A spacious parts showroom is one of the focal points of the new Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon branch in Redmond OR.

Utility Trailer Sales of Central Oregon powers forward supplemented by the sun, winning energy accolades

April 5, 2017
Solar panels power Oregon trailer dealer toward energy self-sufficiency

Building a new shop is expensive. It’s nice when you at least can get your electricity at no extra charge.

That is one of several benefits that Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon has gained after opening a new branch in Redmond, Oregon.

The system was designed to meet approximately 70% of the building’s needs, but it immediately began generating a surplus when it went on line in late September.

The solar panels are designed to supplement, rather than replace conventional electricity. While the panels produced more power than the company needed in early autumn, Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon began getting electricity from the grid as clouds rolled in later.

“We’ve had a rough winter here this year, and we have had a lot of snow.” says Elizabeth Gallardo, general manager. But rain and snow is not that common here. The area around Redmond is high desert. We normally get 300 days of sunshine per year, which means that we will have a lot of days ahead of us when we will be generating more electricity than we consume.”

Framework will hold a network of solar panels designed to zero out the building’s use of traditionally supplied electricity. Now completed, the solar panels generate a surplus of power, which the company sells back to the power company. The high desert area east of the Cascades averages 300 days of sunshine annually.

The electricity comes from five arrays of solar panel. Each array contains 25 panels. Power produced by the panels flows through an alternative energy meter. The meter calculates what the building’s needs are. If demand is less than what the solar panels produce, the electricity flows onto the grid for sale.

Solar panels commonly are installed on the roof of a building, but Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon chose to have them mounted at ground level.

“We don’t have any roof-mounted panels,” Gallardo says. “We had space available to mount them at ground level. And doing that provides two main advantages. First, they can be installed on the ground so that they get plenty of circulation. This keeps the panels cooler in the summer, which helps their efficiency. They tend to get hotter on the roof. They don’t generate as much electricity when they are hot.

“Second, having them at ground level makes them easier to maintain. There isn’t much to do other than keeping them clean. But we are really glad we didn’t mount them on the roof—especially this winter—because we have had to clean the snow off them so that they would produce more. We have squeegeed a lot of snow.”

Easy decision

Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon chose to install the solar panels for environmental and economic reasons.

The 26,000-sq-ft shop contains eight bays. It has been busy since the branch opened in mid-2015.

“Environmental issues are important in Oregon,” Gallardo says. “We want to be responsible corporate citizens. Clean energy is important to the people here and to the state—Oregon offers some very generous incentives to companies that use solar energy. State and federal grants are available to reduce the cost of these systems.”

Adding solar power has provided financial benefits and has brought Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon positive recognition in an area where the environment is a key issue for most people. Shortly after installing the solar panels, the company received a Climate Champion Award from a major environmental organization. The award is given to companies, government, and individuals that show exemplary leadership in actions that combat climate change.

“While we were designing our new building for Redmond, we thought our location was ideal to utilize solar energy to supplement the building’s power,” Patricia Hilsinger, president of Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon, said at the conference where she received the award. “We enjoy an outstanding climate and quite a number of sunny days in Central Oregon. We were referred to an outstanding local firm who walked us through the possibilities for our property. Once we became aware of all of the available financial incentives—tax credits, grants, and Energy Trust support, it became a no-brainer. Not only are we supporting clean energy, but there is big up-side from an economic standpoint as this system will generate power for our facility long after the project has paid for itself in energy savings.”

Major move

Green energy is but one of the features of the new 26,000-sq-ft facility, the first branch that Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon has opened.

Technician repairs landing gear of a van trailer. One of the shop’s most popular services, however, is paint and body work. The company works on all common types of van trailer sidewalls as well as repairing fiberglass tractor cabs.

“This has been a vision of my mother, Pat Hilsinger, who has been President of Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon for the past 12 years,” Gallardo says. “For 30 years, our Clackamas location has served the I-5 corridor and the Portland metro region, but we recognized a void for trailer service in eastern and central Oregon.”

Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon began filling that void with a full-service branch that includes a large parts retail area and eight service bays to go with sales of new and used trailers. It also has a paint and body operation that has been well received in the early going.

“We are particularly excited about our new 65’ paint booth, because there are no booths of this size for trailers or tractors in this area,” Gallardo says. “Some of our new municipal and government customers such as school districts are happy because they had been sending paint and body work to shops more than four hours away—as far as Washington State. We have been able to provide them with good work and with minimal downtime.”

Teiner Gallardo, Elizabeth’s husband, runs that portion of the operation. With a background in auto body and trailer repair, he helped the department of the new branch get off to a fast start.

Planning ahead

The 65-ft paint booth has been popular with school buses and other government entities that had been sending work as far away as Washington State until Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon opened its Redmond branch in central Oregon.

