Jeff and Paul O’Reilly weren’t looking to get into the truck equipment business just over a decade ago. They simply wanted to buy a small trailer to haul some hay.

But when the two college students realized how much trouble they were having finding a suitable trailer in Northeast Ohio, they figured other people might be having the same problem. They decided to become a trailer dealer.

With Jeff fresh out of college and Paul still working on his business marketing degree from Kent State, the two brothers started their own light-duty trailer dealership by renting a service bay from the diesel repair shop near the family farm. Jeff was already working at the shop as a diesel technician, and the owner of the business agreed to let him prep new trailers and to enable the fledgling dealership to service what it sold. The work, though, had to be done after hours and (in Paul’s case) after school.

Business initially was good. Then autumn arrived. By October, people weren’t hauling much hay.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What are we going to do in the winter?’” Paul recalls. “We knew we had to diversify in a hurry.”

Jeff and Paul decided to get into the truck equipment business. They began selling a few products to see them through the winter. Selling snow and ice control equipment proved to be just what they—and their customers—needed.

But that’s also when things got complicated for the two-brother company. The snowplow business is a fulltime job. Jeff had a day job. Paul still had classes to attend and homework to do, along with a 45-mile commute to Kent State. At the end of their day, work for their own company could begin.

“It wasn’t uncommon for Jeff and me to be hanging plows until two in the morning,” Paul recalls. “Working together, we could install three plows in a night.”

O’Reilly Equipment functioned for three years inside the diesel repair shop. But with Paul now out of college, it was time for O’Reilly Equipment to have a place of its own. The two brothers were able to build a 6,000-sq-ft shop in 2006.

“We showed the banks that 22-year-olds could actually make money,” Paul says. “We got a loan and built a building.”

The structure initially contained three service bays. The brothers doubled the size of the building last year, adding two more bays, a fabrication area, and indoor storage.

“We needed more storage for plows,” Paul says.

One step at a time

While last year’s expansion addressed a number of needs, O’Reilly is thinking about more.

“There are times we wish the showroom were larger,” Paul says. “But we take things slowly, and we work with what we have. A larger showroom would help. Right now we warehouse 10 times the parts than we display in our showroom. We are sure that we could sell more if we could get more products on display.”

The brothers believe there is still room to grow.

“We are unique in this area,” Paul says. “We sell stuff that the box stores just don’t have. People come in here and are surprised at what we have in stock. Brake parts, drums, trailer lights. Plenty of snowplow parts—valves, wiring harnesses, light housings, electrical parts. If we stock the snowplow, we have the part.”

After a decade in business, the products O’Reilly Equipment sells continue to complement each other.

“Trailer sales die off here in October,” Paul says. “We go from selling 3-5 trailers a day down to one every week or two. But by that time, we are going full bore with snowplow sales.“

 Jeff and Paul no longer stay up half the night installing plows. They now have five full-time technicians on staff, and they make sure the technicians are well trained.

“We make it a point to attend the schools that our plow suppliers offer,” Paul says. “But it’s not just that. We make sure to keep current on towmotor safety, first aid, and CPR. We have a couple of ASE certified techs in the shop, and we are working on our ASE certification in parts. ASE offers three tests that are 90 minutes each. They cover drivetrains, transmissions, engine operation, cooling systems. It’s important that we keep up to date on everything associated with our business.”

O’Reilly Equipment is an MVP member of the National Truck Equipment Association.

“It’s a lot of work,” Paul says. “But we are always pushing ourselves. We want to run O’Reilly Equipment with Christian values. We want to take care of our employees, to always do the best we can, and to do quality work, rather than just quantity. We think the MVP program fits our approach to doing business.”

Going to market

Most of O’Reilly Equipment’s business is within an hour of Newbury. That includes Cleveland, 30 miles to the west. Secondary markets include the Pittsburgh area, Erie, Pennsylvania, and central Ohio.

“People will search for trailers, and they will drive a couple of hours to buy one,” Paul says. “But when you buy a snowplow, you really need to buy locally. You need to be close to the dealer so that the plow can be repaired quickly.”

O’Reilly Equipment promotes itself in a variety of ways, including trade shows, local newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.

“We did a spot on the Weather Channel through our local cable company,” Paul says. “We get a lot of feedback from our radio spots. But our next big thing is going to be internet marketing.”

The internet effort will involve an online parts store.

“We will be going live in the next couple of months,” Paul says. “We are working on it now. People will be able to search for the part they need and zoom in on its photo. It’s going to be a lot of work, because we will need to make sure all of the photos are accurate and current.”

What they sell

O’Reilly Equipment now has three divisions—the original trailer sales operation, snow and ice control equipment, and general truck equipment.

Among the truck equipment products that O’Reilly Equipment sells are Hillsboro and Moritz platform bodies, Stahl service bodies, and Switch-N-Go detachable bodies. The company also handles Ranger van interiors, Waltco liftgates, Ecco lighting products.

Trailers include United, Moritz and Sure-Trac trailers. The company represents Blizzard, Boss, and Buyers Products snowplows, pusher boxes and salt spreaders.

In spite of the growth of O’Reilly Equipment, the brothers remain close to their roots. Jeff and Paul both own a small farm near where they grew up.

“We are hobby farmers now,” Paul says.

The difference now is that the brothers know exactly where to look for a hay trailer. ♦

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