AS SOMEONE who has sold (and spread) agricultural lime, Jack Madigan knows what it takes to make things grow.

That's especially true of the truck equipment business, where his company has become one of the top shops in all of New England.

For farmers, the formula is simple: Plant seeds and nurture the crops. For Madigan, who grew up on a farm, the formula is equally simple: stock products and serve customers.

“Today no one wants to put anything in inventory,” he says. “But we have been gaining market share because we stock what customers need, and we provide them with good service. And we don't just stock parts for the truck bodies and equipment we sell. We also stock parts for Brand X.”

Madigan has used that formula to turn a simple agricultural lime business into a multi-company operation comprised of:

  • J C Madigan Inc, a full-line truck equipment distributor.

  • Madigan Lime Corporation, a company with a fleet of trucks that deliver industrial lime to a wide range of users, including trash incinerators, apple storage facilities, uniform-cleaning services, and municipal water and sewage facilities. Even IBM, located in the heart of the Boston area's technology corridor, has applications for Madigan's lime.

  • Ground Speed Technology Inc, a manufacturer of control units for salt spreaders.

J C Madigan Inc is based outside of Boston in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts. The company's truck equipment lines include Air-Flo dump bodies and sanders, Easterner dump bodies for light-duty trucks, Everest dump bodies and snowplows for heavy-duty trucks, Fisher snowplows, Highway Equipment sanders, Knapheide platform and service bodies, Swaploader demountable body systems, and Venco hoists, liftgates, and cranes.

“We have been the largest distributor for Highway Equipment Company six of the past eight years,” Madigan says. “We also have been the top Air-Flo Manufacturing distributor for the past several years. That's a lot of spreaders. We keep between 100 and 125 in inventory.”

The distributor also operates a General Motors bailment pool. The existence of this pool is another reason for Madigan to keep inventory on hand, enabling the company to upfit pool chassis quickly in response to dealer needs.

In order to monitor the pool, Madigan uses the Spokane computer system specifically designed for the truck equipment industry.

“We have been utilizing Spokane since the mid-1990s,” says Tim Madigan, sales manager. “It is a fully integrated software package that has really assisted us as the business has grown. From monitoring the pool to writing shop orders and handling accounting, the software does it all.”

Step by Step

For J C Madigan, getting into the truck equipment business was a series of logical steps. From the core agricultural lime business that Jack Madigan started in 1955, it was easy to go from lime spreaders to salt spreaders. Once in the business of selling salt spreaders, it was equally easy to sell complimentary lines of truck equipment, including dump bodies and snowplows. And after building a good track record as a distributor of snow and ice control products, it was easy for the company to acquire the remaining lines of truck equipment it needed to become a full-line shop.

The involvement in the snow and ice segment of the truck equipment industry also led J C Madigan to form its own equipment manufacturing operation — Ground Speed Technology. The company manufactures control units for truck-mounted spreaders. Ground Speed Technology has an offsite engineer who designs particular control units to match spreaders with specific truck transmissions. The control units download a wide range of data, including how much material the truck distributed, the ground speed, and the temperature.

“We originally used electro-mechanical controls to control sanders,” Madigan says. “Now controls are almost exclusively electronic.”

Multiple Locations

In a way, J C Madigan has added locations much like it got into the truck equipment business — step by step.

The company started in Harvard, but has since added locations in other nearby townships. Its newest location is in Ashby, Massachusetts, 26 miles west of Harvard. J C Madigan acquired the facility in 1999 after its previous occupant, a machine shop, went out of business.

The 24,000-sq-ft building is located on 150 acres. The previous tenant left a well-equipped machine shop, giving J C Madigan the equipment it needs to produce truck bodies as well as install them.

The location frees up shop space at the headquarters facility in Harvard in addition to providing substantial manufacturing capabilities.

“This is strictly a manufacturing facility,” Jack Madigan says of the Ashby location.

J C Madigan links the two locations with its fleet of tractors and 30 trailers that also serve Madigan Lime. The distributor generally has one 45-ft trailer at the Harvard location for loading and another at the Ashby facility from which mechanics can draw inventory. Madigan also uses the trailers to pick up inventory from its suppliers — particularly Everest Equipment in Ayers Cliff, Quebec, and Air-Flo Manufacturing in Prattsburgh, New York — and the company's private-label dump body manufacturer in Indiana.

