HE is live. He is automatic. And he gets completely refreshed every two hours.

“He” is BOB, the electronic salesman that works around the clock for Rayside Truck & Trailer in West Palm Beach, Florida.

BOB is Body Online Builder — one way that Rayside Truck & Trailer uses the Internet to sell truck equipment.

A lot of customers take advantage of BOB. Truck dealers and fleet salesmen can use BOB to assemble electronically commercial trucks — and the digital paperwork to make the customers' ideas become reality. BOB is a tireless communicator, notifying all affected parties by e-mail whenever a customer receives a quotation and when the quote is accepted.

“We developed a system that would configure and quote out a truck online,” says Charles Rayside, president.

The system does that and more. After selecting a basic body, customers are guided through the required features and move on to select additional features that are available.

“It's all automatic, up to a point,” Rayside says. “The system is designed to make it impossible to order incompatible specifications. But we still monitor quotes manually before they become work orders.”

BOB is part of a comprehensive Website that Rayside worked with Spokane Computer to implement. It is a Web version of Spokane's TE Quote software.

“TE Quote is a laptop version of BOB,” Rayside says. “Whenever you change prices or add products with laptops, you have duplicate systems that must be updated. By putting the system online, we only have to update the system once. Plus, our customers have access to it. They can price out a job at their convenience.”

The system is updated every two hours.

“We could update every five minutes if we wanted to give up the processing time,” Rayside says.

Step by step

One of the obstacles that the company had to overcome was how to deliver quotes to those customers who still do not have e-mail. For those customers, Rayside Truck & Trailer uses a company called E-Fax. Outgoing faxes, which Rayside can send as an e-mail, are converted to faxes and delivered to the customer's fax machine for 10 cents per page. Incoming faxes come in as e-mail messages (at no charge) through Microsoft Outlook.

Several dealers are using BOB, with more to follow. Typically, the customer is there at the dealership, and together with the dealer's sales rep, they walk through the system.

“In the next six months, 90% of our quotes will be done on BOB,” Rayside says. “Only 10% of the most complex, custom jobs will be quoted manually.”

Rayside Truck & Trailer currently has the pieces in place to work up trucks equipped with service bodies, platforms, and contractor bodies. The system also can price out stake, ranch, dump bodies, and utility vans. Even some custom bodies that the company manufactures itself can be handled. Customers simply start with a platform body and add sides, a gate of their specification, and other options.

“We are on the second round of development,” Rayside says. “A lot of thought and conceptual ideas have gone into getting the system where it is today. We've put all of that into a memo, and then it's up to Spokane to make it work.”

Another recent project has been to allow customers to review their orders, check the date the vehicle is expected to be ready, or when it was shipped.

Other ways to sell

BOB is only part of the capability built into the Rayside Truck & Trailer Website. Another prominent feature is the ability to let the customer locate a chassis — either through the Rayside Truck & Trailer chassis pool or among the “Ready to Roll” vehicles on the lots of participating area truck dealers.

“Ready to Roll is an attempt on our part to help dealers sell chassis,” Rayside says. “Customers can select the type of body they want and see if what they need is in stock.”

The same holds true for the trucks Rayside Truck & Trailer keeps in its chassis pools. The Rayside inventory is searchable by body type, truck model, engine, or transmission. Body types that can be found include dump bodies, service, vans, and rancher bodies.

Computer connection

Computer technology is important at Rayside Truck & Trailer — as a promotional tool and as a management tool. The company's computerized management system has become even more important now that the company has opened its second location.

Rayside's second location is less than 10 miles from the main facility, but its opening in November 2002 surprised management with some of the changes it required in the way daily operations are handled.

“When you do business out of just one location, you don't realize how often you run get a part or ask someone a question,” Rayside says. “Opening the second location made us realize that we had to become better managers. We made a lot of procedural changes with our computer and inventory system. The inventory system was affected because we can't just pick up a part from the other location every time we need one. We had to build up a backup inventory for our operation at the new location. And we have learned to communicate internally through the computer instead of phoning every time we need something.”

Virtual network

Rayside Truck & Trailer links its two locations with a virtual private network.

“We have had a few problems, but they have been with our Internet service provider, rather than with the system itself,” Rayside says. “Uptime has been in the high 90% range.”

The new location is strictly a manufacturing and installation facility in contrast to the company's retail-oriented shop. Why did Rayside Truck & Trailer open a second facility? The answer is a matter of black and white.

