Celebrating Over 50 Years of Family Owned Service Across the Midwest

By Giles Lambertson - Construction Equipment Guide Correspondent 

Jake Langer was a partner in a truck equipment company in 1963 when he and his son-in-law Leo Capeder, who was an employee of the company, decided to turn it into a family enterprise.

Buying out his partner, Langer built a 3,000-sq. ft. facility in Maplewood, Minn., northwest of St. Paul. Langer, Capeder and Langer’s son Tom, who was a master electrician, opened the doors to a company they christened “Truck Utilities.”

(L-R) are Leo Capeder, co-founder; Craig Capeder, president; Paul Capeder, secretary / treasurer; and Jay Langer, vice president
(L-R) are Leo Capeder, co-founder; Craig Capeder, president; Paul Capeder, secretary / treasurer; and Jay Langer, vice president

Fifty years later, the company still is family-owned and now serves customers from three locations across the midwest.

A third-generation family member in the company, Paul Capeder, looks back on that start a half century ago and sees three people who were independent, entrepreneurial and confident.

“They simply said, ‘We think we can do this on our own.’”

Turns out, they were right.

Building a Company

truck-utilities-st-paul-building-number-4

The early business focused on hand-building of body components and attachments for trucks. One of the first and most popular products was what came to be called the “Leo Plow,” a snow blade of Leo Capeder’s design. It featured an effective snow-tossing curvature, trip springs and a handy latching mechanism.

In 2013, the signature plow remains a popular Truck Utilities product.

For a decade, the new company thrived on building van, service and dump bodies for trucks, as well as specialty trailers. The trio had a knack for listening to customers’ requests for custom fabrications and delivering the goods, or of conceiving new ways to utilize truck capacity and selling customers on the ideas.

Truck frames were modified to accommodate new applications. Reel-handling equipment for telephone company trucks were designed and built.

And the company grew. Within two years, a 3,000-sq. ft. addition to the original facility was needed and five years after that another 6,000 sq. ft. of production and warehouse areas were put under roof.

As it grew, the guiding philosophy of the company didn’t change, according to Paul Capeder.

“The company has always provided products and services that let our customers do their jobs better and more efficiently,” he said.

“Truck Utilities considers itself a partner with its customers. We give them quality products that other people haven’t thought of or don’t understand, but our customers surely do understand because they are able to make more money.”

The 1970s saw a fundamental change in the character of the company. It moved decisively from fabrication to distribution. Instead of solely doing in-house manufacturing, Truck Utilities became a distributor of pre-manufactured products to which value is added through customer-specific modifications and additions.

The new product line 40 years ago included Tommy Gate lift gates, Morrison/Northwest Fiberglass, Halline ladders and Omaha Standard hoists and flatbeds.

In 1976, a separate 6,000-sq.-ft. building was erected to accommodate yet another product line: Kidron Van Bodies. Five years later, that building was doubled in size and digger derricks and aerial buckets were added to the growing line-up of truck products.

A Third Generation

In 1983, three young men who had been hanging out at the shops since they were in elementary school — “I was welding when I was in the fourth grade,” Jay Langer said — came aboard officially.

Today Jay Langer, Paul Capeder and Craig Capeder are third-generation family co-owners with complementing areas of executive responsibility.

“It was a case of them saying, ‘OK, guys, we are going to get you out of the shop and into an office role,’” Paul said. “For the three of us, this is the only place we have ever worked.”

Langer is vice president and runs commercial sales. That includes everything except lift bodies and special applications, which are rolled into the utility product line headed by Craig, who is president.

Paul is treasurer and manages the company’s growing fleet of rental trucks, almost all of which are boom rigs.

“Because we all grew up in the business,” said Craig, “we’re all experienced from the standpoint of sweeping floors and moving onto the shop floor, with practical experience in building equipment and forming sheet metal, eventually working up into sales and management.

