Here’s a company that’s been in business for the long haul since its inception in 1994. Based in El Reno, Okla., Exiss Aluminum Trailers since its founding has been dedicated to the proposition of producing a full-line of top-quality gooseneck and bumper pull aluminum trailers for horses, livestock, car and specialty uses at affordable prices.
As the company has evolved, reasonable pricing remains part of its mission; however, as one of the fastest growing aluminum trailer manufacturers in the United States, Exiss has also become known as a leader in quality. “Exiss made its reputation as the low price point provider to this market,” explains Russ Stump, marketing manager. “Of course, we’re still concerned with making an affordable product, but over the years we’ve shifted our focus a bit to establish the brand as a provider of quality trailers known for their unique styling and innovations.”
It’s sometimes assumed that lower pricing means compromises that lower quality. Exiss disproves that as a horse’s tale (or some other horse byproduct we won’t mention). “Compared to the traditional steel trailer, aluminum has a number of advantages, including longevity, durability, lighter weight which results in lower fuel consumption, and easier maintenance. The trouble was, aluminum trailers were typically expensive and primarily only custom-made,” Stump notes. “Thanks to our innovative manufacturing and design practices, we’re able to produce a full line of aluminum trailers even with customized features that are still 20 to 30 percent below comparable competitive offerings.”
One reason for this is the company’s unique assembly-line approach to manufacturing. “Most other manufacturers stick build,” Stump says. “Obviously, that’s a more labor-intensive and time consuming process that results in higher production costs. While we also stick build on rare occasions, we’ve been able to take advantage of the efficiencies of assembly line production, even for custom trailers. We’ve found that our workers really excel at doing a particular task, and by assigning only workers trained in those tasks we can make a quality trailer not only more quickly, but at lower cost.”
A seemingly minor tweak in design also results in major cost reduction. “One of the more popular trailer sizes is typically 6 feet long by 9 inches in width. It really is a standard that wouldn’t ordinarily be accepted by consumers. However, we reduced the width by an inch without reducing the functionality of the basic appearance,” Stump says. “We did that mainly by removing a cosmetic piece that no one noticed was missing. This simple little design change resulted in less riveting, which meant less labor, as well as allowing for a quicker and easier fit of the platform more directly onto the axle. This cut 10 to 15 percent of our production cost, all of which we pass on to the customer. The result is a better-made trailer that is also less expensive than the industry standard. The only difference is an inch that most end-users couldn’t tell isn’t there anymore.”
THE RIGHT SIZE
While it has taken an inch off of some of its trailers, Exiss has added a year to its structural warranty, a further indication of its commitment to quality. “All trailers manufactured after January 2010 come with a three year limited, eight years structural warranty,” Stump points out. “That’s one year more than the traditional seven. That change not only means more peace of mind for our customers, it also makes our trailers more valuable for resale.”
Exiss markets its trailers through about 100 dealers throughout the United States and Canada, though it has also exported to Mexico and even Antarctica. While dealers do maintain some stock, yet another advantage of assembly line manufacturing is it allows for just-in-time inventory to further reduce carrying costs that can be passed on to customers.
Stump notes that there is roughly an even split between standardized off-the-shelf trailers and made-to-order customized products. “We at Exiss take pride in developing custom car trailers for our customers’ hobbies, professions and activities. While we offer a comprehensive product lineup to meet as many needs as possible, we know that some customers need those individual touches that only one custom car trailers can provide, whether to transport a hot rod to the race track, take a classic car to the auto show, or even use a trailer as a trackside garage and weekend home. We can design, develop and build a custom car trailer tailored to individual needs.”
Exiss currently employs 350 and maintains a plant in El Reno. Annual revenues are $40 million. While Exiss is owned by Universal Trailer Corporation – whose family of trailer brands also includes Sooner, Miley, Haulmark and Featherlite – the company operates as a separate and distinct business, with its own dedicated sales and engineering staffs, headquarters and manufacturing operations. However, Stump points out that, “There are some synergies in terms of such things as bulk purchasing of raw materials and shared advertising expenses that further helps us keep our costs down and offer consumers a more affordable quality product.
Recent problems in the overall economy notwithstanding, Exiss has seen stable growth. “The main difference today is that the middle-price range of the market has largely disappeared,” Stump says. “The high end is usually somewhat resistant to economic cycles, as is the entry level. If anything, an aluminum trailer is particularly attractive at the entry level because its light weight cuts down on fuel consumption, which is always going to be a concern, but especially during a recession. Also, because of the economy, some of our customers are downsizing to less expensive models. Overall, Exiss may not have had the best sales during the downturn, but at the same time we did gain some market share and continue to improve our productivity, all of which improves our bottom line.”
Stump notes that the competition in trailers varies by market (horse, livestock, car or specialty) and by region. “In each segment we could have anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen competitors. Sometimes you’ll see the same competitors in multiple segments, and sometimes companies specialize in only one. Our competition also varies a lot because there are not a lot of barriers to entering this industry. There are always new guys popping up all the time, especially on a regional basis.”
He adds, “Exiss is actually one of the few brands that has a national presence in all these multiple trailer categories. So, we’re not overly concerned with new start-ups. We’ve got an established brand that consumers recognize, and we’ve got a national dealer network and good working relationships with those dealers. And we’ve got a competitively priced product that is noted for its quality and innovation. However easy it is to get into this industry, those kind of competitive differentiators take a long time to establish.”
Looking forward, Exiss has no intention of trailing anyone. “We’re looking into some new product categories,” Stump says. “The life of an aluminum trailer varies by the type of use and how well it is maintained, but there are always customers who are either looking for their first trailer or looking to upgrade or add to their existing fleet. Exiss is always going to be a leading contender because of our proven record of experience, invention and attention to customer needs in providing a quality product at a reasonable price.”