ASK Pat Godwin if he is through buying up dump body manufacturers, and he just smiles.

The former beverage route salesman has been buying in recent years — including two major dump body manufacturing operations and a 250,000-sq-ft building to house its new Champion Hoist & Equipment company.

And with sales up 48% this past year at the flagship operation in Dunn, North Carolina, Godwin is continuing to look for ways to expand even further.

The explosive growth rate has brought about some major changes in the company. Godwin's original welding shop has grown into a management company — The Godwin Group — that has been developing ways to integrate the R/S and Galion acquisitions into an integrated operation while simultaneously retaining the products and brands that made the two companies successful.

The Godwin Group now supervises an assortment of companies. They include:

  • R/S Body. Godwin acquired the Allen, Kentucky, dump body manufacturer three years ago.

  • Galion Dump Bodies. This company, with a long history in the industry, had fallen upon hard times when Godwin acquired it September 15, 2004.

  • Godwin Import/Export. As its name implies, this company is engaged in international shipping of truck-related bodies and equipment.

  • Caribbean Truck Equipment. This operation is a truck equipment distributor in Puerto Rico. In addition to representing multiple lines of truck equipment, the company also manufactures approximately five dump bodies a week in addition to assembling 10-15 bodies per week from components produced by Godwin Manufacturing.

    The Godwin Group as well as all of its other companies are solely owned by Godwin, therefore more profits are plowed back into the group unlike investment firms and holding companies. This puts them at an advantage in the marketplace.

  • Godwin Manufacturing. This company is the direct descendant of the welding shop Pat Godwin opened in 1966. Its specialty is the production of small and mid-sized dump bodies.

  • Champion Hoist & Equipment. Godwin for years had produced hoists for its own use. But with the acquisition of the other two dump body manufacturers, management decided to pursue the hoist business in a big way.

All in the family, kind of

One of the challenges The Godwin Group faces is the integrating of the best facets of each company while correcting some of the issues that undercut the operations and made them available for sale.

“We have hired seven key managers in the last nine months,” Pat Godwin says of his dump body manufacturing operation. “Champion Hoist and Equipment is new (formed January 2005), and we are still developing the management team for them.”

Integrating three different dump body manufacturing companies has been one of the objectives of The Godwin Group. After a series of business management meetings aimed at bringing the various companies together, the group reached several conclusions. Among them:

  • The three brands had surprisingly little overlap. The Godwin name was strong in 15-18 states, primarily in the Southeast. Galion was represented well outside the Southeast.

  • R/S specialized in heavy-duty bodies that frequently see use in specialized operations. “R/S bodies are high-end products,” Godwin says. “The customers who buy them also buy trucks that have chrome everywhere except the windshield. These aren't the same customers who tend to buy Godwin and Galion dump bodies.”

  • The brands had well established names. As such, even though they are now part of one company, they will continue to be marketed to their respective customer bases.

“We now have a national sales staff,” Godwin says. “And we just signed up a distributor in Alaska. Without the acquisition of the other dump body manufacturing companies, there's no way we would have done something like that.”

The three dump body manufacturing companies will share best practices, and revisions to the three locations are beginning to make the plants resemble one another.

All three companies manufacture steel dump bodies. But they are beginning to also carve out their own areas of specialization.

Galion, for example, will produce the company's stainless steel dump bodies. R/S will be the source for aluminum dumps. And the Dunn plant is getting ready to produce the company's new line of elliptical dump bodies.

Beyond those areas of specialization, the plants are undergoing changes that will give them a strong family resemblance.

Changing cultures

Management also has had to work to inject its own management style into the two companies it acquired. Most prominent was the union operation that R/S had when Godwin acquired it.

“We never had a union before,” Godwin says. “It's not the way I do business, and it's not the best thing for the employee. We've done a lot of things for our employees here in Dunn including a company-owned daycare center. The plant had a union election before I bought it. I reluctantly recognized the union when I bought the company.”

A year after Godwin acquired R/S, the union was gone.

“You just have to treat people right,” Godwin says. “It wasn't long after I bought the company that employees realized that they had never even given me a chance. For example, we had a flood, and the homes of several of our employees were damaged. I wrote a check for $500 for each of the employees whose homes were flooded. We send flowers in memory of any employee relative who dies.

