XL Specialized’s 120 low-profile HDG trailer.
Standing behind its versatile heavy haul products and custom trailer innovations, Iowa-based manufacturer XL Specialized Trailers started 2021 on a high note with a new warranty policy and new financing program, both improvements over its own offerings and setting the standards high for the industry overall.
President and CEO Stuart Sleper is upbeat on these latest developments of 2021.
"In the last three years, our product quality has improved dramatically," he said. "We know this because our warranty expense is a fraction of what it used to be, so we felt comfortable coming out with a brand-new warranty program that covers our trailers for an extended time period."
The new 5-3-1 warranty policy features full five-year structural coverage, full three-year paint coverage and full one-year coverage on parts and components. The new XL Specialized Capital financing program for trailer buyers is a solution for XL's nationwide network of dealers to get trailers to customers quickly and affordably, with online credit approvals completed within hours and flexible payment plans.
"The financing program is another tool for our dealerships to help an end user that has trouble coming up with the full amount to spread those payments and make that purchase much more feasible," said Sleper.
XL offers a wide range of trailer models including hydraulic detachable gooseneck (HDGs) and mechanical full-width gooseneck (MFGs) lowboys, extendables and many others for the construction, commercial, agricultural, wind energy, oil and gas, infrastructure and custom trailer markets.
Founded in 1995 by George Wall, the company has been in business for 26 years, during which it has steadily grown from its original facility in Oelwein to its current headquarters in Manchester, expanding from 75,000 sq. ft. in 2006 to 130,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space today, and with another expansion project now adding another 50,000 sq. ft. This will bring XL to almost 200,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space and updated offices.
To be completed by year-end, the expansion will help add capacity in key areas of XL's manufacturing process to reduce lead times and see a more satisfied customer base, resulting in larger market share.
"The last three years we've seen record performance across the board, from safety to topline growth to customer satisfaction … With the expansion project, we are looking to add more people, and grow by another 30 percent," said Sleper, who brings manufacturing expertise spanning more than 25 years, having held leadership roles with General Motors, Honeywell, Goodyear Tire and Parker Hannifin.
That growth is attributed in large part to XL's workforce and new leadership team, with company culture being the driving force behind the improvement.
"Our employee turnover three years ago was 85 percent and today is below 20 percent, that's a business metric we watch closely," said Sleper. "It's very important to be plugged in to our team members. If we take care of our team, they in turn, will take good care of our customers. It's been a transformational change for XL."
Where finding and retaining labor has been a major pain point for the industry, and was true for XL until 2018, an improved employee benefits package with a bonus tied to company earnings, created by the new leadership team, has seen XL realize its goal of becoming an employer of choice in northeast Iowa.
"We have an awesome team at XL, and they deserve all the credit for our recent success," said Sleper.
While competitors offer a standardized product line, and so does XL, Sleper explained that customization always drew customers in. A highly engineered, customer-centric, process-oriented approach, customization at XL involves voice of the customer, market study, a lot of analytics and a 10-person leadership team that sits on the panel evaluating new products as they come through. A prototype unit is made and goes into the field for testing.
"We have a large engineering team; they are experts regarding all the different factors and variations that go into heavy haul trailer manufacturing," said Sleper. "Every state has different regulations and laws governing transportation of loads over the highway, so our engineering team must be up to date and knowledgeable about all those state laws and regulations, different bridge laws for example, and all the requirements that go into a heavy haul. It's that engineering expertise that our founder, George Wall, realized was needed and he built the company around it. The differentiator back then and today being customized engineering services and products, that's our secret sauce. That's what sets us apart."
Wall sold the company in 2007 to a private equity group, that then sold the company in 2016 to London-based Caparo Bull Moose, an industrial conglomerate owning manufacturing companies around the world. Through it all, XL has continued to strengthen its dealer network, team of skilled employees and add to its product offerings. Training is provided twice a year where dealers, customers, suppliers and new employees are invited to learn more about the company and products. The two-day sessions include hands-on time with trailers, understanding how each different model works and performs.
XL has a complete parts department that handles incoming calls daily and their own parts warehouse. Trailers get serviced at XL's dedicated service center housed in a separate building across the street from the main facility with its own expert staff.
"The biggest challenge for us now is trying to meet the demand of our customer base; it has exploded over the last four months so the timing of the expansion project has been good for us and will enable us to better meet that demand," said Sleper. "The other challenge is the supply chain; there is unprecedented raw material inflation going on in the market right now. We're doing the best we can managing through this commodity surge. Our customers and dealers have been excellent partners through this challenging environment, and we'd like to thank them for their support."
On plans for 2021 and beyond, Sleper said, "Every market sector is unique and involves product development and new features to trailers. Because most of our orders are custom work, each trailer is almost like a new product. We have a new product development team that is working all the time with our customers to develop the next big thing in the trailer industry. We are number one in the innovation space, and we come out with three to five new trailers every year. Our company is growing fast, and we have ambitions to double in size in the next three to five years. We are very excited for the future and what's in store for the heavy haul trailer industry." CEG
This story also appears on Truck and Trailer Guide.
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