Repair expertise central component of service at Frontier Tank Center

AFTER being in the trailer sales business for several years, Jim Hollabaugh decided in 1988 to expand into cargo tank repairs by acquiring a 13-bay facility in Richfield, Ohio. The expansion has been successful, growing into a viable repair and parts business for Frontier Trailer Sales/Tank Center. The company management now includes Hollabaugh's sons, Michael and Matthew, who with their father oversee the operation.

Although the senior Hollabaugh is an avid collector of petroleum industry memorabilia, there's nothing antique about the repair facility. Work orders and other administrative information are processed through a company-proprietary software program designed by CB Software of Beachwood, Ohio. The system also manages the parts inventory data.

Frontier emphasizes customer service as an essential ingredient of its success. “Most of our customers are in a 50-to 70-mile radius of here,” says Hollabaugh. “We run our schedule around their needs.”

The shop is open Monday through Friday 7 am until 5:30 pm and Saturday 7 am until noon. Although used trailers are purchased and repaired for sale, the shop schedule gives priority to commercial customers. Tank trailers that have been in the shop are monitored for testing dates, and their owners are reminded of the deadline.

No stranger to service in the tank truck industry, Hollabaugh was in sales with Fruehauf for several years. At Fruehauf, he met John Murphy, who later started the trailer sales business. By 1979, Hollabaugh had joined his colleague and in 1984 took over the business.

Profitable Asset

The tank repair business proved to be a profitable asset in conjunction with trailer sales. “Growth was pretty steady from the beginning,” says Hollabaugh.

Frontier holds an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) “U” certificate for the manufacture of code tanks and a National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors “R” certificate for cargo tank repairs and alterations. A Standard Industrial Corp shear and brake press are used in the fabrication area. The 22-foot-high ceilings are traversed by three cranes used to move trailer equipment. The company employs 15 mechanics who work in a service area of 25,000 square feet.

“In about three years, we had reached our shop service capacity, and that situation has remained in place,” he says.

Expert service is offered from minor repairs and testing to total restoration, including rebuilding, sandblasting, and painting. Services include external visual and internal visual inspections, lining inspections, leakage testing, pressure retesting, thickness testing, and vapor recovery testing. Mechanics also handle bottom-loading conversion, tank degassing, custom fabrication, and lining repair. Frontier will pick up and deliver vehicles, and also purchases wrecked trailers. If a customer needs a replacement trailer during the repair period, a leasing program is provided.

Frontier works on most cargo tank types, including petroleum, stainless steel chemical units, pressure vessels, and dry bulkers. Occasionally a foodgrade trailer is in the shop. Frontier also works on van, dump trailers, and flatbed trailers, a part of the business that brings in about 10-15% of the total revenue.

Cargo tank testing makes up about one-third of the shop work. Of the 13 bays, three are assigned to testing activities. One bay is for painting, and one is used for sand blasting.

When the work is completed, the information supplied by mechanics is entered into the company's computer system.

Although it is difficult to recruit qualified mechanics, the company has been successful in retaining those it hires. Hollabaugh tries to hire experienced mechanics, but for those who are just out of a vocational school, the company provides on-job training. Mechanics are kept up to date on Department of Transportation maintenance requirements. Training for confined-space entry is an ongoing program, and mechanics are required to double-check the tank atmosphere before going inside.

Parts Supply

Although the shop is a major revenue generator, parts sales is another strong division of the company. “We stock a complete line of valves, piping, couplers, and repair kits for liquid and dry bulk tank trailer needs,” says Hollabaugh. The company allots 10,000 square feet to its parts department and is an authorized distributor for products from Betts Industries, Fruehauf, Civacon, Polar Corp, Allegheny, EBW Inc, Girard Equipment Inc, Knappco Corp, Scully Signal Co, Sure Seal Inc, Emco Wheaton, and Dixon Bayco Ltd. About $300,000 is maintained in inventory, and over-the-counter parts sales contribute about 20% of the annual revenue.

“With our inventory computerized, we are able to practically eliminate back orders,” he adds.

The trailer sales side of the business is directed by Dan Kline, vice-president, sales and marketing. The company offers both sales and leasing services for new and used tank trailers. It is an authorized LBT/Fruehauf and Polar distributor. The 10-acre site provides plenty of room to display the tank trailer inventory.

With tank trailer sales, parts supply, and the repair center all providing diversification for the company, Frontier is in a good position to weather any ups and downs that the industry may deliver. The decision to expand into the repair and parts supply business more than a decade ago has indeed been fruitful.

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