General Body and Equipment is a full-service industrial truck body builder that offers mechanic bodies, cranes, compressors, decks, inserts and toppers, lube units, rail units, and more. The company operates out of Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon. Gerry Marcoux and a partner founded General Body in 1984.
“With two owner/operators and a small one-bay shop, General Body and Equipment initially became known for being able to take anything on and turn it around quickly,” says Scott Cassels, general manager.
In the early days, General’s first customers had dealt with the owners at their previous employers and knew that they had the skills to do fast, high-quality work. The reputation of the shop grew, and the operation soon doubled then tripled in staff and facility size. The growth didn’t stop and today there are 121 team members across four branches. Like every entrepreneur-driven enterprise, however, it was hard work that required everyone’s cooperation.
“Family members were helping to do the books and also acted as the janitorial service at the new offices. This led to an office being converted to a playroom for one of the original founder’s daughters to enjoy while her mom was working the phones and doing the bookkeeping,” smiles Cassels. He would join the company at a later date, but the willingness of the owners to go above and beyond for their clients and the staff is still warmly remembered in the office.
“Their philosophy was simple,” says Cassels, “keep the customers happy and they will keep coming back and the part I can speak to in that regard is that they were right. The first customer they ever had is still a customer today. In fact, a lot of the customers that worked with General Body and Equipment in those early days are still with us.”
The company’s attributes were not limited to outstanding products and customer service. From the early days, General Body and Equipment was committed to solving customers’ problems by developing new solutions.
Originally, the truck bodies they built were made of steel. When aluminum entered the marketplace, many builders were not keen to work with it – but General Body and Equipment saw its potential as a lighter, corrosion-resistant, durable option.
Cassels explains, “Like most of the solutions that General has incorporated over the years, the development of the aluminum body was in response to a customer request. After some research and development, General Body became one of the earliest body builders to perfect building with aluminum. It ended up being one of the most significant changes in our company’s history. We have now been building with aluminum for the past 30+ years.”
The success of the company has always been tied to the foresight of its managers; there was a succession/sale plan in place to ensure a smooth transition for staff and customers when, after 30 years of ownership, the partners retired. They ensured that the new owners held the same core values on which they built their brand.
Under the new ownership, General Body and Equipment reached another milestone.
“We developed a line of pre-fabricated bodies, Hornet Ready-to-Fly, which can be installed off the shelf. This line of products is a departure from our long history of custom built-to-order work truck solutions, but they still have the custom DNA and General’s quality built into them. It is something we are very excited about in terms of growth potential over the next 35 years,” says Cassels.
General is very optimistic about the potential of the new Hornet Ready-to-Fly product line based on early returns. Not only is it proving to be an excellent submarket for the agile and forward-thinking company, it allows General to provide something over and above what others are offering in the pre-fabricated market. Plans to extend the Hornet line across Canada to meet the growing demand are getting underway.
With over three decades in business, an outstanding reputation and being known for creative solutions and quality products, General Body and Equipment continues to push the envelope and remains agile in the industry.
“One of the biggest contributing factors to our success is our diversity of products,” says Cassels. “As a custom builder, we have never been afraid to tackle something new or create a new solution for our customers; and with the volatility of the Alberta economy, this ability to create solutions for a variety of different industries has helped us remain viable when things take a turn for the worst.”
This diversity is evidenced by a quick tour around the Edmonton-based manufacturing facility. Owner operator units are mixed in with large multi-nationals, spanning a breadth of industries from equipment service companies to major provincial utility companies, and of course, oilfield operators.
He continues, “Another competitive advantage that has been impressing customers new and old is our ability to provide complete turnkey solutions. This means we can take the customer’s idea, create a specification, design exactly what they need to get their job done, cut, bend, weld, paint, assemble, wire, plumb, inspect and deliver what they need, which lets them get straight to work. We do all of this in house.”
He continues, “Our sales and project management group puts an emphasis on communicating with our customers regularly throughout the process, but especially at the front end of the project. By doing this, we ensure that we are getting it right before we pick up a piece of material or order any components.
Also, by putting this emphasis at the front end, we eliminate a lot of the mid-stream change orders and the resulting price changes that can frustrate and annoy our customers. As the process moves into the fabrication portion of the project, this communication helps to keep the customer updated on their project status and mitigates the impacts of unexpected challenges that are frequently encountered in custom builds. We also regularly follow up after delivery to ensure that the customer is satisfied with the end result.”
Customer satisfaction is a multi-step process for General.
“We have recently added a full-time quality assurance supervisor to ensure all projects are being thoroughly inspected at every step of the build and to continuously refine our processes,” Cassels adds.
He is quick to admit, however, that General Body and Equipment has its challenges, and that it must work hard to overcome them. For example, in the past, projects ran up to eight weeks late and they were not proud of missing deadlines.
“To fix this, we developed our own in-house scheduling software package that is tied into our work order and labour management system. Since launching this program four years ago, we have been delivering completed projects within seven days of the first quoted delivery date,” says Cassels.
It’s not just getting it to the finish line on time that has helped General to keep customers coming back. With parts and service support centers in Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon, General is able to help customers maintain their work truck packages long after they have left the manufacturing floor.
In the earliest days of General, it was a common occurrence that fully custom designs were simply sketched on a bar napkin by Gerry and the customer over drinks.
“The original bar napkin designs have evolved over the years into a library of CAD drawings. Today, most of them are even modelled in 3D, showcasing a variety of different models for specific field requirements. However, everyone who is still around from the bar napkin era fondly remembers the days they had to simply ‘figure it out’ based on the hand-drawn sketches,” Cassels recalls. “For example, we built two units last year that were originally a bar napkin special and to give you an idea of the evolution over the years, each unit sold for just under $1M each, the build drawings are now over 20 pages long and it takes around 3,600 hours to build each unit. We have come a long way since the napkin era!”
Today the company is known for its rugged custom builds and ready-to-install products designed for Canada’s harsh climate and rugged working conditions, its state-of-the-art in-house paint facility and its collective 942 years of manufacturing experience across the team. The technology and processes used over the years have changed but the commitment to customer service and quality products has never wavered.
On behalf of the entire team Cassels thanks the original owners for laying the foundation of the company and for their mentorship, General’s supplier and vendor partners, and the many loyal customers they have had over the years.
“I feel that more growth is on the horizon,” he concludes. “I feel very confident that we are on the verge of taking this company to the next level in many respects. We have worked very hard to get all of our pieces lined up in a way that we are well positioned to take some significant steps forward over the next few years.”
Learn more about General Body and Equipment at www.generalbody.ca.