David Thompson’s career has come full circle. Maybe more than once.
There’s not much in trucking the former “lumper”-turned-driver-turned-salesman-turned-dealer hasn’t had to tackle either on the road or on the lot.
Managing and overcoming those challenges took a lot of hard work and a lot of creativity, and those efforts have richly rewarded family’s business.
Wednesday, the rewards continued as Thompson’s dealership , TEC Equipment Inc., was awarded the first Successful Dealer Award.
The award recognizes TEC for its “exceptional sales and service performance and excellence in community and civic engagement.”
“You don’t always think about being civic minded, but as you mature and grow those things fall into place,” Thompson says.
Thompson’s climb up the industry ladder began on the first rung.
“I used to hanging around at the truck stops and help the drivers unload when coming through,” he says. “I was what they called a lumper those days. I put a sign up, ‘I will help unload your truck.”
That simple advertising strategy paid off as Thompson built a regular clientele base.
“After a while, I had the same guys calling every week,” he says of the opportunity that eventually put him in the driver’s seat. “I would help them unload. Then one guy let me drive, then another guy let me drive, and eventually I became a driver.”
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Thompson worked his way through college lumping and driving on regional hauls, and after a two-year stint in Vietnam, went to work in sales for Midwest Coast Transport.
launched his dealership career, founding TEC Equipment, a used truck dealership. Today, Thompson serves as and CEO of TEC Equipment the ninth largest private company in Oregon.
TEC also the largest truck dealership group in the west, with Mack, Volvo, GMC, Hino and Isuzu Truck partnerships throughout Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.
In addition to its dealership business, TEC operates a finance company, insurance brokerage, fuel sales and more than 770 truck leasing and rental businesses. TEC has won each of their manufacturers Dealer of the Year awards, and was honored by American Truck Dealers with the highest award, North America Dealer of the Year, for all U.S. and Canadian dealers and manufacturers for 2007.
Through all its successes, TEC has taken the communities it calls home along for the ride.
All TEC branches are actively involved in supporting their local law enforcement and fire departments, along with their school systems.
TEC’s La Mirada, Calif. location recently donated products for training and recruiting efforts promoting the local Universal Technical Institute.
The company sponsors several youth sports programs for employees and customers.
Recently, La Mirada employees and their families (more 300 people) attended a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game to raise funds for a family whose 4-year-old daughter is battling Leukemia, raising more than $12,000.
As the industry continues to change and evolve, TEC keeps its customers up to speed by scheduling “vendor nights” offering professional training for customers who often earn a certification for attending the event.
“The purpose is to promote the products and showcase the facilities by hosting these events on-site,” Thompson says.
TEC also offers some of their maintenance shop expertise to customers who have questions and would like additional training.
“The goal is to provide exceptional customer support, especially for the first-time fleet buyers,” Thompson says. “The hands-on training by product experts is key in maximizing fuel economy and avoiding potential product issues. We strongly believe this training provides a value-added benefit that sets TEC apart.”
In order to keep staff up to speed, TEC complete in-house training and technicians have financial incentives to continually hone their skills.
“The ongoing goal is to have the majority of TEC technicians be Master Tech-certified,” Thompson says, adding training isn’t limited to just the garage. “Ongoing and continued new truck sales training is a must for all TEC professionals. All TEC managers and supervisors have attended a professionally led four-day workshop to improve their leadership and communication skills.”
The dealership group has marketed itself aggressively in local markets, including beefing up its online presence and by producing a video.
The company also dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint.
In California, where emissions restrictions are among the strongest in the world and green efforts perpetual, TEC completed a program with So Cal Edison all highwattage outdoor lighting with energy-saving, lowwattage fixtures that utilize infusion bulbs.
“This program included all of the TEC facilities in Southern California,” Thompson says. “In addition, all indoor lighting was retrofitted to accommodate the energy saving T8 bulbs.”
Facility bathrooms are being retrofitted with waterless and lowflow fixtures.
The company’s old La Mirada shop on Firestone Blvd. is being refurbished to comply with regulations, allowing TEC to service natural gas engines inside the shop.
New skylights in the service department are being added to improve lighting and reduce electrical output. And the company recycles cardboard, metal and wood products at all its facilities.
“We’ve had a lot of good employees, and a lot of help along the way,” Thompson of the rise. “We’ve had very good relationships with Volvo finance and GE Capital. They both helped me grow. And we’ve always enjoyed a very good relationship with all our OEMs.”
While TEC is among the largest companies in Oregon, Thompson is quick to point out that it’s a family business.
His oldest son, David, is a project manager for TEC and oversees the company’s expansion projects.
“He pretty much built our DEF business from the ground up, when we decided to get into that business,” Thompson says. “Now, we’re up to six tankers.”
Middle son, Chris, is in sales, an area his father sees him overseeing company-wide with a little more experience.
Youngest son Will is nearing graduation from college and will soon join his father and bothers. And dad already has his office picked out.
“I would love to get him into the operations side. If I could do that, I would have the trifecta,” he says of having all three sons holding management roles in three key areas of responsibility. “I would have hit it right out of the park.”
Regardless of what roles his sons play long-term, there’s only one thing Thompson is more proud of than his dealerships and 800-plus employees.
“I’ve got three great sons,” he says. “I’m a lucky, lucky guy.”