The employee commitment that defines Trailblazer Award finalist Royal Truck & Utility Trailer

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Updated Sep 8, 2023
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Anthony Sciara remembers the conversation. Vividly. It was April 2020.

Sciara joined Royal Truck & Trailer six months prior. He worked with the dealer as outside legal counsel for seven years before coming on as full time in late 2019. Sciara had been drawn to Royal Truck & Trailer by the company’s values and successes.

Royal was a family business that took that first word seriously. So much so that President and Co-owner Ken Bumgardner liked to say the business didn’t make decisions based on what would make it the most money, but by what would best enable it to take care of its employees and its customers.

Sciara says that sentiment was in the front of his mind when he met with Bumgardner, co-owner and CFO Julie Igielski and COO Adam Pigeon to develop a business plan at the height of COVID-19 hysteria. The world had just shut down. Businesses everywhere were reeling and layoffs were occurring at the highest rate in recorded history.

But on that April day, in that Zoom meeting, Bumgardner made a pledge, Sciara says. That wouldn’t be the story at Royal.

“I remember Ken very distinctly said, ‘We always talk a big game about how we care about our employees and how much we want them to stay with us. Right now, this is where we promise that to them,’” Sciara says.

“I remember that so vividly because I had heard Ken say things like that in the past, but this was him saying it when things were so bad everywhere. Saying it and really meaning it.”

Sciara says he and Pigeon supported the statement, but it was ultimately the siblings Bumgardner and Igielski’s decision to make. Royal was their third-generation family business. How it managed the pandemic was their story to write.

Royal Truck & Utility Trailer imageA Royal Truck & Utility Trailer technician works on a dry van trailer in the company's Hudsonville, Mich., location.

Three plus years later, the impressive story is still being told.

Royal is now Royal Truck & Utility Trailer — having become Utility’s dealer for the entire state of Michigan in January — has grown from four locations to six, added a more than 300-unit leasing fleet and now been named as one of five finalists for the inaugural Trailblazer Award, powered by Successful Dealer.

Royal Truck & Utility Trailer is a stronger, nimbler and more capable trailer dealer than it’s ever been. And to answer the question you’re thinking, not only was Royal able to avoid laying off a single employee in 2020, in several instances it paid bonuses.

“Our goal was to break even and not lose any employees,” Bumgardner says. “In the months when we things were good, we paid out bonuses as hazard pay to thank our people for coming in and supporting customers every day.”

Looking back, Bumgardner says that leadership strategy wasn’t really any different from how Royal has always treated its workforce. Employees are respected and valued and expected to offer the same respect to customers.

Royal Truck & Utility Trailer imageTrailers of all different sizes are available across Royal Truck & Utility Trailer's six locations in Michigan.

“You can teach somebody our industry but you can’t teach someone to work hard or be a good person,” he says. “That’s where we focus, because we know if we have people who care, who are good people, we know they will do what is right for customers.”

And Royal does almost everything for its customers. Beyond new and used trailer sales, the business has an expansive parts inventory and service offering, provides upfitting and custom fabrication, sells seasonal snow equipment, has a new leasing business and supports nine trailer brands.

“We are always open to consider a new opportunity,” says Bumgardner.

The company’s growth trajectory makes that clear. Royal was started as a two-bay service garage by Roy Bumgardner in 1970. Ken and Julie’s father Carl joined the business later and helped grow it across the eastern half of Michigan. And the growth rate has expanded exponentially over the last decade. Royal also was a TPS Distributor of the Year finalist in 2018.

“We’ve grown a lot in a short time without any outside money or private equity and I think that’s pretty rare,” Bumgardner says. “We’re still a family business.”

Igielski again calls out the importance of that familiar culture to the operation’s success. “We do what we say we’re going to do. When we promise something we follow through, even if that means we don’t make the biggest margin.”

Adds Pigeon, “We treat our vendors the same way. That’s why we have so many great relationships. If we can make a fair margin on a product, that’s all we ask for. That helps create good partnerships.”

As for what’s next, the company doesn’t see any reason to slow down. Director of Marketing Renee Kompoltowicz says as Royal grows, the importance of strong marketing strategies to support its expanding area of operation become only more important.

“Our marketing is more about building a relationship than selling something,” she says. “We want to show people who we are.”

The Trailblazer Award was created in 2023 recognize and honor North America’s trailer dealer community for their essential support of the transportation industry. The Trailblazer Award is graciously sponsored by Hendrickson and Procede Software. To learn more about the program, go the award page.

Royal Truck & Utility Trailer imageA look inside the parts warehouse at Royal Truck & Utility Trailer's Dearborn, Mich., facility.

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