Using cross-functional business teams in its sales approach, Utilimaster provides engineered solutions to specific customer applications in the commercial vehicle industry. April Terreri packages the story.
This company’s familiar trucks are an intrinsic part of our everyday lives, yet most of us probably have not heard of it. They deliver that important package we eagerly await that clinches a successful business deal. They deliver the items we bought on e-Bay. They deliver our favorite snacks to our local supermarket. They transport the technician who will connect us to the Internet. The company: Utilimaster Corporation of Wakarusa, Ind.In business since 1973, Utilimaster manufactures three major lines of delivery vehicles, including dry freight truck bodies, high-cube vans and walk-in vans, which are the delivery vehicles strategically poised for the robust growth environment that is exploding daily through e-commerce.
“We manufacture commercial delivery vehicles for four major business segments,” says Kevin Page, vice president of sales. Utilimaster’s four major business markets include the food segment, selling vehicles for such well-known companies as Keebler, Nabisco and Frito-Lay; the parcel segment, manufacturing vehicles for companies like FedEx, Airborne Express, and the U.S. Postal Service; the textile rental segment, producing vehicles for companies like Cintas, Omni and Domestic Uniform; and the industrial segment, selling to companies like Bell Atlantic.
“Our team of engineers is dedicated to the OEMs like Freightliner, Ford, Navistar and Workhorse,” says Steve Miller, director of sales. “Our engineers work closely with these vehicle manufacturers on the engineering and technical specifications to ensure that our vehicles are compatible with their chassis. All of these efforts are important to us because we provide our customers with a solution, not just a shelf-built vehicle.”
Trucking with Customers
Listening to customers is taken very seriously at Utilimaster. “We work closely with our customers to find out exactly what their needs are,” explains Miller. “We ask our customers how they will be using a truck and what it will be used for.”
Utilimaster personnel actually ride various delivery routes with the company’s customers in order to see first-hand the routine of the driver. The company also spends time at the customer’s facilities to understand the physical parameters of the plant. “We want to be able to design and manufacture a truck for them that they can get in and out of easily, and a truck they can use given the physical parameters of their environment,” says Miller. “We also want to design a truck that will allow the driver to be more efficient when he is out in the route.”
“In addition to understanding the physical parameters of what we are working with, we also need to learn and understand some of the delivery dynamics, like what’s going on during the route so we know where we should be placing shelves and bins,” adds Page. Knowing where shelves and bins must be placed is critical to the efficient management of a delivery route. “Our trucks are designed to be customer-specific to the application,” he continues. “We’ll build 10 trucks for a customer with shelves in the front and another 10 trucks for another customer with shelves in the back, if that’s what they need to do their business efficiently.”
Unlike some companies that take a traditional approach to the marketplace by having salespeople canvass a particular geographic area and work apart from some of the operational support personnel, Utilimaster has found success working with focused, cross-functional teams. “Our salespeople work within a team comprised of a variety of departments,” explains Miller. “For example, a team might concentrate only on parcel delivery groups, and within the team would be a support person who would know the intricacies of a particular account, and an applications engineer that is dedicated to that industry.”
By using people from various company disciplines to focus on one market segment, Utilimaster teams are better able to understand and exceed the needs of that particular customer. “By having our technical people involved with the customer, we are better equipped to solve their problems in a way that fits our manufacturing processes,” says Page.
One of Utilimaster’s textile rental companies recently presented a problem to Utilimaster engineers. “This company was about to separate part of their business from their normal route structure, which presented a lot of challenges to them,” explains Miller. “They didn’t have a truck designed to efficiently handle this particular application.”
Utilimaster’s “Clean Team,” the cross-functional team responsible for the laundry and linen segment, visited several of this customer’s locations and carefully observed the process. “We went along with the drivers on their routes for a few days,” he continues. “We observed them loading and unloading the truck until we understood everything about the route and how many of what product was going to be in the truck.”
When the Utilimaster team returned home, they designed a vehicle based on what they had observed on those trips. “We built a pilot for this customer and they put it into their fleet to test its practicability,” says Miller. “Now they are buying a large volume of these trucks every year because we offered a product that solved their problems.”
Every day, delivery couriers are faced with ever-increasing numbers of packages needing to be shipped. Packages traveling from businesses to businesses and from businesses to consumers need swift and efficient transport. “With e-commerce now so fierce, companies needing to deliver goods clamor for an efficient multistop delivery vehicle,” says Page. Utilimaster’s walk-in vans are perfectly suited to meet this challenging and burgeoning market.
Utilimaster cross-functional teams are currently working with several online grocery delivery companies to design trucks for the most efficient operation of their delivery routes. “Utilimaster is poised to handle these demands,” says Miller. “Our walk-in vans offer an efficient solution and is an excellent delivery vehicle for this application.”
Having solutions ready to offer e-commerce customers and also having cross-functional teams ready to help implement these solutions is what Utilimaster is all about. “We are focusing on further dramatic growth in e-commerce, which can have a significant effect on all of our business segments, not only parcel and groceries,” says Page. “One rule of thumb is if you have more than 10 stops a day, you should consider a walk-in van because of its favorable ergonomic characteristics with its case of entry and exit.” Utilimaster walk-in vans are built to last more than 15 years, as they are constructed with 100 percent aluminum.
In a partnership agreement with Ford Motor Company, Utilimaster has designed a purposely built vehicle for the U.S. Postal Service. The initial order for the right-hand drive vehicle is 21,275 units.
Utilimaster expects the year 2000 to be the largest revenue year in its history. “Since 1996, we have almost doubled our business because of our strong commitment to our customers as we listen to their needs and provide them with solutions,” says Page. Utilimaster’s 1,200 dedicated employees work in the company’s 675,000 square feet of facilities.
Utilimaster is at the threshold of the brave new world of doing business through e-commerce. “The whole industry is poised for growth because of the e-commerce environment,” says Miller. “And Utilimaster has certainly put itself in the No. 1 position as the leading producer of walk-in vans. We earned that leadership role though our commitment to working closely with our customers and helping them grow their businesses.”