It is fun working with a customer to increase his productivity and to work hand in hand with shop people. Every job that comes through here, one of the three of us will be involved in it to some extent.”

New product lines of the ’80s included IMT field service crane and mechanic bodies, RO Stinger truck-mounted cranes, Knapheide service bodies, Morgan van bodies and Teco insulated aerial equipment. The boom truck rental fleet was launched with two truck-mounted cranes.

Truck-U-Building

“If we’re only out to sell products, then we could sell to East and West coasts, and we don’t do that. We want to be able to service the products we are selling. That is very, very important.”

Paul Capeder

The latest Manitex offering, the TC700, is a 70-ton (63 t) capacity crane that is mounted on a highway-ready commercial chassis and has a boom reach of 115 ft. (35 m).

It was unveiled in May during a 25th anniversary celebration with dealers — Truck Utilities, among them — “who helped us reach such an important milestone,  said Randy Robertson, Manitex sales and marketing director.

The list of products distributed by Truck Utilities lengthens each year as the company embraces popular utilizations, including the upfitting of lumber trucks, produce delivery vehicles, utility contractor trucks, phone and natural gas company rolling stock, municipal
vehicles and on and on.

“We try to be very diversified in the industry so we don’t put all our eggs in one basket,” said Paul. “That’s why we have two divisions. The only things we don’t do are garbage trucks and fire-emergency trucks.

We don’t do a lot of tractor-trailers either, but generally speaking, if it is on a truck chassis, we do it.”

Truck Utilities installs the first Socage 230 ft. lift on 7-axle chassis in the U.S. market.

In two-thirds of transactions, Truck Utilities mounts equipment and bodies on truck chassis units supplied by customers. When the applications are larger scale, however, the company typically provides the chassis and everything that goes on it in a total turnkey operation.

Boom, Boom, Bump

shop-pic-boom-truck

The 1990s marked the beginning of a notable expansion period for the company. The production area of each of the Maplewood facilities was enlarged by more than 7,000 sq. ft., including a modern paint baking booth.

In 2000, Truck Utilities broadened its footprint across the midwest. A sales office was established in Eau Claire to serve Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan, and a 4,000-sq.-ft. sales-and-service facility was built in Kansas City, Kan.

One year later, a company in Fargo, N.D., became available and Truck Utilities acquired it and moved its product line into North Dakota.

Commercial and residential construction, infrastructure repair and power industry upgrades kept truck equipment suppliers busy. This led, in 2007, to the company opening a dump body and equipment upfit facility in Kimball, Minn.

But just one year later, the 44-year forward movement of the company hit a wall.

The recession of 2008-09 rolled across Truck Utilities’ entire marketing area, testing the co-owners’ ability to keep a company intact during a time of economic turmoil. Company co-founder Leo Capeder — who retired in 2011 — was still on hand to give some historical perspective to the third generation of company executives.

Together, they and their employees battled to survive. Flush with inventory but suddenly bereft of sales, the company entered a period of frugal, hold-the-line management, with banking partner U.S. Bank helping stave off the recessionary wolves.

For the first time in company history, some employee layoffs occurred. In 2009, the Kimball location was closed and its assets returned to St. Paul.

The decision was made to maintain the company’s truck rental fleet despite the slump and to keep a reasonable inventory of truck bodies so that when the downturn finally hit bottom, the company would be poised to quickly respond to renewed customer investment.

It was a fortuitous decision: As the fracking oil and gas boom in North Dakota began to resonate throughout the midwestern economy in 2009, Truck Utilities had inventory from which to fill orders, and a turnaround began.

Installation of Beau-Roc 9 ft. dump body and Swenson spreader with a Truck Utilities Leo Plo
Installation of Beau-Roc 9 ft. dump body and Swenson spreader with a Truck Utilities Leo Plo

“It was tight,” Paul said of the four years the recession hit, “but we got through it.”

Some of the steadiest influences during the economic upheaval were the company’s longtime employees.

