OVER the course of more than a half century in business, Stuart Tank Sales Corp has achieved solid success. However, the past five years may have been the best in the company's history.
During that recent half decade, the Elkhorn, Wisconsin-based company doubled revenues. It did so by diversifying its product offerings and expanding its service area. Stuart Tank Sales was quick to identify opportunities in the oil and gas shale boom. Most recently, the company enhanced its services by adding online parts sales.
“Tank trailers — both new and used — remain our core sales focus, but we have expanded into dump trailers, flatbeds, and grain and refuse trailers,” says Mike O'Donell, owner and president of Stuart Tank Sales. “On the chemical, petroleum, and dry bulk trailer side customers are requesting a broader range of custom modifications. For instance, we're installing more air-actuated manlids. More customers are asking for fall protection that includes railings and longer walkways on top of tanks. We expect to see more of that.
“We added sales staff and expanded our sales area for stainless steel cargo tanks. We've developed an online parts sales operation. We continue to expand our cargo tank repair services and component rebuild capabilities.”
Phil Klein, vice-president of sales at Stuart Tank Sales, adds that the oilfield boom had a big impact on the company's bottom line. “Oilfield activity, especially in North Dakota's Bakken region, lifted us out of the recession,” he says. “We had almost all of the business we could handle. We sold and installed a lot of parts on equipment going into the oilfield. Operators brought equipment from the Dakotas to us for service. While we have seen some softening of that market, we believe that opportunities still exist.”
At the same time, Stuart Tank Sales is aggressively pursuing new opportunities. O'Donell says the management team is taking a close look at the cryogenic and compressed gases sector.
“We believe we see some good long-term potential, especially in LNG (liquefied natural gas), which is just in its infancy in the United States as a vehicle fuel. We're seeing more natural gas fleet activity, and the fuel also is being used in various other applications, such as running gensets.
“Initially, we probably will focus more on the cargo tank repair side. We would service the full range of equipment used to transport cryogenic and compressed gases, and we probably would build a dedicated shop for those repair operations. Eventually, we would like to add equipment and parts sales.”
The company also launched a new online parts ordering system at the beginning of this year. Called TurboParts, the system is available online. “It's available 24/7 to our customers, and they have access to our entire parts inventory,” O'Donell says. “We're very competitive in our pricing, and we get the orders out within a day.”
All of this is a far cry from the tank trailer market that existed in 1958 when the company was founded by Marvin Gramley in southern Wisconsin. Three years after its launch, the company began developing the Elkhorn location. First came a three-bay shop with a small office area, along with one salesman and partner, “Budd” Humphrey. He is still with the company today after 47 years of service.
With continued growth in the tank repair and modification activities, the facility underwent expansion in 1975, when three more bays were added to the shop and additional office space was constructed. That same year, O'Donell joined the company as a sales representative selling farm pick-up tanks and petroleum, chemical, pneumatic, and sanitary transports.
Continued growth across all aspects of the operation brought still more expansion in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1981, the company had added another three shop bays and a degasing and steam bay. The company also has dedicated sandblasting and paint bays.
More growth and expansion followed into the 1990s. The parts department got a 10,000-sq-ft addition that included a dedicated bay for blower and pump mounting, repair, and rebuilding. By 2000, management had decided to expand beyond Elkhorn.
“We had a shop in the Chicago (Illinois) area for eight years,” O'Donell says. “We closed it in 2008, because we came to believe that we could do a better job from a single location. We have expanded our marketing area to include Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, but we remain focused on our core marketing area of Wisconsin, Iowa, northern Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Today, the facility encompasses 36,000 square feet, with the 16-bay shop and parts department occupying 28,000-sq-ft of that. Eighteen qualified and experienced welders work in the shop and form the core of a very dedicated workforce.
“We are proud of the skills of our employees and their tenure,” O'Donell says. “They are well trained, and many have years of experience with us. Some of them have been here 15 to 30 years, and that is one of the keys to our success.”
Stuart Tank Sales represents some of the most recognized and respected trailer manufacturers in the industry, including Heil Trailer International, Walker Stainless, and Stainless Tank & Equipment, which have been partners with Stuart for many years. The company also sells Amthor Tank truck-mounted fuel and vacuum tanks; East Manufacturing dumps, flatbeds, refuse trailers; and Stoughton grain hopper trailers.
Stuart Tank Sales describes itself as the Midwest's largest distributor for used tanks. The company usually has 80 to 100 used sanitary, chemical, pneumatic, and petroleum tank trailers in stock including some reconditioned units for sale or lease.
The repair facility holds an ASME “R” stamp and provides code barrel reconstruction. Services include a full range of cargo testing and inspections.