Don't Call Them "Mom & Pop"

Dale and Hermi Krueger are serious about competing for fleet maintenance business


Don't call Dale and Hermi Krueger's Fleet Maintenance Professionals Corporation (FMPC) a "Mom & Pop" operation. The Kruegers, who have owned and run FMPC out of a five-bay shop in Appleton, Wisconsin for ten years, do not like the term one little bit, even though they are, in fact, a "Mom" and a "Pop."

Eight years ago, the manager of a neighboring fleet terminal decided to send his trucks and trailers all the way back home to St. Paul, MN--a 552-mile round trip--for maintenance and repair, because he considered FMPC too much of a "Mom & Pop" operation to entrust with his maintenance work. That didn't sit well with the Kruegers, who pride themselves on their high professional standards.

"They got a new terminal manager, and he asked why they were sending trucks to Minnesota when they had a service provider right here on the premises," Dale recalls. "I told him it was because we were considered a ‘Mom & Pop' operation. And he said, ‘Well, we're going to change that.' And I've had his business ever since. He's even thinking of bringing maintenance work from his other Wisconsin terminals here instead of taking them to St. Paul, to their home shop."

That scenario is representative of the way the Kruegers work. As independent shop owners, they have to prove themselves every day, but the customers who are won over and then sign on are fiercely loyal, and rarely take their business elsewhere.

"We've proven that our customers don't have breakdowns, and our policy has always been to do it right the first time, and do it well, and not have returns," says Hermi, who works in the front office alongside Dale. "When they can find someone who can do a good job extending the lives of their vehicles, it would be ludicrous to go out and buy new.

"Our business is based on trust," she goes on. "Customers trust that what Dale tells them is going to be right. He tells people sometimes what they don't want to hear, but he tells them the truth. He doesn't push anything down anyone's throat, but he tells them what needs to be done. If it's a safety issue, he doesn't play ball: either you fix it or you don't bring it here, because I'm not going to be responsible for your safety problems."

STARTING OUT RIGHT

Dale credits his success to a service manager he worked for at his first job, way back in 1961, at an International Trucks dealership in Wausau, WI. That service manager taught his technicians and his customers the importance of regular preventive maintenance, and it's a lesson that has stuck with Dale. It taught him two things: good PM is one of the most important things you can do to extend the life of a vehicle, and it's also one of the best ways to build customer loyalty.

"All the customers he had, he put on a preventive maintenance program: every year, wheel bearing packs, winter checks, and everything else," Dale says. "He had such a following, such a group of customers who came to him just because of his philosophy of preventive maintenance."

In subsequent jobs, Dale has continued on with his own philosophy of preventive maintenance, and in doing so he has attracted his own following. When he left his position as head of maintenance for Fore Way Express ten years ago to found FMPC, his reputation for meticulous inspection and thorough repair was already well established, and he had no trouble finding customers for the new business.

"This is all I've ever done, and I still get all excited because I'm such a big believer in preventive maintenance," he says. "But I sometimes shake my head at the way some fleets operate…"

SLIPPING UP

Dale and Hermi can talk for hours about the problems they see on trucks that have been serviced at other shops--sometimes their own customers'. Dale's list of worst offenders includes:

• Technicians who don't realize that smaller utility trailers have electric brakes--"In these salty road conditions, are those electric brakes working? Are you constantly replacing the brakes on the truck that's pulling it? Because the truck is doing all the stopping; the trailer is not."

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