Heil Trailer International, Inc. wants to be nothing less than to be the world’s best specialized transportation solution provider. But being the “best” means more than just being the most successful.
True, Heil Trailer International has achieved enormous success. This developer, manufacturer and marketer of tank trailers ranks as the world’s largest aluminum petroleum and dry bulk trailer provider, and it owns the leading market share in the United States. But the Athens, Tenn.-based company’s fondest wish is to reach Olympian levels of preeminence. As Babe Ruth was the best in baseball, Brando was the best in acting, and The Beatles were the best in pop music, Heil Trailer seeks to be the best in its industry. It aims to achieve this with a potent combination of superior product, unheard-of service levels and positive customer relationships previously unrealized.
That means that Heil Trailer can never be truly satisfied with what it accomplishes (even though accomplishments thus far are quite considerable). But that relentless drive transforms into a vision that, in turn, translates into a mission. And that mission involves five key areas: quality, performance, safety, customer support and overall value. All remain ever present in everyone’s mind. “The mission is a daily, even hourly exercise,” emphasizes Heil President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Hewitt.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
The product line includes best-in-class liquid, dry bulk, oilfield, construction, platform, specialized, towing and defense trailers. Applications for this transport equipment menu are industrial, commercial and military. Heil’s strongest focus is on aluminum trailers. “Aluminum is lighter, stronger and safer than carbon,” Hewitt points out. “On the aluminum side of the business, we’re the market leader. Our experience dates back to 1929. Now, we sell aluminum trailers in 85 countries.”
Heil also has an enormous dry bulk trailer line, as well as a specialty trailer line sold under the Kalyn Siebert brand. “We acquired the company in 2000, and it primarily focuses on heavy haul/low boy transport,” informs Hewitt.
The fourth major category is its specialized military product line, which is used for refueling and bulk transportation. “We are a major supplier to the U.S. military, and our equipment ties into all branches: the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and National Guard,” tells Hewitt.
At the front and center of all product development is the customer. “We foster customer intimacy by listening to their voice. This enables us to develop the most appropriate solutions,” says Hewitt. “This ties into product management, engineering and cross-functional teams which combine to drive new solutions.”
For instance, the company recently enhanced two products to help improve customer business. “This fall, on the dry bulk transport side, we are introducing our Sander II model, which is the next-generation version of our Sander specialized trailer that, as its name implies, was designed to transport sand,” reports Hewitt. “It’s stronger and more durable, and it’s lighter by 300 pounds.”
To comprehend that improvement, you only need to do simple math: A vehicle that is 300 pounds lighter means a company can transport 300 more pounds of sand.
The enhanced product also features improvements in terms of performance, such as loading and unloading, reports Hewitt.
A second introduction, another enhanced product, is the Heil 1700 Super Jet, designed to transport food-grade items such as flour. “That’s what makes it unique,” says Hewitt. “Clean bore construction allows for easy and complete loading and unloading, which is critical to the transport of food-grade products. Like all of our products, its development involved our five key elements that drive up value.”
Hewitt explains what these five elements mean to the customers and to the company:
Quality: Heil strives to provide consistently superior products and the highest levels of craftsmanship. “We’ve endured for more than a century and have grown throughout the world because our quality has been the best-in-class,” he remarks.
Performance: “The performance of our equipment is optimal in terms of customer needs, and these include durability, faster loading and unloading capabilities, weight and productivity, among other capabilities,” Hewitt says.
Safety: All Heil products are designed with the user’s welfare in mind. “That’s extremely important to our customers because of the types of material they transport,” explains Hewitt.
Customer Support: “We have the best customer support system, both during and after sale,” says Hewitt. “We even continue providing after-market support for equipment that is 20 to 40 years old.”
Overall Value: “Because we do the previous four items so well, we provide customers the best total value,” says Hewitt.
These five elements differentiate Heil from the competition, Hewitt adds.
HERITAGE OF INNOVATION
These five elements were present at the company’s outset and allowed Heil to thrive for more than 100 years. Indeed, Heil Trailer International is celebrating its 110th anniversary.
