“Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”
The narrator of “A Christmas Story” (1983) offered that remark in describing how a holiday turkey feast turned bad. But that sage observation is applicable to life in general and business in particular.
Take the case of Saskatchewan-based Trailtech, Canada’s leading manufacturer of light commercial trailers. Established in 1985, and proceeding into the new century, the company was experiencing rapid and substantial growth—everything indeed seemed right in the world—when a potentially devastating disaster occurred. In June 2000, a fire engulfed part of its facilities.
However, like the a phoenix rising from the ashes, the company picked itself up, dusted itself off and essentially carried on, almost as if nothing terrible had happened. Gerald Geoffrion, company president, describes the resilience demonstrated by Trailtech. “We had gone through two significant expansions in the 1990s before the fire destroyed two of our buildings. But we really only missed one day’s work. We went right back into production and immediately placed ourselves back on track.”
The anecdote underscores the degree of pluck and perseverance that characterized the company from its inception and led to its emergence as a leading North American manufacturer.
Chief Executive Officer Keith Brown founded Trailtech 23 years ago in Bateman, near Saskatchewan. An enterprising individual, Brown applied his inventiveness toward a combine header transport that he built in his converted farm.
In its first three years, the company operated from the Brown farm with six employees. “At the time, it was a transport manufacturer,” recalls Geoffrion. “One of the main reasons Brown founded the company was the Canadian agricultural sector’s move toward straight combining, as opposed to wind-rolling crop rotation. As a result, people purchased headers that measured as wide as 24 to 30 feet, but they had no means to transport them from one location to another.”
Both a farmer and entrepreneur, Brown perceived the emerging market for transporting headers and, in turn, addressed existing needs, says Geoffrion, adding that Brown developed and manufactured products under the Custom Built Ag Industries Ltd. name.
The new company accomplished its first major expansion when it moved from the Brown farm and into a facility in Saskatchewan in 1986. During this period, it also expanded its product line to include flat deck trailers and round bale transports.
Two years later, the company doubled its employee roster and again relocated, this time to Gravelbourg, where it set up shop in a newly constructed 8,000-square-foot plant. Brown also re-christened his business as Trailtech, a far less unwieldy name that would provide easier product identification, as well as signify the company’s growing line of trailers.
As sales continued growing—propelled by a dealer network that Brown established and extending into the four Western Canadian provinces—Trailtech underwent more physical expansions. In 1994, it added 6,500 square feet of production space to its shop floor and increased its workforce to 25 employees. Still, all of that wasn’t enough. In 1997, Trailtech was compelled to add 16,000 more feet of production space, and it hired 50 more employees. In addition, the company engaged in acquisitions that added to its product line. In 1997, it purchased Jantz, a Kansas-based combine trailer manufacturer. In 1999, it acquired the Manitoba-based Wilten Manufacturing, a move that added a sprayer trailer to Trailtech’s offerings.
And just as all seemed right in the world, the disaster struck, but the fiery challenge was readily confronted and surmounted. Following the 2000 fire, Trailtech continued operations in temporary facilities. Eventually, the company constructed a brand new, 22,000-square-foot final assembly facility that opened in January 2003.
“Today, we have about 45,000 total square feet of production space and 80 employees working on the shop floor,” reports Geoffrion. “Even though we had to reduce our work staff in recent years, we’ve been able to maintain a high level of production.”
VERSATILE PRODUCT LINE
Indeed, with its broad range of products, Trailtech produces 3,500 units each year, according to Geoffrion. Equipment is used for agricultural, commercial and personal purposes. “We manufacture an extensive line of agricultural transport equipment, specialized equipment, header transports, combine trailers, and high-clearance sprayer trailers,” says Geoffrion. “That’s a big chunk of what we do, because our roots are in agriculture. We also build flat-deck trailers, anywhere from a snowmobile trailer to a 53-foot highway drop-deck trailer.”
Specifically, the product line is divided into 10 categories: truck deck, construction, commercial, industrial, premier, dump, harvester, sprayer, transport and leisure.