Some Truck Utilities production workers and staff have been working alongside management for 35 years, a personal commitment that has benefited both the employees and the company. The company has about 100 employees, with 20 of them split between Fargo and Kansas City and the rest in Maplewood.

“They are the best,” Paul Capeder said without equivocation. “We are very fortunate to have retained them. Their dedication to quality work and customer service is what has made 50 years of growth possible.”

Building a Future

Truck Utilities uses only polyurethane paint in a 60 ft. downdraft paint bay booth
Truck Utilities uses only polyurethane paint in a 60 ft. downdraft paint bay booth

The company’s Fargo, Maplewood and Kansas City locations are “steadily busy” now in a slowly recovering economy. The frantic oil drilling activity in North Dakota is settling into a sustainable pattern of long-term production. Concentration on growing the business at those locations supersedes for the present any thought of expansion. In fact, nationwide expansion is not even part of the DNA of Truck Utilities, according to Paul.

“We want to maintain service areas so our customers have reasonable service time intervals,” he said. “If we’re only out to sell products, then we could sell to East and West coasts, and we don’t do that. We want to be able to service the products we are selling. That is very, very important.”

Within the parameters of that business model, Truck Utilities is positioned to grow. It has identified a reliable customer base for its products. Utilization of the products may vary from place to place — the same boom truck being employed in oil production near Fargo, for roofing work in St. Paul, or in general contracting work in Kansas City — but the customer is a satisfied one in each case.

truck-utilities-through-the-years

Jay Langer sees growth coming in the infrastructure segment — power and energy transmission, utility repair and roadway reconstruction.

“Everything is so old that they are going to have to redo it all,” he said.

Such work could be a boom for the company’s boom and utility service truck product lines, as well as its boom truck rental fleet, which now numbers about 100 units.

The increasing size and complexity of heavy equipment — ag equipment as well as construction machinery — suggests that the products of Truck Utilities will be in demand for a long time to come.

Custom Service Body Insert
Custom Service Body Insert

Paul said it’s “the way of America, to become bigger and more efficient. But that makes it more and more difficult to bring the oversized equipment back to the shop to work on it.

Jay Langer sees growth coming in the infrastructure segment — power and energy transmission, utility repair and roadway reconstruction.

“Everything is so old that they are going to have to redo it all,” he said.

Such work could be a boom for the company’s boom and utility service truck product lines, as well as its boom truck rental fleet, which now numbers about 100 units.

The increasing size and complexity of heavy equipment — ag equipment as well as construction machinery — suggests that the products of Truck Utilities will be in demand for a long time to come.

Paul said it’s “the way of America, to become bigger and more efficient. But that makes it more and more difficult to bring the oversized equipment back to the shop to work on it.

This lends itself to sales of more field service trucks.” Combining all of that with Truck Utilities’ diverse portfolio of products and upfit services seems to ensure that the company will continue to grow as it enters its second 50 years.

“Our custom fabrication sets us apart. People look at our capacity to custom fit their needs and they realize there is greater latitude in what they can do, rather than just going with what is in a catalog,” said Craig. Nor is the company standing still in its offerings. It continues to seek out products from new suppliers, from van interiors to snowhandling equipment to aerial lift devices, including an Italian lift with a 225-ft. (68.6 m) work height.

Jake Langer - Truck Utilities
Jake Langer - Truck Utilities

“The older I get, it is not so much about sales. It is more about relationships with customers."

Jake Langer

For more than two decades, Truck Utilities has displayed upfitted truck units at the Minnesota State Fair, an event that is both a sales opportunity and a fun exhibition for the public. The merging of work and pleasure is an indicator of the state of mind at Truck Utilities.

“The older I get,” said Langer, “it is not so much about sales. It is more about relationships with customers.  As we grow, it is fun to see customers grow along with us. We now have a lot of close customers who just drop by the office to visit.”

Article provided by Construction Equipment Guide