“After a while, employees realize that they really aren't getting anything from their union. When the plant voted the union out, we had a big meeting. I told them that this was not a victory celebration for me — that it was a time for us to bury the hatchet and build stronger relationships. We have continued to do the same things for employees now that the union is gone. We treat people the way we do because that is who we are. We don't just treat them well to get rid of a union. At that meeting, I told them what I would do and what I expect of them — and I've done everything I said I would do.”

Strengthening loyalty

Godwin has implemented several programs that are popular with employees. One of the most ambitious is the company-owned “Godwin's Little Busy Bodies,” daycare center, opening in 1998.

“We were one of the first blue-collar companies to have a company-owned daycare center,” Godwin says. “Our employees really appreciate it. One of them came up to me and thanked me for his new truck. When I asked him what he meant, he explained that he was able to afford the new truck because of the money he no longer had to spend on daycare.”

When Godwin initially established the operation, it was free for the children of the company's employees. A drop-off in enrollment led the company to open the center to non-employees. Long-term employees are still grandfathered into the center, but recent hires pay for the service. Even so, they are able to pay with pre-tax dollars.

Under a separate program that Godwin began this year, the company will pay up to $3,000 per year for job-related training for employees.

Family resemblance

The three Godwin dump body plants may have been built by different companies, but they are gaining a family look — particularly in the finishing area. That is the department of the Dunn plant that is unlike any other — except the other two Godwin plants.

In the late 1990s, Godwin installed a massive shotblast and powdercoat operation at its plant in Dunn. The focal point of the shotblast process is a 12-wheel machine designed specifically for cleaning assembled, tandem-axle dump bodies.

The process worked out so well that Godwin has constructed standalone buildings to accommodate similar finishing departments at R/S and Galion.

“If you have seen our shotblast and powdercoat line here in Dunn, you will have seen what we will have in Galion,” Godwin says. “We won't have the powdercoat line at the R/S plant because of the type of product we build there. R/S customers demand a lot of special paint jobs, and that's the main drawback with powdercoating — you can't change colors easily.”

The R/S plant has a 70' × 100' building to house its new shotblast operation. At Galion, however, it's a different story. The Galion plant in Winesburg, Ohio, has a new 70' × 300' building that encloses the entire surface prep and powdercoating process, and the surface prep and powdercoat lines are being finalized.

FYI: DIY

The Winesburg project is expected to be complete this spring. When it is, each of Godwin's dump body plants will be able to shotblast assembled bodies using almost identical automated lines.

“We don't require anyone to blast by hand — these are fully automated lines,” Godwin says.

The Galion operation alone cost $3.5 million, not including the cost of the work the company did on the project. But by rolling in their own excavating equipment and in-house construction crew, Godwin has been able to equip its plants with top-line finishing operations with a fraction of the impact on the bottom line.

The company hired outside expertise to help in the design of the first shotblast and powdercoat operation. Godwin has been able to use that expertise to replicate the operation in the Galion and, to a lesser extent, the R/S facilities.

The system, Godwin says, offers the company and its customers a variety of advantages, including improved efficiency, labor savings, higher product quality, and extended life of the shotblast equipment because more grit hits the product — and the equipment is blasted less.

Can we really build this?

The 12-wheel shotblast machine installed in Dunn during the 1990s was a pioneering effort. Shotblast machines had been built to handle large products, but the proportion of length, width, and height of tandem-axle dump bodies presented The Wheelabrator Group, manufacturer of the equipment, with an unusual set of challenges. The company concluded that the machine needed 12 blast wheels to propel the shot from enough directions to thoroughly clean the bodies. Standard structural blast machine wheel locations would not be effective. Wheelabrator designed the cabinet with the blast wheels in the optimum locations for blasting dump bodies.

The result was a special machine designed specifically to meet the needs of tandem-axle dump bodies.

“Wheelabrator had never produced a machine like this,” Godwin says. “They said they would warranty the parts that went into the machine, but that they could not warranty that it would perform to our satisfaction since one like this had never been built before. But it worked great. They have now built three of them, and we have all three.”

Godwin can't help but be happy about them. Using a continuous-feed conveyor system, the operation automatically cleans a 15-ft contractor dump body in five minutes. Approximately 90 dump bodies flow through the booth each day.

“They go through on a monorail, and they never stop,” Godwin says. “At first we were thinking that the underside might not get as clean as it needs to be. That's critical today for a dump body — especially one used in snow and ice applications. But the bottom of the body gets just as clean as the top.”

