The business case for glamour

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I get a lot of work simply because people remember these trucks.” –Jerry Beaudoin, owner of Soil Recovery Systems (SRS), Southington, CT

On the surface, at least, the “show truck” as a concept seems gratuitous in the extreme for this industry.

I mean, let’s face it: profits in trucking used to be measured in pennies, but are today reduced to mere percentages of pennies. Then go beyond the bottom line to look at the work environment these trucks must survive in: racking up 120,000 to 150,000 miles a year over rough roads, in bad weather, covered in dirt, grime, and corrosive ice-melting chemicals to boot.

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With all that in mind, not only does dumping some $10,000 into an eye-popping paint job or sheet metal work seem highly impractical, it borders on the suicidal – from a purely business perspective, of course.

Then you meet someone like Jerry Beaudoin (at right), owner of Soil Recovery Systems (SRS) out of Southington, CT, and your thinking on the practicality of show trucks takes a 180 degree turnabout.

For starters, Beaudoin and his shop personnel do all of the fabricating work on his fleet of 13 trucks – which now includes painting them, as he recently brought on a technician rich with that skill. That significantly cuts down on the cost of creating these unique diesel-powered pieces of rolling art.

More importantly, though, Beaudoin told me he gets a lot of work simply because he operates such sharp dressed steel – because nobody forgets a delivery by one of his rigs. Yet Beaudoin stressed that his company is also memorable because they’re customer service is second to none – again due to his high class trucks, which allow him to find and retain some of the best drivers in the trucking business.

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“You’re a rock star every day you’re behind the wheel of one these trucks,” he told me at the 2010 Shell Rotella SuperRigs competition held last week at the LEE HI Travel Plaza outside of Lexington, VA. “People slow down all day long to take pictures and give you a ‘thumbs up.’ It’s just so cool.”

In a lot of ways, Beaudoin is a “classic” trucker, earning his chops the hard way. Originally from Quebec, Canada, Beaudoin’s family relocated to the U.S. where his father worked as a welder and drove a truck to make ends meet. Already infatuated with metalworking, Beaudoin learned to weld at age seven, quickly turning a beloved mini-bike into something straight out of Orange County Choppers.

Yet big rigs really fired his imagination, Beaudoin told me, so he set to work figuring out how to build a trucking company successful enough to fund his artistic passions. His solution proved unusual: moving dirt.

In and around the northeastern U.S., numerous construction sites needed soil filled with chemical residues from factories and other heavy industries to be hauled away. It’s dirty, grimy, unappealing work for any trucker, yet also requires real skill in terms of operation end-dump trailers. Beaudoin thought he could do such work as well as anyone, while also bringing some major pizzazz to the business.

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About 17 years ago, he got started working on the Saugatuck River Bridge refurbishment project and never looked back. Seven years later, he’d earned enough to go out on his own, gradually building his fleet up from one to eventually 13 trucks over a decade of hard work.

Today, he’s got 100 owner-operators working for him in addition to his 13 company-owned vehicles running up and down the east coast, hauling soil one way while backhauling compost, aggregate and concrete.

While his business is profitable, Beaudoin’s passion for show trucks hasn’t abated. Each one takes about a year to build, start to finish, with him doing most of the fabricating work. Parts get sandblasted and reused, with his mind always in overdrive, looking at new ways to create what he calls a “clean, simple design.”

“I don’t like gaudy – lots of chrome, lights, stickers and loud paint,” he explained. “I like subtle designs, ones that take a while for you to notice.”

[You can see what I mean in the clip below, which includes a review of Beaudoin’s truck as he prepped it for the 2010 Shell Rotella SuperRigs competition.]

He showed me around his most recent creation, pointing out “bat wing” parts he’d crafted himself, helping link the entire tractor and trailer together from an artistic view. And he firmly believes in doing all the fabrication in-house, too. “I mean, why spend $1,200 to $1,500 on a custom battery box when I can do it myself?” he told me.

For example, one unique fixture on his latest rig are headlights set back into a big western-style front bumper that automatically flip down and up with the touch of a button. “That cost me just $50 of my own welding time to do,” Beaudoin said.

Today, he and his full-time staff of 15 people do almost everything when building one of SRS’s unique creations – everything except exhaust pipes. Beaudoin favors what he calls “traditional” Peterbilt paint schemes for his trucks, using just orange and black as his base colors, combining them in different patterns for each vehicle.

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It’s important to note that not just any driver gets handed the keys to one of SRS’s unique creations – oh no.

For starters, his trucks haul some heavy loads and thus need to pack a big punch – up to 800 horsepower for one of his Cummins ISX powered rigs. Most are equipped with 18 speed manuals, too, so a driver really needs to know how to shift. In fact, Beaudoin said he’ll let a truck sit if need be until he finds just the right person – someone who knows trucking, can operate an end dump, doesn’t mind getting their hands dirty, and won’t scratch the paint … ever.

“But the guys I have here love working for me,” Beaudoin stressed. “I mean, where else do you get to drive something like this for work every day? Driving a truck like this really puts the trucker in a whole new light for everyone he or she meets during the day: the customer, fellow truckers, and everyday motorists alike.”

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