New Shop Gears Up for Expanding Markets

Central States Thermo King adapts each of its dealerships to the market it serves. It applies market knowledge gained by managers for future growth.

A good example is Central States' recent expansion in Oklahoma City. When designing the new 42,000-sq-ft shop, which opened in January, Central States sought the input of Mike Nelson, general manager, who has served since 1994 as a Thermo King manager in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City.

"No two dealerships in the Central States group are the same," Nelson says. "Each market is different and each shop has to be designed to serve it."

Besides Oklahoma City and Wichita, Central States operates others in St Louis and Kansas City, Kansas. Headquarters is in Kansas City. Satellite locations are in Salina, Dodge City, and Garden City, Kansas, and Guymon, Oklahoma.

Long experience in transport refrigeration in the Midwest helped Nelson adapt easily to the market in Oklahoma and Kansas. He started in the business at age 15, working part-time for an independent dealer in Iowa. "The experience I had in Sioux City helped me in Wichita and Oklahoma City," says Nelson, now general manager of both those branches.

"Kansas is beef country," he adds. "Refrigerated trailers are in demand to haul fresh meat from numerous packing plants. Other equipment such as dump trucks and platform trailers are needed for agriculture, construction, and coal mining (in southeastern Oklahoma near the Arkansas border). We are hoping to broaden our horizons by thinking out of the box about diversification."

Location Becomes Issue Central States had planned to build a larger facility in Oklahoma City since 1995, Nelson says. Location, as well as size, was the issue. Access to the previous shop near Interstate 40 and Meridian became increasingly difficult because of heavy airport traffic on Meridian, where new hotels and restaurants were opened.

The new location, only a few exits west on I-40 from the old site, will provide easier access from the Kilpatrick Turnpike and soon will connect near the new shop at I-40 and Morgan Road. "Three truck stops are located near here, and a fourth one is coming," Nelson says. "We anticipate increased drop-in traffic."

The shop sits on 8.3 acres and faces I-40 on the south side of the freeway. The middle section of the building houses offices and the parts department. On either side are service wings. The west wing has eight work bays for trailers, and the east has 10 bays for refrigeration service and repair and special equipment work, including recreational vehicles.

"Thermo King repair and service account for about 49% of our business; trailer repairs make up the other 51%," Nelson says. "Ronnie Kahn, Walt Thomas, and Allen Lane, Central States owners, took these percentages into account while planning the new building."

The walk-in parts counter is only a few steps from the front entrance, and it provides easier customer access than the previous shop, Nelson says. Separate service wings for refrigeration and trailer work also provide for more efficient operation.

140-Ft Double Bays Work bays are double deep totaling 140 feet long with nine doors on either side of the building. Each of the work spaces is about 16 ft wide, except for one bay used for special equipment installation. It has 10 extra feet on either side of the door.

The special bay is used for RV repairs and for Qualcomm installations as well as Meyer snowplows. A two-ton bridge crane serves the east wing for refrigeration unit installation and repair.

A new frame straightening bay, 70 ft long and 16 ft wide, is located in the trailer repair wing. Vertical columns on both sides divide it into four sections. Once hoists are installed, catwalks between vertical columns can be lifted to any height. Straightening equipment can pull frames from any direction.

"Today we do mainly refrigerated and dry van trailer repair," Nelson says. "But we want to increase our work on end-dumps and flatbeds. I'd like to move toward becoming a full-service truck equipment shop."

Central States Thermo King in Oklahoma City even does tractor service, using an off-site two-bay shop. "We do maintenance for a dry van fleet at their facility," Nelson explains. "They use all owner-operators, but they formerly ran an in-house shop, which we now operate for tractors."

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