By Gregory Daurer | Apr 19, 2020
Fort Lupton, Colorado
Aluminum truck accessories
Fort Lupton, Colorado
Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Aluminum accessories for trucks
"We manufacture and distribute high-quality, high-performance products that help our customers keep America moving," says Merritt.
Customers for Merritt's utilitarian products, such as storage boxes for tools, hose racks, and tire-chain carriers, include major truck manufacturers like Paccar (with brands like Peterbilt, DAF, Kenworth), Daimler, and Mack; those large companies often sell the products through their own retail systems. Additionally, the company's items are also sold by "dealership groups -- for example, Rush Truck Centers -- or smaller, single store sole proprietors," adds Merritt.
Since truck drivers spend so much of their time on the road, they often see their rigs as "an extension of their personality," he notes. And given that his company's after-market products are often made of shiny, aesthetically pleasing aluminum, the products have sometimes been whimsically called "truck bling" or "truck jewelry." Merritt says, "This is just like jewelry for your truck."
The manufacturing takes place at Merritt's 100,000-square-foot facility in Fort Lupton. In addition to fabricating the pieces there, Merritt says, "The majority of our operation is centered around [aluminum] welding." Workers assemble, for example, products like cab racks -- which sit just behind the truck's cab and are used for storage.
In 2020, the company started making products like toolboxes and headache racks (which protect a pickup truck's rear window) for the "commercial-grade light truck market" (think, Ford F-150-type vehicles). "We generally try to bring a handful [of new products] to market every year," he says. "We've been known as an innovator in our space since we started this business back in the early '70s."
Merritt Aluminum Products is an offshoot of a family company started by Taylor Merritt's grandparents. The business began in the early '50s in Oregon: first repairing trailers, before beginning to manufacture them on its own out of aluminum. The company initiated a line of aftermarket truck products in 1972, which coincided with the company's expansion into Colorado -- where it eventually relocated. In 2016, the original entity bifurcated, with Merritt Aluminum Products moving to Fort Lupton, and Merritt Trailers remaining in Henderson.
Today, commercial items from Merritt Aluminum Products can be found in all 50 states, in addition to Canada and Mexico. Between 2017 and 2018, Merritt says, "We grew revenue, just in that year, by 30 percent. And in 2018 to 2019, we grew another 10 percent." Also in 2019, the company took home the top honor at CompanyWeek's Colorado Manufacturing Awards in the "Industrial & Equipment Manufacturer of the Year" category.
Merritt says that, until recently, his company hadn't sought "external recognition," such as vying for the manufacturing award. But leaders decided to make it more outward-facing in order to attract the attention of potential employees. Merritt places a high value on how his company's labor force acts together as a team, with a mutually shared core set of values.
"We really strive to be -- and operate as -- a values-driven company," says Merritt. "Our five core values of 'integrity, trust, excellence, respect, and teamwork' aren't something just posted on the wall in our lobby or conference room. It is a kind of living, breathing set of values that we reference almost daily as we're making decisions that relate to our business or our team or how we're going to conduct ourselves with our customers or how we're going to [interact] in our community."
Challenges: "The COVID-19 pandemic has really created a lot of uncertainty around our business, and, certainly, how we continue to operate, just seeing the dramatic impact to the global economy -- and even the U.S. economy," says Merritt. "Trying to get a sense for what the short, medium, and long term impacts of that are going to be, I would say, right now, it's kind of a pressing challenge."
Opportunities: Merritt cites the company's recent "expansion into the commercial light truck market." So what's next? Why, the medium-sized market, of course: products designed for, say, municipal trucks -- like those that might have a boom on them to work on power lines.
Needs: Merritt cites workforce needs. "The shortage of talent. In the past few years, we have struggled like most companies to find -- and retain -- highly-skilled talent. Mainly finding it has been the big challenge for us," he says.
In a perfect world, Merritt says that business, education, and government, as well as students and parents, would "come together and all sit at the table . . . to talk about how we solve this challenge around skilled labor." The company has provided students at Fort Lupton High School with internships, and hired participants afterward.
Merritt -- who began by sweeping floors for the family company at age eight -- says he's a "lifelong learner," himself. For instance, he attended an executive education program at Harvard Business School to expand the know-how he brings to the company.