The right parts. Talented technicians. Can-do attitude. Delivering what customers want and need. That’s the formula for a unique network of trailer service centers operated by Polar Service Centers, a growing network of 29 locations across the U.S. It’s operated by a team of individual site managers and directed by the group’s president, Craig Fisher, an astute industry management veteran with over 25 years in commercial vehicles and understanding motor carriers’ penchant for quality service.
“Our inaugural three-part business philosophy in 1995 was to sell the new tank trailer, service it for its life and take it in on trade for the next new unit,” says Fisher. But the business grew as positive word-of-mouth spread. “We’re fulfilling a real ‘after the sale’ service need that our customers have, as proven by our customers’ loyalty, our growth and our sustainability,” Fisher says.
The operation is a business unit of its parent, Polar Tank LLC, one of the largest manufacturers of custom tank trailers, and the sales and service operations rely on each other to better maximize end-users’ vehicle uptime. Fisher points out that the service centers are a complete complement to the existing Polar dealer network.
The company initially directed its attention solely to tank trailers, but has expanded its reach to undercarriage work on dry vans, reefers and flatbeds. In addition to comprehensive HM-183 and DOT and carrier-mandated inspections and actual tank repairs including welding, the centers’ technicians perform accident damage repairs, re-jacket older trailers for cosmetic damages, perform running gear and brake work and install pump systems and other specialty application modifications.
Naturally, the centers minimize the trailers’ service time, focusing on inspections and preventive maintenance procedures first, followed by complex repairs that require more time.
A cornerstone of the business is relationships. “This is still a people-caring, people-solving business,” emphasizes Fisher. “Our technicians have come to know our customers and their trailers. If we happen to make a mistake, we ’fess up and take care of our customers – they simply want to be treated fairly and quickly.”
Stocking the right parts for the area customer base is key, too. They are purchased centrally from the St. Cloud, Minn., home office along with the OEM’s specification of trailer components, but each location manages the parts inventories. Plus if there’s a parts warranty issue, Fisher says “it’s frankly a non-issue; we take care of it quickly.”
Another important contributor to customer satisfaction is the technician, with an average tenure of five to ten years and a work ethic to delight the customers. Many possess welding certification, while others originate from area technical schools and others join Polar from a totally different industry to “inject a fresh mindset of taking care of the customers.”
So what’s next? “Our business plan is full – a three-stage plan for growth and again, it’s focused on the customer,” Fisher offers. “We are extending our reach into tractor service-preventive maintenance, lubrications and brake servicing, but not into any minor or major rebuilding.” Fisher notes that the new CSA regulations could be a positive factor in Polar’s growth: “…even more focus on the equipment and that it be in tip-top shape…our network can help customers meet this requirement.”
The company plans to open six to eight new service centers in 2011, depending on the industry’s return to business normalcy. And Polar’s services are growing again—this time “with the ability to do propane up-fitting coast-to-coast” as Polar acquired a propane outfit in Salem, Ill. Eight to ten locations will be equipped with up-fitting equipment and personnel, while all locations will offer parts and service on propane units.
Trailer maintenance and servicing may be sometimes overshadowed by the tractor, but is equally as important. Actually hauling the payload dependably can be enough reminder to fleet managers of the need for the right attention to trailers, and the attention to respective details.