Ferrara Sets Sales Record As Others Get New CEOs

According to Paul Christiansen, marketing director at Ferrara Fire Apparatus, the company exceeded its own sales goals and expectations in 2008, posting a nearly 40 percent increase in revenue – and in fire trucks sold.

While most manufacturers keep the actual apparatus mix and totals close to the vest for competitive purposes, we can report that Ferrara sales were in the “400 range” for the first time ever. This puts Ferrara in the same ballpark with KME, the nation’s fourth largest manufacturer, behind only Pierce, Rosenbauer and E-ONE. And the “more than 400-truck ballpark” is major league for sure.

According to insiders, Chris Ferrara was delivering seven to eight trucks a week – every week – during 2008. That’s impressive for an entrepreneur from Baton Rouge who started with $1,800 just 20 years ago.

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment magazine came on the scene when Ferrara’s manufacturing plant was just eight years old, and we’ve watched him grow and grow every year since. Chris personally understands the customer comes first and today’s customers demand a high quality product. That’s a Ferrara fire truck; nobody debates that.

E-ONE has come up with a dynamite promotion to give away a new pumper to the fire department with the best story as to why they need one. Entry deadline is March 9, so departments large and small would be well-advised to submit their “story” in 500 words by then.

Seven finalists will be selected by March 30 and the fire service will get a chance to pick the winner by online voting. E-ONE will give away one of its new model Tradition ES 1250-gpm pumpers with a 1,000-gallon tank built on an International 4-door chassis.

The winner will be announced at the FDIC trade show in Indianapolis on April 24. Participating and contributing to the award truck are UPF PolyTanks, ROM roll-up doors, Hale fire pumps, Class 1 controls, Akron Brass and International Trucks.

Rosenbauer America introduced the Metz T-Rex articulating boom 102-foot aerial platform last year with a lot of electronic safety controls and automatic jack leveling. With its articulating arm, the basket can reach 15 feet below grade and will certainly give E-ONE’s Bronto some real competition for sales.

The T-Rex platform holds four firefighters plus 400 pounds of equipment with its 1,400-pound tip load capacity and can even take on a 650-pound load while flowing 1,500 gpm from its deluge gun.

The new apparatus is available as an aerial platform only or as a quint with a midship pump, 300-gallon water tank and 115 feet of ground ladders. It also features a tandem rear axle, plenty of cabinet space and a six-person cab.

We expect to do a full feature story on the T-Rex later in the year.

W. S. Darley started a new Government Sales Division in 2008 and one of the first contracts it won was for 88,000 5-pound dry chemical fire extinguishers.

They delivered them in 45 days.

Easy? Not quite. The contract has a lot of strings attached for service and stocking of parts and replacement units, plus inventory tracking and shipping. Working with their manufacturer, Amerex, Darley just edged out the competition with a highly competitive bid and an all-American made product.

Good going.

Joseph Neiner was named Chairman and CEO of Seagrave Fire Apparatus last fall. He served for several months prior to that as a consultant to the company.

Neiner’s background is primarily in the metals, aluminum and chemical industries, with an emphasis on manufacturing. According to a press release, “Joe’s career has been focused on growth and customer value, utilizing total quality management (TQM) and lean management principles coupled with a passion for continuous improvement and building high performance teams.”

He attended the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification & Maintenance seminar in January where we had a chance to talk to him. He knows that Seagrave is particularly weak in dealer representation throughout the Midwest and Deep South.

Joe Neiner is personable enough and he actually does realize that you can’t sell a product – particularly a fire truck – no matter how good it may be, if you don’t have salespeople. Everywhere.

Another new CEO has joined the fire apparatus industry ranks. He is Francis Petro, who recently retired as President and CEO of Haynes International of Kokomo, Ind. The company produces high-performance nickel- and cobalt-based steel alloys.

Coming from a $600 million a year company with offices all over the world to American LaFrance in Summerville, S.C. – a company that’s been through bankruptcy and lost nearly all its dealers – will be culture shock for Petro. He was president of Haynes for nine years and led the company through a major growth period, setting an enviable record.

He’ll have quite an adjustment to make. He, like Neiner at Seagrave, will eventually have to discover on his own that sales and marketing of fire trucks is a unique business. Any competent executive can run a manufacturing operation, but how many are faced with producing a different product at each point on the assembly line?

Worse yet, each truck sale consumes months of dealer effort and specification changes. Fire chiefs buying a $400,000 custom pumper expect cabinets sized and placed where they want them.

And chiefs will get their pumper the way they want it – if not from one company then from another.

It is getting to be time to recommend the fire apparatus industry consulting team again: Chris Ferrara, Harold Boer of Central/Rosenbauer, Bill Darley and Drew and Julie Phelps Sutphen. All represent family-owned businesses started by entrepreneurs.

They learned that making what the customer wants is not easy, but doing so is the only path to success. Wilson Jones at Pierce and Peter Guile at E-ONE understand this too.

Woe to him who thinks he can change the apparatus business. The battle cry you’ll hear comes from the French: Quelque chose nouvelle? Nous irons tres lentement! You don’t have to look it up; it’s what the soldier yells upon entering a minefield.

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