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Winnipeg truck manufacturer seizes U.S. opportunity

Published by CME Manitoba on March 22, 2017

This article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on  March 22, 2017

A Winnipeg manufacturer that builds specialty truck bodies is making new inroads into the potentially lucrative U.S. market after landing a key contract with one of that country's largest laundry-and-linens companies.

A senior official with International Truck Body (ITB) said Tuesday the company beat out some of the largest truck-body manufacturers in the United States for a contract to make specialty truck bodies for Minnesota-based G&K Services Inc.

The initial order is for 200 truck bodies. But Tim McQueen, ITB's vice-president of sales and marketing, said G&K has a fleet of about 2,500 trucks, and usually replaces the bodies on about 10 per cent of them per year.

"We've built two prototypes for them, and the second one is about to be delivered," he said, adding that if G&K likes them, it hopefully will order many more in the coming years.

He noted the floor in the truck bodies have an epoxy coating on them which was developed by another local firm — EcoPoxy — with the help of Winnipeg's Composite Innovation Centre.

"It essentially turns a truck floor into a concrete floor that is impervious to any type of damage they may inflict on it with their 700-pound laundry carts," he explained, adding the feature helped ITB win the contract.

McQueen said that having a product to show other potential U.S. customers has also helped ITB recently land a contract to provide 15 truck bodies to Old Dutch Foods' Minnesota operations.

ITB's product line includes trailers and refrigerated, dry freight and deck/platform truck bodies. Until it won the G&K contract, it was producing products solely for the Manitoba market. McQueen said its customers here include Manitoba Hydro, the City of Winnipeg, the City of Brandon, Manitoba Telecom Services, Gordon Food Services and Sysco Foods.

"But the problem when you have a long-lasting product in a smaller market is that at some point, everyone has got one, or is in the cycle," he said. "So in the last 18 months, we started to look into the U.S. and other markets. Because the Manitoba market is very consistent and very predictable, we've been able to take the excess capacity we had and start focusing on the U.S."

McQueen was speaking during a break in Wednesday's Dare to Compete Conference in Winnipeg. The one-day annual event is organized by the Manitoba Division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).

CME Manitoba vice-president Ron Koslowsky said 2017 is shaping up to be a good year for Manitoba's manufacturing industry, which employs more than 63,600 people and sold $17.4 billion worth of goods in 2016.

"The mood right now is actually pretty positive. Most companies are saying things are looking up, things are rebounding. The markets look like they're good and the people I talk to are talking about growth plans, by and large."

Koslowsky said recent developments — such as the new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union and Manitoba joining the New West Partnership Trade Agreement with the other three western provinces — should lead to new sales opportunities for local manufacturers.

"But it will only benefit us if we aggressively pursue the markets there (in Europe). If we sit back and wait for something to happen, it won't," he added. "So we really have got to grab the opportunity and run with it, using all of our innovation and using all of our talent and the good products we produce."

He said one cloud on the horizon is what happens in future trade talks between Canada and the new Trump administration, which wants to make changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"That (the United States) is our biggest market," he noted. "But there is a relative optimism that things will be reasonably dealt with between the two countries. Nevertheless, that is a concern."


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