FOR Great Dane Trailers, the good news is that some of its branches have been serving their markets for decades in the same location. But even well built trailers and the buildings where they are sold eventually require some TLC that goes beyond routine maintenance.

To make sure that these facilities continue to meet customer expectation, Great Dane is in the middle of a multi-year program to keep the company's network of factory branches looking their best.

“Our goal is to refurbish all of our locations,” says Brandie Fuller, Great Dane vice-president. “Our plan is to do one or two branches a year. It's a modernizing process. Some of our locations have been serving customers for 40 or 50 years. We have been analyzing what each branch needs to serve its marketplace.”

Parts and service have been a focal point, but Great Dane is looking at the entire facility, including the offices and the yard, to make sure that they are at the level they need to be. As part of the program, Great Dane has upgraded yards, expanded trailer parking, installed scaffolding and other safety equipment, updated signage, and in general made their branches safer, more efficient, and a better place for customers to do business.

The program began a couple of years ago with the Atlanta branch. Great Dane followed with its Columbus, Ohio, location in 2010.

The Indianapolis branch is the most recent facility to be updated. The bulk of the work was completed at the end of 2011, but a few features such as shelves for the parts showroom, were added as recently as September.

The Indy project was much more than a fresh coat of paint. As a result of the renovation, the branch now has an improved showroom, along with expanded storage that enables the parts warehouse to handle additional inventory.

The redo also included a newly designed office layout that does a much better job of traffic flow. In a sense, buildings reflect how a business or industry has changed through time. Since the branch was built at a time when dealers received fewer visitors, customer traffic patterns were not as important as they are today. The new office layout provides clearer paths for customers to take to go where they need to go within the facility.

Let it be light

Research has shown that employees are more productive with improved lighting. Great Dane has replaced obsolete light fixtures throughout the building so that parts personnel can find things more easily and shop technicians are better able to see what they are doing.

The branch also has new surfaces to replace materials that have fallen out of favor.

“We tore off the paneling and got down to the studs,” says Andy Randall, branch manager.

The dark paneling, once popular in private homes as well as commercial buildings, has been replaced with lightly painted drywall. That alone improved lighting without requiring Great Dane to power an additional light bulb. New energy efficient light fixtures also improve lighting conditions while lowering the light bill.

Making minor changes

Minor changes to the parts department have made a difference with customers.

“We have added some shelving in our display area, but the main effect of the changes has been cosmetic,” says Mike LaFary, parts manager. “When customers come in now, they see a fresh, clean appearance. New floor, new walls, a brighter look.”

The update program also included an additional place to store parts. A new canopy has been added to the back of the building, providing weather protection for parts that otherwise would be directly exposed to the elements. Great Dane stores a variety of parts underneath this canopy, including steel wheels, axles, dolly legs, and trailer subframes.

Offering it all

The Indianapolis branch offers the full line of Great Dane products.

“We have a pretty wide area,” Randall says. “We go as far west as Danville and Kankakee, Illinois, and as far east as Louisville, Kentucky.”

The branch believes in selling face-to-face. The Indianapolis location has three people working the parts counter and two in outside sales. Nine people total are involved in parts sales and support, including one parts delivery driver who serves the local market and another who serves more remote customer locations.

“We serve the Richmond, Indiana, area on Tuesdays,” Randall says. “We go to Fort Wayne (northern Indiana) Wednesdays, Jeffersonville (across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky) on Thursdays, and Rensselaer (northwest Indiana) on Fridays. On Mondays, we go to Terre Haute one week and Evansville the next.”

And if parts customers need it right away, the warehouse ships immediately — or the outside sales.

For the outside sales tandem, coverage is simple. One handles customers north of Interstate 70; the other goes south.

Letting people know

Great Dane got the word out about the fresh look of its Great Dane branch, sponsoring an open house June 26 that attracted more than 300 people.

The event, which ran from 4 to 7 p m, featured barbecue, a local band, and a 60-ft × 120-ft tent filled with exhibits by Great Dane suppliers.

“We were very pleased with the results,” Randall says. “Our vendors were happy with the contacts they made, and it produced new opportunities for us with our customers.”

The crowd left that night having seen for themselves the new look at the Great Dane branch in Indianapolis.

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