THE PRESENT is the place where the past and future intersect. And right now, a prominent name from the past is getting a brighter future from one of today’s major trailer manufacturers.
Barrett Trailers has been around for a generation. It was founded in 1973 by Cliff Barrett, a man with a lengthy service history inside and outside the trailer business. A Marine who served in World War II, Barrett joined American Trailer Inc of Oklahoma City and eventually was president of the company. He also served a term as chairman of the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association in 1965 before starting the company that still bears his name.
Barrett started small—occupying a single building in south Oklahoma City that housed the offices, production line and material storage. The facility expanded several times as the company’s reputation spread.
But things were not always rosy, particularly as Cliff Barrett’s health began to fail and following his death in 1985.
The company struggled through a series of owners before Barrett Trailers hit bottom, filing for bankruptcy in 2005. The company remained in bankruptcy for a year before being auctioned off in bankruptcy court.
An extrusion company bought the assets. Even so, the company was far from being at full strength.
Stoughton Trailers saw potential—and a good fit. Here are some of the reasons:
· The Stoughton line of grain trailers, the company concluded, would be a nice complement to the livestock trailers that Barrett makes.
· The Barrett location in Oklahoma would put Stoughton closer to a significant portion of present and future grain trailer customers.
· The Barrett dealer network appeared to mesh well with the dealers who represent Stoughton.
· Stoughton has the resources that Barrett needed to grow once again. Stoughton believes the future is bright.
“The biggest thing in acquiring the Barrett line is that we were already in the farm market,” says Scott Nachreiner, Stoughton’s marketing manager. Our product lines were a good fit. We look forward to integrating the two into a single network.”
At present, Barrett is specializing in producing livestock trailers—both truck trailers and medium-duty goosenecks. And don’t just say cattle trailers.
“Hogs are an especially strong commodity right now,” says Victor Lohn, general manager. “The trailers we build to transport them are selling well nationwide and into Canada.”
Stoughton plans to add grain trailers into the plant’s product mix. Presently manufactured back at Stoughton headquarters in Wisconsin, grain trailers produced in Oklahoma would make this product line more accessible to customers to the south and west.
“We have a 3-5 year plan for the plant,” says Scott Nachreiner, marketing manager at Stoughton. “Our biggest priority at this point is to make this facility as efficient as we can.
“We also are working on our dealer network. Between the two brands, we can offer dry vans, hopper trailers, and livestock vans. There is some overlap with hopper trailers, but the two lines are mostly complementary. To a great extent, that means we are able to offer new options to both our Stoughton dealers and Barrett dealers. Plus, we have signed up a few dealers recently who do not have any Stoughton ties. We have about 16 dealers now, but expect to have between 20 and 22.”
Stoughton is not planning to revolutionize the Barrett plant. Changes are being made gradually. Some are designed to make the plant a more pleasant place in which to work, as evidenced by the refurbished breakroom and restrooms. Others—those that have already been implemented and those that are being planned—improve efficiency and product quality.
Talking to customers
The new owners of Barrett Trailers have been busy learning more about who the Barrett customers are and what is important to them. That is particularly true of the gooseneck trailer market, an area that Stoughton entered when it acquired the Barrett product line.
“We are conducting systematic customer reviews to get some ideas for improvements in our designs,” says Bob Gregozeski, the Barrett value stream manager. “We want to know in detail what’s important to the customers of those types of trailers. By knowing that, we are better able to build trailers for stock.”
It’s one thing to know what customers want. But that is pointless without the ability to design and produce the product. That’s one reason Stoughton has strengthened the engineering department. Before Stoughton acquired the company, the engineering department consisted of a single draftsmen. It now has three engineers.
“Stoughton is dedicating more resources to the Barrett brand,” Gregozeski says. “We are committed to improving our product design along with our manufacturing processes. It takes people to make that happen.”
One of the objectives of Stoughton’s customer research is to attempt to identify common preferences that can be used as the basis of standard product features and specifications.
“Customization is important, but so is standardization. Researching customer demand will enable us to get a better idea of what is most popular and give us a basis for which we can develop some standard designs. From standard spec’s, we can create the fixtures needed to manufacture a quality product more effectively.”
Managing the value stream
To improve production at the Barrett plant, Stoughton brought Gregozeski in last October to serve as the company’s value stream manager. He has made a series of changes to the plant, with plans to do more.
One of the areas where Gregozeski has focused is in how the company makes holes in the side sheet and posts.
“Holes are an important part of building a livestock trailer,” Gregozeski says. “We are getting a new brake press and a new die set to help us punch holes in our side sheets and posts. We are developing the die set now. The goal is to punch two rows of rivet holes at a time. The new press brake will be dedicated to this operation.”
Already completed: refinements to the side fixture. The changes will enable the company to hold tolerances more effectively.
Gregozeski also has modified the plant layout, moving parts cells closer to where the parts are needed on the assembly line. As a result, unnecessary motion has been eliminated for items such as the upper coupler assembly and subframe production.
As presently configured, the plant basically has two parallel assembly lines—one for truck trailers and the other for the gooseneck product line. That will change, though, if Stoughton produces its own grain trailer line to go along with the Barrett livestock trailers.
Barrett Trailers: a look back
The year was 1973. The Viet Nam War was still going, and a veteran of World War II had a plan of his own: start a trailer manufacturing company specializing in livestock trailers.
His former employer was enjoying success manufacturing van trailers and was downplaying the livestock trailer side of its business. Cliff Barrett saw opportunity.
From a small building on the south side of Oklahoma City, Barrett Trailers found enough room for offices, production, and inside storage for aluminum.
The company grew, and so did its need for space. Barrett found the needed space in Purcell, Oklahoma, 40 miles south of Oklahoma City.
“Tom Naugle had been looking to move out of the city and got a good deal from the city of Purcell to move here,” recalls Victor Lohn, a long-time Barrett Trailer employee and the company’s general manager.”
Barrett started in Purcell with a 36,000-sq-ft plant that the company had to double almost immediately.
But the company was not always prosperous. Following Cliff Barrett’s death in 1985, several parties owned it. One bought it from the bankruptcy court.
Stoughton bought the company in 2014. The Wisconsin-based manufacturer is committed to making Barrett successful once again.
“Our main goal is to restore the Barrett name and to rebuild the Barrett dealer network, Lohn says. “We are growing the business slowly, but we are growing it.”