A Good Year for Old Trucks

At this chassis and suspension shop, business is brisk, and fleets are happy


"We go after that business," he explains. "We do business with a lot of large fleets, and it's not really maintenance: it's suspension rebuilding on the trailers, brake repair on the trailers, replacing the doors, handling collision repair. I do not do any engines. We do not do repainting. We do the bodywork, but we farm out the painting. I don't do any towing; I've got a guy who does a great job on towing. Engine diagnostics, we do a lot of that, and we'll be doing more of it. We've got all the computer diagnostics for all the different vehicles."

As Botts sees it, his job is to make fleet maintenance managers look good: "That's my job, and that's what we strive for."

"Two years ago, outsourcing work was the wave of the future," says Botts. "Fleets are realizing their business is logistics, not truck repair. So, consequently, they would like to keep their technicians doing nothing more than the PMs. They don't even want them doing the oil changes. They like them to do the PM, the pre-trip inspections--if a light needs to be repaired before the guy pulls out, they've got it. If it needs tire repair, they want to send it to the tire dealer and get that taken care of before he goes out.

"Fleet managers would like to get it down to where they just have a skeleton crew--they don't want to do trailer repair in-house," he concludes. "Some of these guys have huge, beautiful shops, but they have the same problem I have: hiring good, qualified technicians."

TECHNICIAN TRAINING

With such a unique perspective on the needs of the fleet maintenance industry, it's not surprising that Botts is a champion of technician training. As a board member of ACOFAS, the American Council of Frame and Alignment Specialists, Botts helps organize several training events a year with such big names as ArvinMeritor, Hunter Engineering and Michelin Tire.

"We just did one on vibration analysis at the end of October, and it was unbelievable," he says. "We always get in two or three manufacturers, so that we get an overall, broad view of the topic. And, really, each one of these guys could put on a two-day program by themselves!"

Thirty-two technicians took part in the October training seminar, including three from Botts' shop. Of course, Botts has an easier time than fleets springing technicians from the shop floor to attend training classes.

"For a fleet to pick out a couple of techs and take them… number one, they're running short, and number two, for fleets to get someone to authorize the money to send a tech to a program, it's hard to get," Botts says sympathetically. "As an independent, I don't have that problem. I can okay that any time: 'Here's a program: you, you and you are going.'"

BUSINESS IS UP

That's a good thing for Botts, who saw his business increase by ten percent in 2008, in large part due to those municipalities rehabbing their trucks.

And the good news is going to get better in 2009, as buyer anticipation over 2010 trucks starts to build.

"The 2009 trucks are not selling," he says. "You've got the 2010 emissions engines coming in, and the 2010's got so many enhancements. You'd be crazy to buy a 2009. I'd say, probably even before June, you'll see the 2010s released. I think that's what's going to bring the truck industry back."

That, of course, will bring warranty work into Botts' shop, and once again he will be in a prime position to make fleet maintenance managers look good.

"We fit in when the fleets get behind," he says. "Take one of our disposal fleets: they've got a guy who can do kingpins, but let's say they have three trucks with engine problems. They don't have time to mess with something like kingpins or suspensions, so we handle that for them. We do the overflow for them. That's what we offer them: 'We take care of what you can't, what you don't have time for.'"

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