Its vision to add services and products as a third-party truck maintenance operation is keeping Clarke Power Services on the cutting-edge of its industry. From providing mobile truck maintenance for a fleet of vehicles to renovating like-new “glider” trucks with new cabs and rebuilt components at 75 percent of the cost of new models, Clarke Power Services is innovative in its business approach.
“Our owners, Mark and Kirk Andreae, a few years ago understood how to transition the business from a narrow business model of only handling products that we are distributing or dealers of to a vision of taking us to a broader scope of business that is really dealing with the pain of the customer, and therefore providing solutions to the customer to lessen or take that pain away,” Vice President of Fleet Services Riley Asher explains. “If we haven’t listened carefully to the customer, if we don’t understand that we have to make them more efficient as a fleet, [then] we’re just another me-too sales company, and that’s not what we’re about.”
Asher emphasizes that Clarke Power Services is not just about selling a product or service, but devising a suite of solutions for customers. “In some cases, we may only bring two or three services at least initially that meet a need,” Asher suggests. “But as we become more and more involved with a customer, we can actually help train and teach that customer more and more about how to control their costs. So often, it’s a migration to a deep relationship with the customer.
“It’s not like the customer always has to come to us and say, ‘Will you immediately manage my maintenance operation?’” he continues. “It may start by building gliders for them, and having them understand how we can save them capital and get more trucks on the road for less money. From there, we talk about how to track and keep reporting on the cost of those gliders, and maybe bring them into a lease program with one of our partners, and then bring them into full management.”
Does It All
Clarke Power Services offers a spectrum of capabilities from complete outsourcing to individual truck repairs. The company operates 27 full-service shops in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi. It offers maintenance services for light, medium and heavy-duty fleets of all types and sizes on tractors, engines and trailers of all makes and types, whether they are engaged in over-the-road long haul, regional or local pickup and delivery.
The company provides maintenance for semitractor-trailers that break down and assists fleet maintenance shops with maintenance overflow or complicated repairs when a company’s needs exceed its capacity.
One example of the type of services Clarke Power Services provides is the assistance it gave Tennessee Steel Haulers at one of its steel plants in North Carolina. “They asked us to come in and manage their maintenance operation there,” Asher recalls. “So we took over a dedicated maintenance facility for them, staffed it, put inventory in it and now do all of their preventive maintenance, inspection and associated work onsite.”
Clarke Power Services has an integrated customer management center where it manages preventive maintenance schedules for customers. “We’ll use our own network where appropriate, but we’ll also reach out and create a preferred network for other providers across the country to service the fleet as required,” Asher says. “We’re about controlling cost and behaving as if we are the maintenance staff.”
The company services vehicles in all 48 contiguous states through its own facilities and the 200 additional ones provided by the 18 Detroit Diesel Corp. distributors in the United States that are privately owned and affiliated through an organization called WheelTime.
To make obtaining preventive maintenance easier for its customers, Clarke Power Services has created a brand named VehiCare that performs such maintenance out of mobile trucks at a customer’s site. VehiCare’s trucks are equipped for oil and filter changes and minor repairs.
The popularity of Clarke Power Services’ rebuilt tractors that the trucking industry calls “gliders” – which cost approximately 75 percent of the price of a new tractor and look the same as new – is due to the economic situation in which some trucking companies find themselves. “The main push for gliders is coming from the fleets that are trying to stretch their capital and get more trucks for fewer dollars,” Asher explains.
Gliders have new cabs and are outfitted with components – such as engines, transmissions and rear axles – that Clarke has rebuilt. “When the driver gets into it, he cannot tell it from a new truck,” Asher maintains. “It’s got all the bells and whistles from the new cab.”
During the recession, some trucking companies postponed purchasing new equipment. Now, with the economy picking up, they need like-new equipment for as few dollars as possible. Asher says Clarke has produced nearly 1,000 gliders over the past 24 months, and its tractor cab (glider) supplier, Fitzgerald Glider Sales, Byrdstown, Tenn., is selling more than 1,000 completed gliders annually.
Another advantage to purchasing a glider is the tax advantage. “Since this is assembled using rebuilt components from an old donor truck that will be retired, there is no federal excise tax that is due on the glider, which has to be paid on the new truck,” Asher points out. Clarke’s partner, Ervin Equipment Inc., Toledo, Ohio, sells and leases gliders and even provides financing while Clarke provides the maintenance. Asher is confident that gliders will last as long as new trucks, from 800,000 to 1 million miles, and that sales of them will increase this year.
Clarke Power Services also distributes and installs a device from American Power Group that allows tractors to burn a mixture of approximately 50 percent natural gas and 50 percent diesel fuel. Asher estimates savings of $1.50 per gallon over using just diesel fuel for a payback of the $30,000 conversion cost in one-and-a-half years.
For the future, Asher sees continued product innovation and growth. “We’re bullish on this industry, meaning that we’re about supporting fleet operations,” he emphasizes. “We believe there are going to be some strong regional and national players that are going to come out of this recession better and leaner and with a strong desire to operate efficiently. We’re affiliating ourselves in partnership with many of these, and that is going to drive our growth. As they grow, we’ll grow.”