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J C Madigan image A Snow and ice control equipment represent a major source of business for J C Madigan Inc, a truck equipment distributor that recently moved into a new shop in Lancaster MA. The company formerly was headquartered in nearby Harvard MA.

TRUCK equipment distributors seem to get into the business from an endless number of starting points. Selling agricultural lime and fertilizer a few miles away from urbane Boston has to be one of the more unusual places to start.

Madigan image B But that's what Jack Madigan did almost 60 years ago. Today the company that began by delivering (and spreading) agricultural lime is now one of New England's largest distributors of truck equipment.

Spreaders have always been a key product for J C Madigan Inc — first as a product that Jack Madigan used, then as something he sold, as well as something to manufacture, install, and repair. And as the company's involvement with spreaders grew, so did its markets — from strictly agricultural to the snow and ice control market that is the source of much of J C Madigan's business today.

Madigan image C Businesses tend to succeed when they can set themselves apart from the competition, offering products and services that no one else does. The snow and ice control business is no exception. J C Madigan relies on a well equipped fabrication department to provide custom parts and components that otherwise may not be available.

One popular product that J C Madigan fabricates is a front spinner. Built to fit between the frame rails of the chassis, the spinner applies granular material to the road ahead of the rear wheels of the truck. This provides extra traction on icy, uphill roads.

Madigan image D “It's something our supplier doesn't offer,” says Tim Madigan, who along with his brother John now operates J C Madigan. “We have been offering this for about eight years now. It's a product that we can build for any chassis.”

The fabrication department also helps J C Madigan complete complicated truck orders.

“We recently received an order for six trucks that involved about 200 hours per truck to complete,” John Madigan says.

Built for the City of Boston, the vehicles included custom plow frame, the company's front spinner system, and a Cirus control system that combines telematics with computerized spreader controls.

New shop

Madigan image E The fabrication department is part of a new 78,000-sq-ft shop that J C Madigan opened last year. The new facility, built on 80 acres in suburban Boston, enables the company to house its entire operation under one roof. As is the case with many growing companies, J C Madigan had been operating in multiple buildings. The site included the family home.

“Now we can keep an eye on everything,” says John Madigan, who heads up the parts and service side of the business. “A desire to consolidate everything under one roof was the main reason for the new building. It makes us a lot more efficient. Plus, everything is on one level. It took a lot of dirt moving to make it happen, but we no longer have to go up and down stairs to get where we need to go.”

The 80-acre site is less than 50 miles west of downtown Boston.

“We chose this location because it gives us an opportunity to be close to Boston, but it also is convenient to the western part of Massachusetts.”

The value of fabrication

Madigan image F J C Madigan has long seen the value of having fabrication equipment in a truck equipment shop.

“We build our own flatbeds, chipper tops, and a lot of parts.” John Madigan says. “Having our own equipment has helped us get into custom fabrication. Plus, if a customer has a heavily damaged truck body, we can fabricate what we need.”

J C Madigan had a fully equipped fabrication department, even before the company opened its new shop. The department includes shear, press brake, multiple lathes, three iron workers, six types of band saws, and three machining centers. Existing machine tools were moved from the old location. No new equipment was added.

Madigan image G Madigan has found the Bridgeport machining centers to be particularly useful. The company uses them to produce about half of the brackets needed to install clutch pumps. They also are useful for drilling elongated holes, fabricating crankshaft adapters, and can even be used to produce pulleys if necessary.

Organizing the shop

The shop has two sizes of doors — some that are 12 feet wide and others that are 16 feet across.

Madigan image H “We could have made all of them the same width, but the bigger the door opening, the greater the heat loss,” Madigan says. “We use the 16-ft bays for larger trucks. We felt we needed the extra width when we equip them with wing plows.”

Not including supervisory personnel, J C Madigan currently has 21 technicians in its shop and an additional five in the paint department.

“All of our technicians are good, but they all have certain things they do really well,” Madigan says. “Some of them such as our wiring specialist move around, and others such as those who work on snowplow frames stay in one place. We have one who can complete a small truck himself, but increasingly we rely on specialists to work on our more sophisticated orders.”

The building can accommodate two trucks per bay.

Madigan image I “We adapt the shop to the environment,” John Madigan says. “As the weather changes, so does our shop. If we need to double up in the bays, we can. We also can set the shop up to run as an assembly line.”

Serving three markets

J C Madigan serves three general markets.

  • Municipalities. These customers include not only cities and towns, but also state governments, colleges and universities. This segment generates approximately 40% of sales. Most of the sales of spreaders and combo dumps go here.

  • Truck dealers contribute another 40% of Madigan sales. Service bodies and 2-3-yard dumps are the most popular items in this segment.

  • Contractors and other end users represent the remaining 20% of the business.

Madigan image J The business looks a lot different from when Jack Madigan started it in 1955. He began by spreading and selling agricultural lime. From there, he began selling agricultural spreaders, which in turn led him to sell spreaders for snow and ice control. This put Madigan into the truck equipment business, providing J C Madigan with a reason to add the dump bodies, platforms, service bodies, and other lines that the company sells today.

The facilities the company has do not look much like Madigan's small garage where he housed his lime spreader trucks — or even the multi-building campus that was the company's home (and the family home) until last year. J C Madigan's new shop should meet the company's needs for years to come.

“We didn't want to expand our old location,” Tim Madigan says. “The end game was to house the future of our business.”

(Coming next month: A look at J C Madigan's aftermarket parts operation).