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Utah’s Warner Truck Center keeps the big rigs moving

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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of the repair areas at the Warner Truck Center in West Vally City, Utah Thursday January 10, 2013. The truck center is home to transportation-related businesses that sell, maintain, repair and customize heavy- and light-duty vehicles,

By Pamela manson

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 09 2013 01:01AM
Updated May 21, 2013 11:32PM

West Valley City • After a big rig leaves the Warner Truck Center, the employees there can help its owner track to a fraction of a penny how much it costs per mile to operate the vehicle.

If there’s trouble on the road, Warner staff will find the nearest place to get a part or service any time day or night. That could be at the center south of the 201 Highway near 5600 West because the 100-acre site is home to service operations, parts warehouses and body and paint shops.

And while drivers are at the Warner Truck Center, they can get a hot meal, work out in a gym or attend a seminar to sharpen their job skills in the fast-growing profession.

"What we’ve got here is a pretty unique situation," said company founder Bart Warner, whose enterprise through the years has set itself apart by assembling a mix of transportation-related businesses to meet the needs of truckers and their trucks. Throw in its prime location in the midst of other trucking companies, dealerships and vendors, and you’ve got a concept that’s working not only in the Salt Lake Valley but that soon will debut in the southern part of the state with a 30-acre location in Hurricane.

"We build truck centers, not just dealerships," said Warner, a son of the late auto dealer and community leader Rick Warner.

The son has followed in the father’s footsteps. Rick Warner bought a Freightliner franchise in 1983 and sold heavy trucks at his Warner Truckland at 1300 S. State St. in Salt Lake City. In 1990, Bart Warner and Jerry Zmyslo established Freightliner of Utah after purchasing the franchise’s assets from Rick Warner, and continued operations in Salt Lake City.

The business outgrew its space, so Bart Warner bought 100 acres near 2100 South and 5600 West in 1995 and spent more than $3 million putting in a frontage road and water and sewer lines.

Warner Truck Center opened in 1996, and over the years, it either leased or sold land at the site to an array of transportation-related businesses that sell, maintain, repair and customize heavy- and light-duty vehicles.

The businesses there include Warner Fleet Services and Warner Body & Paint, Freightliner, Western Star of Utah, Wabash of Utah, TruckPro Leasing & Finance, Utah Tank & Trailer, Sprinter Sales, N.E.W.S. (National Environmental Waste Systems) and Cummins Rocky Mountain.

And the center soon will be home to Thermo King, which will provide a cooling and heating system speciality, "the last piece of the puzzle," according to Warner. "We try to attract the best services," he said.

Thermo King Intermountain, which is building a $6 million, 35,000-square-foot facility on 9½ acres it purchased, services and sells parts for temperature systems for truck bodies, trailers, buses, shipboard containers and rail cars. The West Valley City Redevelopment Agency voted in December to give $125,000 to Thermo King to offset some of its costs of moving from its current South Salt Lake location.

The place to be • With the trucking industry booming, the center has plenty of potential customers. Drivers are in high demand, with estimates of a shortage developing in the next several years ranging from 150,000 to 400,000 positions, according to Thom Pronk, C.R. England corporate vice president.

He said C.R. England employs about 7,000 drivers and independent contractors and needs more. "There’s no shortage of opportunities," Pronk said.

Keith Morey, West Valley City business development manager, said that by combining transportation services in one location, Warner Truck Center has made itself a destination for truckers, who can plan their routes to get work done there. In addition, the center serves many truck-related businesses in the surrounding area.

Other features that make the center a draw include the Cascadia Cafe, which operates rent free because Warner wanted to have a good restaurant for employees and truckers; an employee gym that customers also can use; showers; and a meeting room where drivers come from as far as 300 miles away to attend monthly seminars on safety, products and other transportation topics.

And the around-the-clock hours are designed to accommodate customers.

"We’re like a 24/7 truck hospital," Warner said.

The location is perfect for Pride Transport, which has its headquarters just outside the center and gets repairs, paint and body services and preventative maintenance there.

"It doesn’t get any more convenient for us," CEO Jay England said.

Another nearby company, C.R. England, the nation’s largest refrigerated carrier, buys most of its trucks and gets maintenance and other support services from the Warner businesses.

"They have been very creative helping us meet the new and growing challenges that face us in this business," said Corey England, executive vice president of operations. "It’s been a great relationship."

Freightliner also took a creative approach with Airgas, a national distributor of air products, to get its business. To show that it could save the company more than $1 million a year, the dealership started a company in 2000 called Warner Fleet Services that provides a road service call center for thousands of Airgas trucks, trailers and pieces of equipment.

The service also reviews and tracks every repair order and bill, and writes software to provide customized information, such as what percentage of repair costs goes toward items not under warranty.

"This service provides a unique advantage to us compared to our competitors when it comes to selling trucks today," a Warner company report says. "Instead of just selling a ‘price,’ we sell a cost per mile that we can back up."

Warner also puts mechanics in its larger customers’ shops to do small repairs and staffs a Kennecott Copper shop in West Jordan with a dozen technicians.

Cutting edge • The Warner Truck Center is undergoing a transition with the sale of the business by Bart Warner to his sons, Buzz and Tony. Bart Warner will still be a part of the center, and Buzz Warner said he and his brother will continue the operations as they are, with updates in technology.

One tool already in use is an iPad app, developed by Freightliner and Apple, that sales representatives can use to provide an on-the-spot quote on a customized truck. A customer’s specifications, including performance requirements and custom features, are entered to come up with an immediate number, a process that used to be time- and labor-intensive.

"It gives our salesmen a great tool to help our customers control costs and find efficiencies," said Buzz Warner, who was one of the Freightliner people who provided suggestions on features for the app.

Mckay Taylor, one of the owners of Lehi-based Alfalfa Express, which hauls agricultural products, said Warner Truck Center helps his company get the most out of its four trucks. Computer software monitors where his trucks are and what mileage they’re getting, he said, and helps him nail down the costs of operations.

"Warner Truck Center provides us with the ability to be on the cutting edge of technology so we can stay one step ahead of our competition," Taylor said.

He praised the service, saying he can call his designated representative at Warner day or night if he has a problem and will get a response within a half hour.

CEO Kim Robinson of Robinson Transport Inc. in Salina also is pleased about the efficiency of the trucks he buys from Warner and the money he saves.

"They take care of their customers," Robinson said. "They’re the best."

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

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