Innovation wasn’t explicitly stated in the five elements but certainly factors into success. It’s an ongoing theme in the company’s history. Founder Julius P. Heil began transforming the transportation industry as soon as he started the business in 1901 in Milwaukee, Wis. (as the Heil Railjoint Company). He pioneered the use of electric welding and, as the company grew, he began building truck bodies, hydraulic hoists and a variety of truck trailers for the burgeoning automotive industry.
“The company invented the first riveted oil tank for the horse-drawn wagon in 1902,” adds Hewitt. “Then, in 1929, we built the first aluminum tank truck.”
In 1993, Heil was purchased by the Dover Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar international enterprise that has about 35 independent manufacturers beneath its umbrella. “As far as acquisitions, Dover is attracted to the top brands and the most innovative companies, and we’ve enjoyed a very productive relationship,” says Hewitt.
Indeed, Dover supports Heil and its employees in their continuing efforts to develop the most innovative products and services. “Dover has provided us additional capital resources, and it shares best practices gleaned from across all of its businesses. However, it has always allowed us to remain entrepreneurial and to manage our markets and our customers,” says Hewitt.
Today, Heil Trailer International has five production facilities. “The Athens plant, which measures more than 200,000 square feet, is one of our largest,” says Hewitt.
The company also has two facilities in Texas: in Rhome (about 100,000 square feet) and in Gatesville (about 200,000 square feet). “That’s where the Kalyn products are made,” says Hewitt.
Heil Trailer also has a 60,000-square-foot facility in Canuelas, Argentina, and a plant in Ayutthaya, Thailand that comprises roughly 130,000 square feet. All facilities embrace the Heil production philosophy – to deploy the most innovative technologies and techniques to build the most innovative, highest-quality trailers available in global markets.
True to the “International” component in its name, Heil offers products through a large dealer network that takes in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. Further, Heil Trailer offers its industry’s best after-the-sale servicing. It boasts the most comprehensive warranty. Plus, if a trailer should need unexpected repair, the company possesses the industry’s most extensive service and repair network, including hundreds of dealerships and service shops. This ensures that customers have local representation and support, no matter where they operate the vehicle.
However, customers may not often need to access such service. After all, the company develops its trailers to address total ownership costs. Heil’s trailer designs help eliminate costs associated with scheduled and unscheduled maintenance – as well as reducing operational costs and increasing utilization.
Beyond its five key elements, Heil trailer operates with the highest ethical and moral standards. This corporate responsibility not only involves protection (protecting customer investment, protecting users, protecting its own personnel) but also extends to the environment.
Heil Trailer has always met or exceeded requirements of relevant environmental laws and regulations. Now, it is moving toward an ambitious environmental and health and safety management system that will include all of its facilities. This will include ISO 14001 (environmental) and ISO 18001 (health and safety) certification by 2011. Already, most of the company’s facilities are ISO 9001-certified.
“Our efforts to minimize waste and pollution goes beyond existing laws and regulations,” says Hewitt.
SURVIVING THE RECESSION
Meanwhile, Heil Trailer International remains financially stable and competitive, thanks to its unremitting drive to change and improve itself to meet customer demands. “Certainly, like all manufacturers, we have been challenged by recent economic circumstances,” says Hewitt. “But with our five key propositions, and the loyalty that we have built through the decades, we have been able to navigate our way through the severe downturn.”
In fact, during the downturn, Heil intensified its efforts in the five areas, and it spent time trying to better understand customer needs. As a result, customer emphasis only became more intensive.
Still, a tough road lies ahead. It’s going to be a slow recovery, Hewitt observes about the economy. “However, we’ve seen slow to moderate improvement, but we feel things are moving in the right direction,” he adds, assessing what has happened in the last six months. “Specifically, for us, we’ve witnessed the fundamental market coming back, particularly in the commercial side. One thing that has helped us is that our international business has grown, as developing country’s economies have grown. So that has helped, as the North American market has gone down. At the same time, our market shares have risen, pretty much in all of our business segments.”
Here’s where the Heil approach becomes important. “Like all businesses, we can’t control the market, but we can influence it,” says Hewitt. “We do that by introducing new products, all designed on the five aforementioned value points.”
As such, Heil Trailers ensures industry-leading performance. That’s why it is navigating its customers through the toughest terrain and navigating itself through the toughest economic times.