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Regional company finds opportunity in slow economy

By Staff | Mar 6, 2009

Josh Hamilton is a nine-year technician for O'Halloran International. He works at the Carroll site. Regular OHI clients get top priority in the company’s four Iowa shop locations.

Finding the proverbial silver lining around the black clouds of a recessed economy, O’Halloran International is bucking local business trends by strategically expanding its staffs and services.

The secret to the company’s success, explained Chris Bakkie, vice president of fixed operations, is customer service, that is, finding the specific needs of clients and meeting them.

Bakkie said the company realized that as the economy continues to slow, its clients are buying fewer new trucks, whether they are farmers, commercial owners-operators or fleets, and are, instead, fixing and maintaining their fleets.

It’s this business need that O’Halloran International is working to fill.

At each of its four locations – Fort Dodge, Carroll, Cherokee and Altoona, its home office – the service departments are looking to add more technicians, while expanding local parts inventory and delivery and have created mobile maintenance vehicles, where a technician will travel to the site of a breakdown.

Gary Bowman is OHI's mobile maintenance tech for the facility in Carroll. He will roll equipment and parts to the site of a breakdown to get a client back into production as soon as possible. OHI has mobile maintenance units at all four of its sites.

Bakkie said that streamlining cost-effective delivery of parts and services is key to the company’s plans in becoming vital to its clients.

Bakkie said that ag producers and businesses constitute about half of the business volume in Fort Dodge, and upward to 70 percent in both Carroll and Cherokee. Altoona has more commercial trucker and fleet business.

“Our clients’ needs are seasonal,” Bakkie said. “But when they need us, we’ll be there with the parts.

“Customer service is mission critical for us.”

OHI stocks parts inventory – over $1 million total – in each location to be able to keep customers’ trucks up and running.

Norm Arndt, OHI's parts manager in Fort Dodge, runs a diagnostic test on a truck in the shop. Fort Dodge is earmarked to add two more shop techs during 2009.

“We help spec the right new or used truck for any use including long-haul and local-to-market,” said Daneille Slifka, director of marketing. “This makes a big difference in the total cost of operation for the truck. Truck rental and leasing are sometimes overlooked options for peak times like harvest.”

O’Halloran has increased parts delivery to some customers to three times per week. “For one large customer a custom, 24-hour delivery program was created to meet unique needs,” Bakkie said.

“Their (clients’) trucks are revenue makers,” Bakkie noted. “If they are down, they aren’t making any money.” He said the company is committed to keeping trucks rolling.

The company has also added the PartSmart brand, making high-good quality replacement parts, with one year warranties, available at lower costs.

That’s one development that encourages Norm Arndt, who has been the parts and service manager in Fort Dodge since O’Halloran opened the shop in 2003.

OHI facility in Fort Dodge.

“People have a mindset that if you go to a dealership you’ll pay 20 to 30 percent more,” Arndt said. “So we are out to try and change that mindset.”

Can work on all diesel engines

“Although our sign says International,” said Jim O’Halloran, president, “we work on all makes and models.”

O’Halloran added that the company’s current success is also based on careful hiring and “a little bit of luck.”

Since 1999, he said, O’Halloran has been purchasing and/or partnering with dealers to create a presence in four Iowa cities, all strategically located for easy accessibility for truck traffic.

OHI facility in Carroll.

O’Halloran confirmed that each site is looking to hire more personnel, especially technicians that could pay upward to $24 per hour.

“We will hire carefully,” O’Halloran said, “because we’re particular. These are high-functioning teams and they (prospective employees) must be able to integrate.”

Bakkie added that the nature of truck maintenance has changed drastically over the last decade or so.

“It used to be that you just took parts off and replaced them,” he said. “But now most of the work is in diagnostic and preventative maintenance.

“Our technology is state-of-the-art, because some of these trucks are new, complex machines with many electrical and integrated components.”

In Fort Dodge, O’Halloran International has expanded its parts line and parts delivery schedule, plus its warehousing capabilities. Justin Hayes, parts sales specialist, who is a Fort Dodge area native, came onboard six weeks ago.

In Carroll, Curt Batta was hired as the new service manager. Bakkie said that Batta, a Carroll County native, has a good rapport with the customer base. The shop now houses eight technicians, has expanded its warehouse facility, which includes a parts inventory manager and two parts specialists.

In Cherokee, Steve Hirschman heads up a team of eight techs, three of them new, plus two dedicated parts specialists. Hirschman, Bakkie said, “is the glue to that team. He leads with a passion to serve his customers that is unmatched in the Cherokee market place.”

That shop is also looking to expand its mobile maintenance service.

Managing trucks

Aside from repairing and maintaining vehicles, O’Halloran International is also “in the business of helping companies to manage their fleet of trucks,” said marketing director Slifka. The company’s fleet management area helps manage over 300 vehicles for other businesses, including help with DOT inspections and maintenance. “What we aim to do for fleets is pro-actively solve trucking problems so they can focus on their core business – planting or hauling or delivery,” said president O’Halloran.

This was essential when diesel fuel cost $4 per gallon, Slifka noted. “It’s good that the price is down again, otherwise we would have seen more (truckers) drop out of the industry.

“But we don’t expect the price to stay down, so our goal is to dig in, invest in local people and business, and help them operate their trucks as efficiently as they can keep them rolling.”

Contact Larry Kershner by e-mail at editor@farm-news.com.

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