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Doing whatever it takes

Steph Sabo says being ‘Cutting Edge’ comes down to the basics

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Doug Kaufman has been with Babcox Media since 1987 serving in a variety of editorial and publishing roles and titles. He is currently publisher of Engine Builder. He also has been editorial liaison between Babcox and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) for the past 12 years. Doug has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Bowling Green State University and remains a committed MAC enthusiast.

To grow from a single-truck livestock hauler to one of the most successful less-than-truckload carriers serving the Steph Sabo, maintenance manager at Norrenberns Truck ServiceMidwest is a big accomplishment. To do it in less than 30 years is even more impressive.To hear Steph Sabo, maintenance manager at Norrenberns Truck Service (NOTS) in Nashville, Ill., tell it though, anyone can do it. All it takes is a commitment to the basics.With a focus on strong family values, a commitment to succeed and keeping customer promises, Sabo says the “doing whatever it takes” attitude that owner Tom Kirchner had when he purchased the company extends throughout the NOTS organization today.

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“The company was originally founded in 1925 by the Norrenberns brothers of rural Albers, Ill., primarily to serve local farmers by delivering livestock to the stockyards,” explains Sabo. “Since its purchase by the Kirchners in 1981, NOTS now owns and operates multiple warehouse and distribution centers within the Midwest. Directly serving a large majority of the country, we provide services such as inventory control and order fulfillment, as well as freight logistics, freight management, freight audit and payment services.”

And Sabo believes keeping every aspect of the NOTS organization working in harmony requires remembering basic facts about the business—a key one of which is keeping the trucks on the road.
“Since I have grown with NOTS over the years, with the input of not only our staff but all my friends through the TMC family, I have established our entire preventive maintenance practices, not only for our trucks and trailers, but also for cars, light trucks, material handling and construction equipment.

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NOTS operates a 24-hour truck repair shop that offers every aspect of truck repair, says Sabo, from customized preventive maintenance services to entire truck refurbishes. “It’s a clean, modern, state of the art facility with almost every OEM computer diagnostic capability. We stock $600,000 of inventory to meet our own fleet requirements in addition to those of our customers. We have extremely high-quality people (25 on staff in the repair facility) who all take great pride in what they do. We’re able to stay on top of the latest trends in truck maintenance to not only benefit our fleet, but also our many strong supporting customers.

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Further evidence of the commitment to meeting customer needs is the NOTS NAPA Auto Parts store that sells everything from truck accessories, including tires and lift kits, to car parts. Sabo has worked hard to ensure maximum profitability for the company’s various departments as well as exposure in the community. “I’ve implemented the shop’s safety and training programs, and helped establish the marketing programs for both our truck repair shop and our auto parts store,” he says.

How? “For actual improvements and to make the work flow better, NOTS was one of the first trucking companies to be ISO 9000 certified,” Sabo says. “Now that certification has moved to ISO 9001 and we implemented the requirements not only in the trucking business, but warehousing and shop as well.”

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Sabo believes the basics of business can be answered with three main questions: What do I need to do my job? Where should I locate this item? How many of this item do I need? “We stay on top of and implement all the smart concepts such as Kaizen and the 5S business philosophy (Sort, Set In Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain). This establishes a place for everything and keeps everything in its place.”
This process also keeps the techs working in the bay with established locations for all tools so everyone knows where they are and that they are actually there when needed. “From simple locations of mop buckets, to locations of all tooling requirements, this method definitely improves productivity and suppresses the aggravation of finding items when needed.”
It may not sound all that exciting, Sabo admits, but implementing these processes and staying on top of all the trends lets him see what’s profitable and actually maintain profits.  “Our parts department is not laid out by VMRS code, but by vendor or part application. So if a tech needs an IH electrical switch, it won’t be next to the Volvo electrical switches, but will be in the IH section, with all their switches. This seems to make finding parts faster as our techs feed themselves. We feel this is more cost effective than hiring additional parts personnel,” he says.

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“Since we don’t operate as a normal fleet shop, but as a parts store, parts purchasing is handled much differently. We do spend a lot of time planning parts purchases due to the savings in purchasing processes and try to flat-line purchased dollars month after month. Though we follow a really simple process, it took a lot of time to establish—but more importantly, maintain—these trends.”

Maintaining the profitability wouldn’t be possible without a great staff, and Sabo gives the credit where it is due. “Thanks to expert personnel in the entire shop organization, we have very strong growth year after year. We could not achieve this without their pride in what they do. Sometimes—no, many times—I take for granted our staff’s ability to be productive,” admits Sabo. We are small, so it’s really easy to have extremely high-quality people. We hold everyone very accountable, but they all take pride in what they do, so that’s easy. We are blessed.”

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NOTS may be blessed with great people, but Sabo credits that to another business basic: treat your people right. “Our owner once told me, ‘Trucks are real easy to deal with—it’s the people that require the attention.’ That pays off: treat them with utmost respect and give them the opportunities to be professionals, and they, including ourselves, will always prove this.”

Sabo believes in taking life lightly. “We are all in this game of life together, you know. I was taught the importance of high morale as a SeaBee in the U.S. Navy. I like the people around me to be smiling and having fun. We are blessed to have a clean, state of the art facility so it’s easier to have fun in. You can have fun, get a lot of work done and be productive all at the same time.”

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At the end of the day, Sabo believes doing what it takes is really all about making money—for employees, customers and the business itself. “People don’t work because they want to, they work because they want money. Businesses don’t operate to employ people, they operate to make money. So if you’re putting money in everyone’s hands, then I think that’s really what it boils down to.”

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