoy a place you go to, that's one of the keys to making a successful run. The Lorings have made sure in their whole group that employees are happy and their needs are being met. A family business has its perks.”

Long-time parts manager Robert Garza has found great success with Pharr's 12,000-square-foot parts-display area.

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.