Madigan uses the Ashby facility to produce custom bodies, cab guards, and toolboxes. The facility includes an enclosed fabrication department and a large, rectangular area capable of accommodating up to 10 trucks. Overhead doors allow trucks to be driven in and out, but the freestanding work area is not divided into individual bays. The shop specializes in installations on small and medium trucks, with the Harvard location handling work on heavy-duty trucks.

Accessory Store

A third J C Madigan location houses a retail store specializing in light-truck accessories. Located in nearby Ayer, Massachusetts, the facility also is home for Ground Speed Technology.

The building had been home for an appliance store. However, the operation went bankrupt, and Madigan was able to purchase it from the bank in 1994.

“Until we bought the Ayer store, we had been storing toolboxes in trailers,” Madigan recalls. “We were always having to climb over a lot of inventory to get what the customer wanted. It was easy to see that an accessory store would be successful. That's because our customers liked buying accessories from us. We just didn't have room for a display.”

As a former appliance store, the building was well suited for what Madigan had in mind. The windows gave the accessories plenty of visibility from the street. Below street level was ample room for inventory as well as a place to store and assemble components for Ground Speed Technology.

Opening an accessories store was a good move, according to Jack Madigan. He cites two reasons for its success — the ability to buy in volume and having a good manager.

Going to Harvard

Madigan says a mobile sales truck is an effective way his company uses to sell truck equipment.

“We say in our advertising that not everyone can go to Harvard, so J C Madigan will bring Harvard to you,” says Tim Madigan, the company's sales manager.

Driven by Phil Kivlin, the truck has been in service for three years. From it, he sells a wide range of products, including snowplow parts, emergency lighting, truck body parts, and truck accessories.

“A lot of what Phil sells is ordered and then delivered,” Tim Madigan says. “But he also sells directly off the truck — including replacement items that the customer can't identify. He has been around trucks a long time and knows a lot.”

Kivlin sees customers every two weeks. He calls on public works departments and large commercial accounts.

Madigan first bought a used truck to use for parts deliveries. The company has since bought a Chevrolet Tiltmaster to keep the operation moving.

Extending the Reach

J C Madigan has extended the marketing arm of its accessories operation through Stuff4Trucks.com, its online store. Through Stuff4Trucks.com, customers can obtain information or purchase a wide range of parts and truck accessories, including lighting components, running boards, snowplow parts, suspensions, tarp systems, tow equipment, and winches.

The e-store sells only those products that J C Madigan keeps in stock. Purchases include prepaid freight for all but the heaviest of the products Madigan sells.

“We discovered that people were working their way through the process of buying online, but they were backing out when they reached the page that contained information about shipping charges,” Tim Madigan says. “That's why we have priced everything so that we can ship to them at no additional charge.”

The site also has a shopping cart feature that allows visitors to purchase as many items at one time as the customer chooses. The customer simply provides his credit card information, and Madigan ships the order within a couple of days.

Madigan says Stuff4Trucks.com generates a lot of repeat business, particularly from customers who need snowplow parts.

Stuff4Trucks.com has allowed J C Madigan to sell accessories to customers as far away as Alaska. Only 5% of sales come from within Madigan's home state of Massachusetts.

Management admits that the sales Stuff4Trucks.com generates would not be enough to keep a standalone company operating. However, as an extension of an established truck equipment company, the e-store is a good source of sales that the company would not have otherwise received.

The company's main website, www.jcmadigan.com, provides an additional Internet presence. Being on the Internet is a great way to distribute sales literature for the products the company represents, according to Tim Madigan.

“It saves a lot of time,” he says. “It's much better than faxing.”

Family Matters

The company Jack Madigan began in the 1950s has grown into a large family operation. His son John joined the business in 1980 and now oversees the company's parts and service departments. His son Tim came aboard in 1992 and now is in charge of sales.

More than 50 people now work for J C Madigan Inc. Of those, three are certified public accountants. Tim Madigan was the first CPA to join the company, coming from Deloitte & Touche. Originally, he intended to handle the bookkeeping responsibilities for his father's company, but he soon gravitated to sales. He then brought with him two additional CPAs from Deloitte & Touche — Rolf Williams, who is in charge of scheduling the service and production departments, and Mark Stachowicz, who serves as the company's controller.

“We are probably the only truck equipment company with three CPAs,” Tim Madigan says.

Relatives, CPAs, and others have combined to help Jack Madigan follow his simple formula: Stock and serve, plant and reap.