“We split our black and white products,” Rayside says. “Anything that gets painted black is painted at our new location. A facility that uses a lot of black paint is harder to keep clean. So we paint black at a place where we do our manufacturing.”

If a product breaks Henry Ford's rule (any color as long as it's black), it is painted at the other location.

The main store is on a major street that is heavily retail. Rayside's new location is in an industrial area in Mangonia Park, suburb of West Palm Beach. The facility already was zoned for the type of work the company performs.

“We needed more space,” Rayside says. “Moving our truck body manufacturing here has given us better manufacturing flow and has created more space at our other location. Our sales are up 24%, and we could not have moved the additional sales through if we did not have this additional location.”

Jason Brockway, Rayside's former welding shop foreman, was promoted to manage the facility. Roy Beesley, general manager at the main location, will provide additional oversight.

The building that Rayside now occupies as a manufacturing facility had been home for a sign company. Much of the equipment that helps make the building productive — including air compressor, paint booth, and bridge crane — was already in place.

“We were able to move right in and pretty much go right to work” Rayside says. “Plus, we were able to lay out the shop from scratch. If we had added on, we would have been locked into some building configurations that would not have been as efficient.”

Rayside considered leasing a building but purchased one instead.

“Leasing would have allowed us to get into a building quickly with less money up front,” Rayside says. “It would have given us more long-term flexibility. But sometimes you just have to be flexible in what you expect. We found this building that really met our needs — even though it was for sale instead of lease. And by purchasing the building, we got a paint booth that we would have had to buy anyway.” To staff the new facility, the company transferred several people from the other location and then hired additional employees for both locations.

Today the manufacturing and mounting shop has 13 employees, including one who specializes in operating the shear and press brakes and two who concentrate on assembling platform bodies.

“Customers demand specifications here that you can't get from national manufacturers,” Rayside says. “To be in the platform business, you have to manufacture your own.”

People who normally associate corrosion of cars and trucks with road salt may not consider it to be much of a problem in the Sunshine State. Yet ocean air is an ever-present force that accelerates corrosion of truck bodies in Florida. Specs, therefore, concentrate on minimizing corrosion. One alternative is to use continuous welds instead of stitch welding.

“Customers also want quick delivery and high levels of customization,” Rayside says. “There are too many options to stock, and it takes too long to get a body custom built and shipped here. In order to provide customers with what they want, we build them ourselves.”

As seen on TV

Rayside Truck & Trailer has a large retail operation. The company's store in West Palm Beach handles a wide range of pickup accessories, boat trailers and accessories, and other light-duty trailers.

Because of the nature of its business, Rayside finds television to be an effective way to promote its products — particularly truck accessories. The company signed up for an annual advertising campaign with a local television station. As part of the price of the campaign, the station put Rayside in touch with a production company that specializes in branding campaigns.

“We told them what we wanted, then they told us to wait,” Rayside says. “In 40 minutes, they came out with a song for our commercials, a branding statement, and a slogan that fit our company.”

The company also will promote its products and services through a golf driveaway August 17. The event will pit the Central Florida Ford club against its counterparts from South Florida.

Also seen on TV

The second location made management more challenging. To help, Rayside Truck & Trailer acquired a video surveillance system that gives management a picture of what is happening at both facilities.

“With a tablet PC and a cellular phone card, I can see what's going on anywhere I have cell phone service,” Rayside says. “It gives me an extra comfort level of being able to manage both stores — especially the main store where we have a lot of retail sales. I want to make sure that we are taking care of the customer.”

The video capability is an extension of the service provided by Rayside's security company. The remote video requires an Internet service provider and a password and user name.

The system has the ability to record activity at both locations. This has proven beneficial in several instances to document shoplifting and injury claims. The video camera is sufficiently sensitive to detect nighttime activity.

“I can check hourly at night to see if there is anything going on that the alarm missed,” Rayside says. “We leave enough lights on at night for the cameras to give us a pretty good idea of what is going on.”

Mixing trucks and trailers

As its name suggests, Rayside Truck & Trailer offers trucks and trailers — but it specializes on the light-duty side.

Charles Rayside started the company 25 years ago as a truck accessory and light-duty trailer outlet. Expansion into commercial truck equipment fueled growth, leading the company to move into its present West Palm Beach location 20 years ago. The facility was expanded to its current size in 1989. It has grown a lot. Just ask BOB.