WHEN Matt Beatty strode across the stage to receive his award at this year’s Knapheide distributor recognition dinner March 2, the walk wasn’t long, but his walk showed just how far Sierra Truck Body & Equipment had come during the past few years.
At the depths of this past downturn that the Las Vegas truck equipment shop was going to make it. Now the distributor is back on track, winning its third straight 1848 Club award.
“We were afraid we would have to close during the Great Recession,” says Beatty, the general manager of the truck equipment shop. “Before it started, we had 25 technicians in our shop. By the time things bottomed out, we were down to just four—and we were just trying to hold onto them. We hardly had any work.”
But that was then. This is now—a rebounding operation busting at the seams.
Here’s what Sierra did to survive the tough times:
• Move to a lower-cost facility.
• New crew in shop.
• Began to develop truck equipment business with municipalities. “That’s where our relationship with Navistar helped. Navistar historically has been popular with municipalities, and our relationship with McCandless helped our business.”
• Made upgrades to its installation standards, switching from Grade 5 bolts to Grade 8 where appropriate and using wiring looms and heat-shrink tubing more extensively in working with electrical systems. “The big change has been our use of connectors and making sure that we rout the wires properly to make sure they are well protected.”
• Applying the specifications from northern Nevada to trucks built for customers in the southern part of the state. “It’s a much different market in the north than in the south,” Beatty says. “The northern part of Nevada gets plenty of snow, so corrosion is a big concern there. We take extra steps there to guard against corrosion. We listened to our customers, and made all of these changes standard across the board.”
Shrinking the shop
The smaller Sierra facility has four bays. As sales have grown, employment has grown from four in the company moved into it to nine today.
“We began to grow almost as soon as we moved in,” Beatty says. “It’s crowded in there now, and we are looking for bigger quarters.”
Until that happens, Sierra takes advantage of the normally dry Las Vegas climate to work outside. That’s great, at least until the summer rolls around and temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees. Sierra addresses that by providing the techs with canopies to block the sun and evaporative coolers to moderate the temperatures. Even so, the company further moderates the desert heat by shifting the work schedule for some in the shop. Those who punch in at 5 a.m. leave around 1:30 p.m., just ahead of peak afternoon temperatures.
The early start can mean that customer trucks do not remain idle for long. Technicians who arrive early often have trucks waiting for them, a result of Sierra’s relationship with the International dealer across the street.
“We offer the customers the option of dropping off trucks until midnight six days a week,” Beatty says. Customers drop their trucks off at McCandless International, and Sierra technicians pick them up and drive them across the street to work on them.”
Sierra is owned by the McCandless family and McCandless International. John McCandless, who started McCandless International in 1969, purchased Sierra with a partner in 1995. Following the partner’s unexpected death in 2005, McCandless bought the remainder of the company.
Sierra sells to municipalities and utilities. Understandably, service bodies are one of the company’s popular product lines. Somewhat surprisingly is the strength of the liftgate market.
“Las Vegas is a big pick-up and delivery market,” Beatty says. “The hotels and casinos especially have a steady flow of trucks and trailers making deliveries.”
Sierra meets demand for liftgates by selling several lines of liftgates, including Maxon, Palfinger, Waltco, and Tommy Gate. The company also repairs Anthony and Thiemann,”
Other suppliers include Henderson and Crysteel dump bodies, along with Knapheide service bodies.
“We are back on track with the 1848 Club,” Beatty says of Knapheide’s program that recognizes its top distributors. “With the Great Recession and the real estate bust in Las Vegas, we went through a period where we hardly had any work. But Las Vegas has bounced back, and we have, too. By 2012, we were winning awards once again, and we were pleased to win again for our work in 2015.” ♦