DETROIT is not exactly the place where most people would look to find one of the fastest growing trailer dealerships in North America, but that doesn’t seem to bother the people at Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service.

The Dearborn, Michigan, company is the recent recipient of Great Dane’s Dealer of the Year Award and has enjoyed two consecutive years in which sales have doubled.

What a difference a few years make. As the housing bubble was about to burst in 2007, Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service was riding high on platform trailer sales, a market segment that benefits from a strong housing market. The company did not have a van trailer line. Major employers in the area—General Motors and Chrysler—would soon seek a bailout from the federal government. And the largest city in the area would eventually file for bankruptcy.

But that hasn’t stopped Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service. The company has completely repurposed the multiple buildings on its 10-acre campus in Dearborn, Michigan to create eight additional service bays. Most recently, Royal took over a former union hall, converting it into a parts store and relocating the corporate offices there.

Perhaps most impressive, a company that had never had a van trailer line to sell was named Great Dane’s dealer of the year for 2012, even though Royal did not become a Great Dane dealer until November 2011.

Management is particularly bullish about its new location in Wixom, Michigan, 30 miles northwest of Dearborn.

“We hadn’t even opened, and customers were knocking on the door asking if we were open,” Bumgardner says. “This is a good location, and it’s only going to get better.”

The location is immediately across the street from a 400-acre tract where Ford’s Wixom, Michigan, plant formerly stood. The plant is now gone, and the property is being developed into an industrial park that will be adjacent to Interstate 96 that links Detroit and Windsor to Lansing and Grand Rapids. That’s significant because of the buying patterns in the area north of Detroit.

“We are convenient to Detroit here,” Bumgardner says, but getting around Detroit in a truck can be difficult. Many customers in our trade area prefer to drive to Lansing and even Grand Rapids. We have learned that people will drive maybe 50 miles to do business. For those in this part of Michigan, doing business with us has become much more convenient.”

The facility, a former United Autoworkers hall, provides Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service with 15,000 square feet of total space, enough for 6,000 square feet of offices, 7,000 square feet of parts showroom and warehouse, plus a single service bay. The 4.5-acre site provides room for expansion if required.

Over the years, Royal has developed a parts system that they have implemented for the new location.

“It only makes sense that we would do things the same way in Wixom as we do in Dearborn,” Bumgardner says. “We want to have staffing flexibility, to be able to move parts personnel between the two locations. ‘Where does this part go?’ Hey, it goes the same place here as it does there.”

Stocking the shelves

Back in Dearborn, Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service has a 30,000-sq-ft warehouse that supplies parts to both locations.

The warehouse is a recent creation, the result of taking a closer look at how the company’s established facility could be used more effectively.

Royal had been using the structure to bring its steel inventory out of the weather. The company also stored its snow removal equipment there. Some of the equipment is still there, and the company also stores much of its steel there. But by rethinking how and what is stored there, Royal in effect has created more available space without having to add more floor space.

The same held true for Royal’s “new” van trailer service facility. In much the same way that Royal carved out the parts warehouse, the company also created the equivalent of an eight-bay, 20,000-sq-ft shop to service and repair dry vans and reefers.

Getting into the van trailer business was a big step for a company that had specialized in platforms and dumps for most of its life.

“We had to find experts in van trailers,” Bumgardner says.

Royal has added van trailers to its product lineup, yet remains committed to the types of trailers that gave it its start. The company continues to sell Talbert heavy-haul trailers and the MAC Trailer Manufacturing line of dump, transfer, and other specialty trailers.

Working with the kids

Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, started by Roy Bumgardner in 1970, has been under the direction of his son Carl. Recently, though, Carl has been sharing more responsibility with his son Ken, vice-president, and daughter Julie, the company’s chief financial officer.

 “I see a changing of the guard in the trailer business,” Carl says. “A lot of us have been here a long time, and there aren’t nearly enough young people coming into this business. I’m fortunate to have two of my kids join me in this business and to bring some of their friends with them.”

“I want to take this business to the next level,” Ken says. “I have brought in some college grads for Carl to train. That’s important to take advantage of his expertise, because there aren’t many places to learn. We have to develop our own. I think we are big enough and growing fast enough to be the kind of company that can attract young talent.”

Growing up fast

Part of attracting young talent is providing a fun place to work. Part of that process is making time to built relationships.

“We don’t take people for granted,” Ken says. “We want to do things outside the office. We schedule dinner and a movie. We go bowling. The idea is to build loyalty. It’s not just about money—we are trying to build something here. And we think it’s working. We have a team. People pitch in and help one another.”

Winning Great Dane’s Trailer Dealer of the Year Award came quickly for Royal. The company became a parts dealer for Great Dane in March 2010. Just over 18 months later, Royal began selling trailers. Royal was named Great Dane’s top dealer in its first full year of representing the trailer manufacturer. So what’s the secret?

“We are one of the most aggressive companies out there,” Bumgardner says. “I have extra reason to be that way, to make the business grow. My kids are in the business.” ♦

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Truck parts driving sales at Royal Truck & Trailer

“If you are gonna sell hotdogs, you ought to sell sodas, too.”

That in a nutshell is Carl Bumgardner’s explanation for why Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service began selling truck parts 18 months ago.

The long-time trailer dealer has seen parts sales grow sharply, partly the result of the broader parts offerings the company has.

“The decision to sell truck parts was customer driven,” Bumgardner says. “Our customers were wanting to be able to buy everything here. If you think about it, if you sell hotdogs, why would you send your customers somewhere else to buy a soda?”

The company began selling truck parts gradually, starting with what Bumgardner calls the “easy truck parts” first. He also hired a 35-year veteran of the truck parts business to lead the way.

Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service began offering truck parts customers items such as batteries and exhaust parts. Starters and alternators soon followed. Eventually the company began promoting the fact that they were introducing a new product line every month.

Yes, the parts business is price competitive. But Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service has found that offering truck and trailer parts at the same location is appealing to customers as well as management. If they can get the soda at the same time, they are willing to pay a little more for the hotdog.♦

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