We didn’t expect a manufacturer of deicing trucks to tell us that last winter, mild if barely there in most parts of the country, was actually good for his business.
For Premier Engineering & Manufacturing, Marinette, WI, however, last winter marked the first deicing season the company went the extra step to directly manage repairs for its Southwest Airlines account with 24/7/365 service within an hour of a call.
“It was a little daunting considering we’re a small company,” says Jerry Derusha, president of sales. “Luckily, the mild winter gave us an opportunity to get the service off to a good start.”
Derusha took us for a tour of his 23,000 sq. ft. production facility located about 50 miles north of Green Bay, WI. His crews were busy welding torsion bars, twisting tubing for fluid heaters and fabricating the heater boxes and cabinets that would hold the guts of the truck’s deicing machinery.
Another part of the plant held the paint booth and fabrication station for the enclosures to the lifts.
The finished trucks are prepped for delivery in a final section in the back of the building. In its best year, the company turned out 134 trucks. But Derusha will gladly take 75 trucks a year, which keeps quality and profits humming along.
The company also offers after-market service to keep its workforce sharp throughout the year. During our visit, for example, employees were starting to refurbish the first of what could be more than 90 United Airlines’ deicer trucks in service almost as long as Premier’s been in business.
“About five months of the year, the place is the right size,” he says. “For four months, it’s oversized and for three months, we could really use the extra space,” he says.
Derusha started the company in 1991 to service existing deicers, primarily the 500 trucks he helped get out the door at a former employer. But Derusha also started manufacturing his own line of trailer deicers shortly after opening and assuredly re-entered the new deicer truck business when he sold 64 units to United Airlines in 1996.
3 YEARS, 1 HOUR
Derusha knew he had to offer something different so his trucks come with a full three-year warranty that covers parts and labor.
“That is a bumper-to-bumper, top-to-bottom warranty,” he adds. “If even a light goes out, we give you a new one.”
Plus, Derusha backed up his service by guaranteeing that a trained service professional would start making repairs within one hour of a call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.
“Three years can be a very long time,” Derusha explains. “With 85 percent of our components off the shelf, we went to our suppliers to help us back up the warranty and that one-hour promise.”
That helped the company build a dependable network of techs who knew every mechanical component of the truck. More importantly, it helped the company know how to diagnose a mechanical problem properly over the phone no matter the time of day (or night).
That skill came in handy after the company won a multiyear contract to supply Southwest Airlines with deicers at 63 locations around the country. Currently, the airline operates about 175 Premier deicers.
Anything mechanical is bound to have issues. Premier offered, however, a better way to resolve those issues – and along the way won the recognition of the airline’s GSE department by winning its Equipment Provider of the Year award.
Beforehand, here was the airline’s protocol for managing repairs. The operator would notify the station manager; the station manager would notify his supervisor – who likely was located in another zip code and time zone – and then one of the airline’s subcontractors would roll out to fix the problem.
That sounds like a problem to fix a problem. And there’s nothing worse if you’re Derusha, who’s poured all his energy into his company and its products, and told your trucks don’t work.
“We said to Southwest, if one of our trucks doesn’t work, you call us directly and we’ll take care of it,” Derusha says.
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