By Eric Peterson | Sep 09, 2014
Merritt Equipment Co.
Merritt Equipment Co. maintains a low profile, but it's a brand name in the trailer business. That is no big surprise, as the company has been innovating on how to move food and most everything else for more than 60 years.
"The company was started in 1951 by my grandparents up in Portland, Oregon," says CFO Taylor Merritt. "It started out as a small automotive and welding shop and when people would bring things in, we'd fix them."
People were bringing in a lot of steel truck bodies, so they started making them, then they started making trailers, including the world's first all-aluminum livestock trailer. By the end of the 1960s, the company was making a wide range of livestock trailers ("bull haulers") and commodity trailers ("hoppers"), says Merritt, as well as "headache racks" that offer storage and protection on the back of a big rig's cab. "There's a lot of colorful language in our industry," he laughs.
The company relocated to Henderson, northeast of Denver, in the 1970s after realizing the benefits of a more central location. The company phased out of Oregon as Colorado emerged as the headquarters.
Today the business is split between livestock and commodity trailers and aluminum parts and accessories for the trucking industry, not to mention service for trailers of all kinds in Henderson as well as a facility near Omaha, Nebraska. Merritt has also created specialized boxes for the oil and gas industry that accommodate industrial hoses and battery boxes for trucking customers.
"Being in the manufacturing industry, we're constantly doing R&D, trying to innovate, and tweaking our products," says Merritt. "We've been working on a new design for a hog-friendly trailer. We've traditionally built trailers for the cattle market, and the hog market is growing by leaps and bounds. Little nuances have to go into those trailers."
Challenges: "We can go on forever and ever," says Merritt. "A big challenge is the political environment, with lots of things going on with labor and taxes and OSHA. Healthcare is big for us."
Merritt says the advent of the Affordable Care Act has him bracing for a 10 to 25 percent uptick in health insurance costs.
Opportunities: "We're constantly looking for new markets," says Merritt. "Doing business internationally is a promising opportunity for us." While the company exports to Canada and Mexico, he sees potential for "branching out."
Needs: "Skilled workforce is the first thing that comes to mind," says Merritt. "Manufacturing has a horrible image. People think it's dirty, it's hard work, and there's no potential for a career. It's hard work, and it may or may not be the most glamorous thing, but we're touching the food chain at the very beginning. Virtually everything is trucked here. We're touching almost every aspect of the economy."
"We have a lot of people who have been with us 25, 30 years and made a career of it and made their home here, and we're real proud of that," he adds.