Adapting to a Changed Market and Continuing to Grow
Norstar manufactures quality truck beds and trailers to be sold throughout North America under the brands Norstar Truck Beds and Iron Bull Trailers. The four brothers who established the company in 2012 have led it through rapid growth, quickly developing an exemplary reputation across major marketplaces.
Very soon after its inception, the company began to find success within its market. Accelerated growth immediately became the norm, and after eight years in business, that trend continues. Within the last few years, Norstar has added even more square footage to its manufacturing space of roughly 500,000 square feet and recruited well over 100 employees, adding a night crew to the production lines. In total, approximately 350 skilled employees bring their own strengths and expertise to the company, and many of these people have improved the business in a significant way.
One who has contributed greatly is a new quality control manager who oversees the inspection of all trailers and truck beds to ensure products are up to the company’s high standards before they leave the facility. The ramped-up quality control has improved substantially, and the company has seen a measurable increase in the positive feedback it is receiving from customers.
Kyle Raulston, a digital marketer for Norstar, receives many of these testimonials from Norstar customers via email and is in a good position to assess the company’s rapidly improving level of customer satisfaction. “We brought in a new quality control specialist who oversees the whole project, and I can already tell that our quality has gone through the roof. He’s been here for a few months, and he just really takes pride in his job and it shows,” Raulston said.
“I’m just one of a few people that deal directly with customers, but some of the biggest feedback that we get from our customers and our dealers is the willingness and readiness to help our customers,” he shared.
After the coronavirus pandemic began, Norstar held a meeting with all department heads to clearly define roles within the company, and it chose to restructure much of its staff based on critical operations. Many job positions were changed including in the management department, and the office space was adjusted as well temporarily.
The company has been fortunate to be able to continue selling, producing, and shipping trailers and truck beds throughout the pandemic, although many employees experienced a temporary furlough. Although it had the capacity to maintain its business growth, it was, nevertheless, affected by its dealerships’ operations. Dealers throughout North America are following different laws and guidelines for their businesses, and some of these dealers stopped placing orders due to mandatory shutdowns. Norstar decided to continue shipping its trailers and truck beds as long as there were any dealers in demand, and never reached a point where orders stopped coming in completely.
As dealerships have now started to reopen, business at Norstar has roared as well. Employees who were furloughed due to the lack of business have returned to work, and the production line is running stronger than ever, with more new positions currently available to keep up with increased demand. “Before COVID-19 happened, you would walk out on the lot, and you’d see trailers and truck beds covering the entire yard. After COVID-19, the yard was suddenly bare and we have been trying to fill it back up since our return,” explained Raulston.
Certain trailers and truck beds have suddenly become more popular. “It has changed the demands of what we normally would produce, and certain trailers have been in higher demand than ever,” explained Raulston.
As the company and the rest of the country recover from 2020, new challenges continue to arise. Currently, Norstar is struggling with getting components from nearly all vendors, currently especially evident in lumber supply and filling workforce demand.
Norstar used this time to refine its focus on unique product designs as well as upgrades for its existing and future products. In the last few years, customers have requested more aluminum truck beds, particularly in the northern states and Canada. Ice and snow during the winter months require much salt on the roads, and aluminum is the optimal choice for these conditions because it does not rust.
“If you go up north you’ll see a lot more aluminum beds because they perform better in the more harsh environments. We’ve been making them for over a year, but we now have multiple truck bed offerings that are aluminum. We will continue to expand the product offerings so that we have a full line for those that request aluminum,” said Raulston.
New for 2021, Norstar now has a utility truck bed that is perfect for the service industry. The Norstar UB (Utility Body) is composed entirely of 16 gauge galvanneal, has a storage space that includes vertical cabinets, has optional top boxes, and features over-wheel cabinets with multiple lighting setups. These can also be equipped with an optional 2 ½” hitch tree when needed that is rated 18,500 lbs. There are multiple design options from which to choose, making it easy to customize for a variety of industries.
“We’re calling it the UB, and we’re producing it now. We just finished the first prototype of it, and we will be releasing more models soon,” Raulston explained. “It’s a different market that we hope to reach because it is lighter and has a lot more cabinet space and a lot more toolboxes than most of our current offerings.”
For 2021 the trailer division will see a new series hit the market called the ‘W’ series. These include the DWB and EWB models – an 8” I-Beam framed dump and an equipment trailer. The trailers were introduced by popular demand and have already grown to be some of the top sellers in the Iron Bull product family. They differ from the best selling DTB and ETB series dumps and equipment in that they are standard configurations only with no options available. They represent a high-quality, mass-produced product line that was able to hit the market hard and fast.
Starting in 2021, all Iron Bull trailer models with tandem dual-wheeled axles will come standard with a Dexter HDSS heavy-duty, adjustable suspension system that used to be sold as a separate upgrade at a considerable cost. Also for 2021. Norstar is excited to announce primer and improved powder coating as a new standard for all its truck beds and trailers.
“We’re giving a free paint and primer upgrade on all truck beds and trailers. We’re using a different paint and primer that’s better in quality, but it’s going to be standard instead of being an option that you could buy like it was before with 2020 models and older,” said Raulston.
The third free upgrade that will soon be standard at Norstar in 2021 is in black rims for all Iron Bull trailer wheels. “Instead of having the standard silver mod wheels or rims, we’re giving the black wheels as a standard upgrade for free. So those three things would be the biggest upgrades for 2021.” The company has also added a new color option for its new ‘W’ series trailers, ranch grey, and it has received a lot of positive feedback from customers.
Raulston believes that the reason the company has been so successful in such a short period is the wealth of experience the leadership has. Norstar is a new company, but the Harms brothers and management team who lead the business are not new to the industry by any means.
The company’s management team employs a hands-on leadership style that includes working in the field to motivate and inspire the Norstar workforce. This approach enables them to share their knowledge and expertise and to instill the confidence that comes with many years of experience.
Another aspect that many customers appreciate – and one with which some competitors cannot compete – is having the ability to purchase the same brand of trailer and truck bed products. Norstar covers both bases.
Well aware that its partnerships with its dealers are essential, the company looks for ways to improve their businesses as well. For example, to decrease the amount of inventory that would be necessary for its dealerships to carry, Norstar manufactures adjustable full-length bed runners on truck beds that allow a single bed to fit multiple truck models on the market. As a result, its dealers can sell the same amount of product but not have to stock as much inventory.
Looking forward, Norstar anticipates more growth at the same speed and is expanding the back half of its manufacturing facility to prepare for this growth. The demand for trailers and truck beds has returned to an all-new high, and the company is working hard to fill its inventory on the lot again. The new night crew is significantly contributing to this effort, and Norstar plans to continue to adapt to the needs of the market.