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Truck Topics
An Alumi-Bunk update
By Jeff Jensen, Editor
May 30, 2006 - 4:49:00 PM

As the largest and possibly most well-known expediting truck sleeper and cargo box manufacturer, Alumi-Bunk Corporation has been in the forefront of product development since the early 1990's.  With the introduction of the company's latest offering, the RVEX, it was a good time to discuss Alumi-Bunk's history and future with Vice President, Eric Jain.

"Alumi-Bunk is a family operation," says Jain, "but we've never put a lot of weight into job titles.  My father looks after our  manufacturing and my brother Kent takes care of our Canadian group. As Vice President, I oversee the rest of our operations."

The background
He continues, "Alumi-Bunk was built by a family of engineers.  My dad's an engineer as is his brother.  My brother and I are both engineers, in fact, we have seven engineers in the family.  When Alumi-Bunk came up for sale, my father thought it would be a good business for my brother and I to be in because of our background as industrial engineers from the University of Toronto."

"Mind you, when I started at Alumi-Bunk, it was supposed to be just for a summer until I got a "real job".  That was fourteen years ago and I'm still at it."

"We've had a strong aptitude for developing new products.  It was all coffin-type sleepers before we developed the first stand-up Aerodyne sleeper.   We then created the Condo sleeper which is a full-stand up sleeper from the cab back.  That required a lot of ingenuity because we developed an air-ride system that combined the cab and the sleeper on one platform."   

He says, "Alumi-Bunk was predominantly a sleeper manufacturer until in the early 90's, we noticed that a lot of our customers would have us build a sleeper for them, then go down the street to put a van body on the back of their truck."

"Around that time, we won a contract with the Post Office to build a few hundred van bodies.  From there, with our experience in building van bodies, we began to offer an expediting package with a sleeper and a van body." 

"Around '92 or '93, we noticed that there weren't a lot of dealerships that were stocking trucks suitable for expediting. Quite often, a customer would place an order and would still be waiting three months, six months and sometimes up to a year for his truck.  At about that time, Freightliner introduced its Business Class line of trucks but their deliveries took as long as 14 months.  The International and Ford were popular choices, but everyone wanted the new style of the Freightliner."

Jain says that his company began ordering new trucks to have them for its customers and "one thing led to another.  We started with a small office on the second floor of the Detroiter Truck Stop.  We would show the truck parked downstairs then go back up to the office and put the deal together." 

This was during the time when the expediting carriers had recruiters located in Atlanta, Chicago, New Jersey, Knoxville, etc., so Alumi-Bunk opened offices in those areas to support the recruiting efforts of the companies.

Since then, the carriers have centralized their recruiting by operating in-house, so Jain says that his company has followed the same pattern of centralization.

"Initially," he says, "expediting was an afterthought for truck dealerships - everyone believed it was a fad that was going to go away.  We took the business seriously."

"Even now, the truck dealers see the expediting trucks going up and down the road and they wonder how they can get in on the action, but they're not really commited to it.  They'll put one unit together and if it sells, it sells.  They don't have the patience to commit to this business."

"I think that's one of Alumi-Bunk's biggest advantages - we've been at it for so long that we can cater to the expediting industry."

Jain touches on the company's concept of providing a one-stop shop for expediting owner-operators:
He states, "We started our insurance operation in 2000 and became closer to our customers.  This led to offering our clientele exclusive financing programs such as American Express and now, Key Finance."

Thoughts on the industry
"Expediting will most definitely continue to grow.  It's widely known that there's quite a shortage of drivers and trucks.  This time around though, versus previous cycles, the manufacturers haven't wrapped up their manufacturing the way they did in '98 and '99.  Back then, when the slump hit, they permanently eliminated a lot of their capacity, so today they don't have the capability to build what the market demands.  And, when there's a shortage of trucks, expediting booms."

Jain continues, "Expediting has matured a lot in the last fifteen or twenty years as well. Initially, it was automotive-related.  Now, it cove anything from candy wrappers to nuclear missiles, it's so widespread.  All of the blood that was delivered to the World Trade Center site after 9/11 was on expediting trucks.  When the space shuttle blew up over Texas, they used expediting trucks to pick up the debris.  What FedEx and packages are to the Post Office, expediting is to the trucking industry." 

"Being in business, I can't imagine not being able to deliver documents to my finance company overnight and knowing that those documents are  going to be there in the morning.  That's what expediting is to the trucking industry.  When you need a truck to deliver goods to your dock at 5:00 in the morning, expediting can guarantee that.
It's definitely an industry that will be around."

Sleeper evolution
Jain says that with the introduction of the Alumi-Bunk RVEX, a Class 8-based straight truck with a 120" sleeper, Alumi-Bunk has taken the expediting truck to the next level.

"The RV-style sleeper is the next evolution and it's geared towards attracting a different clientele to our industry.  It's for people who are not just working in expediting, but enjoy being out there.  Let's face it, living out on the road and living out of truckstops is a tough lifestyle.  Hats off to the people who do it.  This concept helps people live in comfort out on the road and makes it more enjoyable."

When asked if even larger sleepers are on the drawing board, Jain says that weight and length restrictions will always be an issue.

"But, we're always looking for ways to reduce the weight of the sleeper and we're coming up with new ideas."

"Sam Sharma of our Crew Chief line, along with Sheel Advani and Melanie Pierce from Alumi-Bunk and Jim Dotson, our consultant have worked very hard on the development of the RVEX."
 
"A lot of the new products that are developed are due to customer input.  They're the ones who tell us what they want."

Expansion
Jain says that Alumi-Bunk is growing and its business model is evolving:

"We're moving into a new Belleville, Ontario location.  Its a tri-brand ealership, an operation that carries the Western Star, Sterling and Freightliner brands."

He continues, "We're building a new, more centrally located Alumi-Bunk facility on 16 acres in Toledo, Ohio.  This will get us a little bit closer to our customers."  

"At our Woodhaven location, we have 7 service bays.  This new building will have 36 bays with a complete body shop, tire service and  repair shop.  Our insurance operation will be based there as well."

"We're building a brand new tri-brand dealership in Kingston, Ontario to replace a smaller building that we're currently in.   In addition, we're constructing a new Alumi-Bunk facility in Mississauga, Ontario.  We also own and operate a Freightliner dealership in Charleston, WV."

He concludes, "Our business model is changing.  We've been known primarily as a manufacturer, but we're changing that to become more of a service-based company along with truck sales."

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