Eighteen months ago, we examined the growth of a chain of tank trailer service centers. An update visit reveals that Polar Service Centers President Mike Evans and his management team remain on a mission to keep those units moving safely and efficiently to customers’ sites.
Polar operates 29 service centers across the U.S. (all will be ASME R-stamp certified by December) and, according to Evans, is the only national network of factory-owned parts and service locations for all-makes tank trailers and bodies. A division of trailer manufacturer Polar Corp., it serves businesses that transport dry and liquid bulk cargoes, including petroleum, construction materials, chemicals and food-grade products.
The newest challenge for the service operation is to keep up and capitalize on the booming shale district of North Dakota.
To serve tank fleet owners in the Bakken oilfields (the fastest growing oil-producing area in the U.S.), Polar recently opened a new 9,600-sq.-ft., five-bay service center in Killdeer, N.D. It provides service for all makes of dry and liquid bulk tank trailers and truck-mounted tank bodies. Other services at Killdeer include CHM-183 and D.O.T. inspections as well as brake, suspension and other preventive maintenance work.
“Already, there’s a tremendous demand for aftermarket parts and experienced technicians who can work on any brand of tank,” said Evans.
He offered that manpower and staffing present their challenges in this booming area. Polar has even built a bunk house for 12 employees, since sleeping accommodations are quite hard to come by.
According to John Conley, president of National Tank Truck Carriers, the tank trailer manufacturers have been uncommonly busy over the past year as they work extra shifts to meet the demands of the growing shale energy business while trying to satisfy their longtime customers in other tank truck sectors. “The tank trailer manufacturing business has always been a bit of a roller coaster ride and right now the cars are at the top of the ramps. I would not be surprised to see more trailer manufacturers take a closer look at this industry.”
Evans has kept his eyes focused on other service opportunities. To better support Southern California, the company recently updated its facility in Sacramento and opened a new 8,000-sq.-ft., five-bay facility in southwest Phoenix late last year. In addition to tank repairs, it provides pressure and vapor recovery testing, MC330/331 retesting, periodic maintenance and aftermarket parts for all-makes of dry and liquid bulk tank trailers and truck-mounted tank bodies.
“There are [servicing] efficiencies to be gained if our customers will allow us to just take care of it. For example, the total cost of maintenance (running higher), proper technician training (a greater expense) and we’re striving to help prevent idle-time due to repairs or service.” Service orders at the facilities range from standardized tanker testing (VIK), which often leads to necessary repair work, tank repair and rebuild work, and prep work on the trailer, clean out, check lights, signals and running gear.
“We have a good, solid crew of people, some of the very best in the industry, but we could always use more qualified technicians,” said Evans, who often uses Hanover, Md.-based Aerotek to find new people, including former military vehicle personnel. “Customers trust our parts availability…”
All trailer parts are stocked at Polar’s parts distribution center in Minnesota and direct-shipped to the service centers. “We’ve established high expectations on parts with our customers, and many rely on us for partsfrom lights to ancillary gloves to baffles,” Evans said.
“There are few peaks and valleys in parts like there are in new equipment buying cycles,” Evans added. “We provide a very competitively priced, one-stop center for quality and highly-recognized brands of parts. Our customers tell us they’d rather trust us than spot-buy from area stores.”
As for measuring its parts/service success to date, Polar relies heavily on positive word-of-mouth by customers. Evans emphasized that “Polar’s overriding goal is to stand by and meet every customer’s expectation for new vehicle or existing vehicle service work, including warranty jobs. Customer satisfaction has been and remains our number one objective.”