Building a better brand focus of Fullbay conference session

Iron Buffalo's Mike Schwarz and Fullbay's Chris O'Brien
Iron Buffalo's Mike Schwarz (left) speaks with Fullbay COO Chris O'Brien during the Fullbay Diesel Connect conference Wednesday in Phoenix.

In the service business, a company’s reputation is often misinterpreted as its brand. But while a good reputation goes a long way toward keeping customers, a brand is vital to bringing new ones in.

During Fullbay’s Diesel Connect conference Wednesday in Phoenix, Iron Buffalo co-owner Mike Schwarz shared with Fullbay COO Chris O’Brien how his business has built its brand, and how its helped the company expand its reach its new markets and horizons.

Formally known as JE-CO Truck and Trailer, Schwarz says he and his business partner weren’t trucking professionals when they entered the industry. And their outsiders’ perspective has been vital overhauling the operation. From the outset, he says Iron Buffalo’s leadership has been focused on building a business that could “compete with dealerships,” and be the “premier brand local small and midsize fleets come to for anything.”

[RELATED: Successful rebranding efforts demand clear strategy, communication]

As such, Schwarz says Iron Buffalo has committed serious capital to becoming Colorado’s best independent service shop. He says the company hires technicians directly out of high school programs and has a multi-year training program that cultivates its workforce. The business also has a full-time trainer on staff, a partnership with a local tech program and an incentive program for all associates (new and veteran) that improvements employee performance and buy-in.

Schwarz says that buy-in is essential. The improved corporate culture just doesn’t improve morale, it also boosts profitability and quickens ROI.  

The rebrand from JE-CO to Iron Buffalo was an investment too. Schwarz says he and his business partner knew the long-term viability of the company was limited if it remained named after its previous owner. They came up with the Buffalo idea (as Colorado alums, Buffaloes were top of mind) and leveraged a marketing firm to perfect the details.

Schwarz says the new name makes the business easier to market across the state and into Montana, where it recently expanded.

Transparency also has been vital to Iron Buffalo’s success. Schwarz says his leaders “pull data out of Fullbay every day” to understand the efficiency and profitability of the operation. He says Iron Buffalo technicians are not only regularly briefed on performance metrics, but also given clear benchmarks they need to achieve for the company to remain successful.

[RELATED: Fullbay session shows importance of business planning to profitability]

The same goes for customers. Schwarz says Iron Buffalo’s bill rate is high, but it has to be. The company offers services no one else can match. He says when customers’ question their rates, Iron Buffalo describes its value in great detail.

“What we’re doing is expensive, and it requires a bill rate that coincides with that,” he says.

For Wednesday’s attendees considering a rebrand of their own, Schwarz stressed the importance of clear business planning. No branding investment is worthwhile if not supported by good strategy.

“In the end, you have to execute. Doing all these things takes time, discipline, precision,” he says. 

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