All units in the truck deck series come pre-wired and ready for installation. Further, they feature standards such as formed tubing headache rack, complete with rear window protection and a recessed gooseneck hitch plate, as well as tubing mainframe and cross-members, treated wood decking, and stake pockets with rub rails and rubber-mounted and recessed lighting. Essentially, the units are designed to transform a user’s vehicle into a true work truck.
The construction series of trailers is highlighted by the CEL260T model, which features standard tilting deck for added ease of operation. The tilting deck allows users to load or unload easily without the use of ramps. Commercial series trailers were designed for general farm, hotshot or long-haul trucking, according to the company, and they come in several models that match a range of loads. The characteristic gooseneck hitch enables smooth, easy pulling either across the field or on a highway. Pintle hitches are also available, allowing users to match the trailer to any tow vehicle. Like all Trailtech trailers, the series employs electrical and brake wiring that runs through a shielded main cable secured to the trailer by rubber insulated loom clamps.
Trailers in the Industrial series are rugged units that can handle tracked loader, backhoe and any other job-site requirements. They possess a steel frame that maximizes strength, durability and payload capacity. Each trailer features tandem axles capable of handling 10,000 to 20,000 pounds in each axle. Electric brakes are standard on trailers with 10,000-pound axles, while a complete air braking system is offered on trailers with tandem 20,000-pound axles. Also, series models are available with pintle, gooseneck or fifth-wheel hitches that matches any user need.
As the description indicates, Trailtech Premier series trailers are manufactured with the most advanced trailer technology and design. The HSS tubing mainframe and cross-members carefully match up with the GVWR of each trailer, ensuring proper weight-to-strength ratio required for maximum performance.
Dump series trailers come in three sizes, with each one designed to meet specific needs. A self-contained 12-volt hydraulic system located in the hitch area is equipped with a remote control for the hoist. Further, the push-button operation allows for material to be dumped in seconds while the formed metal sides provide the strength required to handle loads. The trailers were designed to allow equipment loading into the box area. The L160HD and L235HD models have two-way end-gates with an incorporated ramp. The L270HD model has a rear double door end-gate with a set of slide in ramps that store under the trailer when not in use. This added versatility allows these trailers to be transformed from a handy dump trailer to a flat deck trailer without any extra work.
Harvester series trailers were designed to handle complex combine requirements. Each series model offers a heavy-duty mainframe and cross-members for proper strength, while the carrying bed area extends out 13 feet to accommodate any size combine. A unique flip-over carrying bed design allows these trailers to go from an 8.5 feet to 13 feet overall width easily and safely in just minutes. The Model CT220TT features Trailtech’s patented Torque Tube fifth-wheel hitch, which allows the combine to be positioned forward when loaded, thus transferring adequate weight to the tow vehicle and trailer, allowing for a properly balanced load.
Trailtech Sprayer trailers’ design offers applicators optimal operation versatility and convenience that maximizes their efforts. Some models feature a level load carrying bed; others are equipped with a drive-over carrying bed – but both can handle all sprayer sizes. The model HC220 provides ample room for water tanks and sprayer support equipment.
In the transport series, standard header transports are designed for farm and implement dealer use. The simple, sturdy transports are cost-effective units for everyday tasks. The leisure product series was engineered for recreation-minded customers. Typical users transport snowmobiles in the winter and quads in the summer. Standard features (e.g., side-stake pockets with rub rains) provide easy load securement at any trailer point. The 3,500-pound axles and radial tires ensure that the units handle both highway and backroad environments.
All Trailtech products are as durable as the company. Combining toughness with intelligence, Trailtech recognizes that growth results from appropriate strategic alliances. As Geoffrion indicates, Trailtech’s dealership network has become a company cornerstone, a business element that will maintain and sustain the company’s remarkable success. The relationship fosters an input-feedback arrangement that ensures Trailtech will continually heed and respond to customer needs. Further, it stokes the fire that burns in the belly.