Not surprising, given these stats: each blast wheel fires an average of 350 pounds of shot per minute at a velocity of 300 feet per second. The largest dump bodies require coverage from all 12 blast wheels. Smaller body sizes and other fabricated components are normally cleaned with eight blast wheels. The operator selects the required blast arrangement from the control panel.

To make sure the shotblast machine doesn't fire blanks, a large storage hopper is located above the blast cabinet. Additionally, augers continuously recover the blast media and return it to the elevator feeding the 18-ton-capacity hopper.

Getting a proper finish requires more than the shotblast, however. Powdercoating involves getting a lot of variables right — along with smooth integration between the shotblast and powdercoat systems. The Godwin plants are designed to move product through blast and powdercoat in one continual process.

In control

“Everything is computer controlled,” Godwin says. “Sensors throughout the conveyor line let the equipment know when to blast or powdercoat. If we need to shut down the line, we have 22 emergency stops. If one person stops the line, the line can't start back up except at that emergency stop.”

The line can be operated at speeds ranging from two to six feet per minute. Godwin currently has the line set at three feet per minute. At that rate, the company has produced 90 dump bodies per day.

“With liquid paint, you always have a bottleneck,” Godwin says. “With our powdercoat line, that bottleneck is gone.”

Godwin chose to replace the company's paint operation with powdercoating for several reasons.

“It provides a more durable finish,” Godwin says. “Plus, there's no hazardous waste. We haven't had an EPA inspector here since we switched. Not long before we switched, an EPA inspector told us that with tighter regulations, we would be out of business in two years. I told him that we would figure out a way to still be around.”

Ready, aim, fire

The automated conveyor system moves shotblasted dump bodies into the powdercoat booth where 32 guns distribute powder across the entire surface area. The powder that does not attach to the body gets recycled.

The powder is baked onto the body at 450° F for 52 minutes, moving three feet per minute through the 156-ft-long oven.

In all, the monorail that transports the dump bodies through shotblast and paint is 1,400 feet long. Because of how much the larger Godwin bodies weigh, the conveyor was designed to support 7,500 pounds over a 20-ft span. To do so, three rollers distribute the weight, rather than a single roller that might be used to move smaller parts along a conveyor.

New hoist plant

In January 2005, Godwin decided to form an independent company to manufacture and market hoists. To accommodate the anticipated increase in production, the company has opened a new plant specifically for hoist production.

“With the acquisition of R/S and Galion, we needed to produce our hoists under a common name,” Godwin says. “As our hoist production gets up past our internal needs, we will really begin pursuing the hoist market. But as much as our dump body production has been growing, that might take us a while before we pass them up.”

The Dunn dump body plant in particular has benefited from the new hoist facility. That's because dump body production had shared space with hoist manufacturing. Hoist production is being ramped up at the new facility now, creating space for a new line of dump body production. As a result, dump body production space is increasing by one third.

With the additional space, Godwin will have four dump body lines at its Dunn plant — one each for contractor bodies with five-cubic-yard capacities, tandem-axle dump bodies, a flatbed line, and a new line for a new product — an elliptical dump body. The company is at work on the design and expects to have a prototype ready in early spring.

Equipping the plant

Until the new hoist plant opened, Godwin used conventional lathes to machine its cylinders and piston rods. The new plant, however, has been equipped with two machining centers — a tube mill for producing cylinders and a bar mill for machining piston rods.

“It used to take us 15-16 minutes to produce a piston rod in a standard lathe,” Godwin says. “With our new equipment, we can produce the same part with better quality in two minutes and 20 seconds.”

The goal of the company is to produce 18,000-20,000 hoists per year. To achieve that volume, Godwin will need to add another pair of machining centers to produce the cylinders and piston rods. The company is already planning to do so, even though the plant currently is at less than 4% of capacity.

The building certainly will accommodate the increase. The 250,000-sq-ft structure had been the home of a sportswear manufacturer named Champion. When Godwin bought the building, he decided to name his hoist line Champion as well. As a bonus, the street going into the plant also carries the Champion name.

“When I bought the building five years ago, I really didn't know what I would do with it,” Godwin says. “But I was able to buy it at a price that probably covered the cost of the concrete. I knew that the price was great and that I would eventually be able to put it to use.”