Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 3/8/2009 (3960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's hard to imagine how a business breaks into a market making equipment that sells for tens of thousands of dollars when it's also vulnerable to the economic swings of the day.
Peter Bergen, president of Gravhaul Trailers of Winkler, had that challenge three years ago when he started making gravel, grain and aggregate trailers.
The way he chose to approach it was one trailer at a time.
"When we started, we were building one a month," he explained during a recent interview.
And one by one, his trailers started selling, to the point where this year, Gravhaul expects to produce 200 trailers that retail from $30,000 to $100,000 each.
The 37-year-old Bergen is the embodiment of the stellar work ethic that has given the Winkler-Morden-Altona region of southern Manitoba the reputation for enterprising, innovative growth industries.
"I started blocking in the backyard when I was 16," Bergen said of his early autobody work. "By my early 20s, I had lots of good customers. I have been working very hard all my life. I'm still working very hard."
Bergen doesn't say that like he has a chip on his shoulder. Nor do you get the sense he thinks he's owed anything.
For 10 years before Gravhaul was formed, Bergen owned Berg's Prep and Paint, which he still owns -- a high-performance automotive paint operation.
That shop also did some body work and over time the shop had occasion to perform repairs on a range of trailers from different manufacturers with similar types of flaws. Bergen came to realize that if there were some changes in the way the trailers were made, those flaws could be eliminated.
He attributes whatever success Gravhaul is having in the marketplace to nothing more sophisticated than old-fashioned hard work and attention to detail.
"I started on the ground floor. I started in the trenches," he said. "I have come a long way through that system and learned how to build a trailer that is not going to have the extent of issues that the industry has seen."
That's not to say Gravhaul, with its 12 models of grain and gravel trailers, is about to supplant fellow Winkler trailer company Lode King and Saskatchewan's Doepker Industries as the largest such operations in Western Canada.
But it is making a good run. It now has a base of five dealers in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan, and is in the process of signing up two Manitoba dealers after having handled Manitoba sales directly from its factory.
Mark Shepherd, of Albert Semi Trailer Brokers Inc. in Calgary, is a true believer.
"Peter and his people have come out of the woodwork filling a void that others have left," Shepherd said. "I have been in this business for 36 years and I have sold all the top lines and I have absolutely no issues with the (Gravhaul) line."
It's not the greatest time to be in the trailer business. The massive decline in the manufacturing sector means parts and finished goods are not being trucked around the continent at the same pace. That means the trailer market for container trucking is flat.
"When the trucking industry isn't humming, people don't buy trailers," Bergen said. "My personal feeling is that the economy will turn up in the new year."
There continues to be uncertainty in the construction business, but the agricultural sector, especially grains, has remained strong. And that means there is at least a three-month wait period for Gravhaul's Grainhauler trailers.
Keith Chandler, sales manager of Macarthur Truck & Trailer in Brandon, said construction companies are still waiting for infrastructure money to flow to stimulate the road-building sector, leaving those companies on the fence when it comes to reinforcing their equipment inventory.
On top of those challenges are the repercussions of the bloom coming off the rose in Alberta. That has dumped a significant number of used trailers on the auction market.
But through it all Gravhaul continues to grab market share, Bergen said.
The latest updates on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
One dealer said hopefully the used inventory has now filtered through the market, which will allow manufacturers and dealers to get sales of new product back on track.
Regardless of the extent or the timing of the rebound, Gravhaul intends to continue to grow gradually.
"Right now, we've found a way to grow in this tough marketplace," Bergen said. "When the economy turns around, we expect a good surge of orders, but I don't want to set out goals that are unrealistic in this marketplace."
Martin Cash Reporter
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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