Ervin Equipment has carved their own business model, which is based around offering the best product at a good price, as conveniently to their customers as possible. Shown are Tim Jones and Tracy Cope, senior sales managers; Jeff Weber, vice-president of sales and marketing; and Chad Strader, senior sales manager.

Why Ervin Equipment does things differently from most trailer dealers

Aug. 1, 2014
It’s easy to get stuck in the norm. To go about business, relationships and life’s endeavors the way you’re taught, as you “should.” Stay in line and don’t step out of the box...

It’s easy to get stuck in the norm. To go about business, relationships and life’s endeavors the way you’re taught, as you “should.” Stay in line and don’t step out of the box.

But one trailer supplier, Ervin Equipment, is in nobody’s tow. They’ve carved their own business model and have been striving to offer the best product at a good price, as conveniently to their customers as possible.

With locations around the U.S., Canada and Mexico, this Toledo, Ill.-based trailer supplier has taken a route well off the beaten path of most trailer dealers.

“Most trailer dealers tend to work their local or regional markets,” says Jeff Weber, vice-president of sales and marketing. “We have a completely different business model. We sell between 7,000 and 8,000 trailers per year because we don’t have any boundaries. We don’t focus on one market, and we don’t focus on one trailer type.”

Nor does the company operate a parts department or a service shop in any of its locations across the country.

“We leave part sales to other companies,” Weber says. “We use mobile service trucks and other local service providers to perform the repairs that our trailers may need. We have a service coordinator whose job is to make sure we are allied with qualified vendors.”

With no shop and no parts department, the primary need for Ervin locations is simply space to store trailers. There, Ervin briefly keeps trailers until the customer takes possession of them.

All of this supports Ervin’s main function: buying, selling, and delivering equipment—new and used.

A good example—in a transaction made with J.B. Hunt last year, the company needed to pull 2,000 trailers from its fleet. Hunt delivered those 2,000 units to Ervin locations throughout the country. Ervin locations include Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Fontana and Stockton, California; Indianapolis; Laredo, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; and York, Pennsylvania.

“But that’s today,” Weber says. “We always have locations in our core markets and add or subtract locations as needed.”

Weber says Hunt wanted to sell all 2,000 trailers to one company. Ervin was able to handle the entire transaction.

Rapid growth

The system is posting some pretty impressive results. The privately held company earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S. last year.

Ervin finished Number 30 on the Inc list of logistics and transportation companies for its performance in 2012. The company was ranked Number 52 among private companies in Illinois.

How it Works

The heart of Ervin’s operation is its sales team and the technology that supports it.

Fifteen people specialize in van sales, with three more selling specialty trailers such as flatbeds, drop-deck and lowbed trailers, container chassis, and tank trailers. Another group handles truck sales.

“We don’t hire anyone for this job who is not aggressive,” Weber says. “You can’t just sit and wait for the phone to ring. That doesn’t happen. Customers want to know what you have, where it is, and when you can deliver. If you don’t have what the customer needs, it’s going to be very difficult to build customer loyalty.”

So who do Ervin sales reps call? For the most part, they use the company’s proprietary database of more than 100,000 companies that Ervin has built up over the course of 30 years. Included in the list are the top 250 trucking companies in the country, mid-size fleets, owner operators, leasing and rental companies, trailer dealers and private carriers.

“Our sales people commute an average of 40 miles each day,” Weber says. “They travel Interstate 57 and Interstate 70 a lot. Both of those highways are popular truck routes. They notice who is on the road.”

Weber is convinced the system enables Ervin to make contact with customers much more frequently than if the sales reps were on the road.

“The buying cycle is so fast now,” he says. “You can’t be content to contact a customer every six to eight months. If you do, you are at the end of the line.”

With a full sales team in Toledo, Weber says they expect 400 trailers per year from each salesman. To do that, he is going to have to make very good use of his time. We are convinced that we have a system in place here that does that.”

The custom software that Ervin uses has become an indispensable tool for monitoring sales performance in detail. The program also tracks what is available. For example, if a customer has an immediate need for 48-foot vans, they can search the system for and get a list of carriers who we know operate 48-foot equipment to check for availability.

It’s what has made Ervin a stand-out supplier. “We are buying and selling equipment every day,” Weber says.

Moving South

For more than 20 years, Ervin has been selling trailers in Mexico. That effort got a boost in 2012 when it took on the sales of Wabash, Transcraft, and Benson trailers for south Texas and all of Mexico. Ervin also uses a centralized sales system to market the country, which is based in Mexico City. Ervin sells approximately 1,000 trailers annually in Mexico.

Other things to sell

In addition to trucks and trailers, Ervin uses the same basic approach to buying and selling agricultural and construction equipment.

“We call it ACT—agricultural, construction and transportation,” Weber says. “We have been looking at opportunities to sell globally if the product falls within ACT.”

It’s a two-way street. Ervin has people who have successfully found opportunities in Central America, Europe, and elsewhere.

“Demand for construction equipment is almost universal,” Weber says. “Needs for transportation equipment are fairly widespread, while agricultural implements tend to be more specialized. The vast majority of what we sell is domestic. But when the U.S. market is down, that means equipment is not being used. If it is not being used here, then where?”

The answer—plenty of places, including Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Qatar, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and China.

Getting started

Greg Ervin started a local sand and gravel pit that enabled him to sell product as well as deliver it. And he quickly saw opportunities buying and selling trailers. The company incorporated in 1991.

“Our goal is to offer quality equipment that we buy back from the customer—American-made products that withstand the test of time and the demands of the road,” says Ervin, founder and CEO.

Weber is optimistic about his company’s future. He says sales have doubled year over year the past five years, a pace that led the company into the Inc list of fastest growing companies.

Last year, Ervin earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S.

“The industry sells about 130,000 new vans annually,” Weber says. “Add in used trailers, and you more than double that number. If we as a trailer dealer sell 10,000 trailers a year, we are just scratching the surface.”

And how will the company grow? Weber likes the way Ervin is doing business today, but he is confident the system will be different five years from now because the market itself will change.

“It just comes down to buying and selling,” Weber says. “And everybody does it differently.” ♦