The new facility is something management had been planning for several years before starting construction. Several sources contributed to the building as it appears today.

Hilsinger gives much of the credit to her 20 group—trailer dealers who share their challenges and solutions with one another.

“Members of my 20 group provided a number of good ideas,” she says. “It also was important to identify a good architect and builder.”

She selected a six-acre site just off U S Highway 87 north of Redmond, the main north-south artery in central Oregon that runs from California to Canada. The company moved into the new facility in July 2015.

Two distinct markets

The original plan was to duplicate the Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon in Clackamas, a suburb of Portland south of downtown, as much as possible. And while that worked out okay, some adjustments were necessary before final plans were complete and construction began.

As is typical for trailer dealerships, the shop is the company’s best parts customer. Roughly half of the parts inventory comes from the Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon headquarters in suburban Portland.

“I designed the shop in Clackamas, too,” Hilsinger says. “We realized that technicians needed bigger bays, so we made these 65 feet long. We also added a little more space between bays so that our technicians had more room to work between trailers.”

The company also fine-tuned the facility after it opened.

“The showroom layout started out as a carbon copy of Clackamas,” Gallardo says. “But we switched things around as we learned more about the Redmond market.”

A mountain range can make a big difference. The Cascades block much of the moisture coming off the Pacific Ocean, creating lush crops on the west side and high desert on the other. Major cities such as Portland and Seattle are on one side of the Cascades. Smaller cities with different economies are on the other.

“The market is different here,” Gallardo says. “Flatbeds are very popular here. Equipment is highly spec’ed. Vans dominated the market in Clackamas.”

Parts, sales, service

That difference ripples through all facets of the business—parts, sales, and service.

Management has modified its showroom to reflect a stronger than expected demand for parts and accessories used on platform trailers.

For example, Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon has a major truck line based nearby that operates a large number of Reitnouer platform trailers. They are an authorized service center for them.

The parts showroom also reflects the difference in the Clackamas and Redmond markets.

“Last year was spent talking to customers and potential customers what they have for equipment and what they need,” Gallardo says. “We have been working hard to earn their trust.”

The showroom has been rearranged as management continues to learn the market more and what the fast-moving parts are. Parts personnel have improved visibility of those parts.

“We wanted the display area to be clean and well-presented,” Gallardo says. “We still have work to do. Word about who we are and what we have is just now getting out. In terms of parts sales, we have great potential to attract transient customers who are traveling up and down Highway 97, but want to take care of our base first.”

Fast start

The area economy has been strong since Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon opened in Redmond. Commercial and residential construction has been brisk, helping drive demand for platform trailers in particular.

Portland-based Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon found a distinctively different market on the other side of the Cascades, background. Platform trailers are more in demand in the high desert area around Redmond.

Service and repair is off to a fast start. The shop has been busy from the beginning.

Gallardo says. “And they are our best parts customer.”

The Redmond operation keeps its parts department supplied from multiple sources. About half the parts come from Clackamas. The rest comes either from suppliers and the Utility Trailer parts distribution center.

Growing demand in the Pacific Northwest has led the trailer OEM to add a second delivery route to serve its dealers in that part of the country.

“Utility opened up a stock order route that links Salt Lake City, Clackamas, and Redmond,” Gallardo says. “Clackamas carries twice the parts inventory as we do. Between our internal parts deliveries and the service we get from Utility, we are well supplied.”

Keeping track

Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon uses CDK Drive (formerly ADP Drive) to manage its operation.

Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon opened its central Oregon facility in 2015.

“We have been using this for years in Clackamas,” Gallardo says. “It provides a great view of our inventory in both locations. “And if we lose computer service in one location, we can invoice from our other store.

The company gets similar flexibility from its VOIP system. Calls coming in to one location are seamlessly transferred to the other as needed.

“The telephone is really important to us,” Hilsinger says. “We want a human to answer our phone. And we want them to be helped as quickly as possible—without putting them on hold or promising to call them back. We usually can do that. Utility has their parts all online, and we can answer those parts questions quickly. But we also have some customers with really old trailers. It can be difficult to track down parts for a 1982 Fruehauf, but we work hard to meet our customers’ needs.”

Looking ahead

Management is confident that the new facility will be able to serve the area around Redmond for years to come.

“We built to have room to grow,” Hilsinger says. “Our shop office, for example, now occupies one service bay. We can easily move that as our service work increases. And we think we will need to do that as time goes on. We already have a number of customers in the Central Oregon area. We look forward to strengthening those relationships, while building new ones with businesses who use US 97.” ♦

For more information on Utility Trailer Sales of Oregon
check out utilitytrailerore.com.

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.