Posted: April 18, 2014
Fuller Truck Accessories: Lessons In Retail Longevity
How A Family Owned Business Flourishes For Two GenerationsBy Ellen McKoy
For the Mihelich family, owners of Fuller Truck Accessories, their story began in 1976. That’s when Bruce Mihelich purchased Fuller Camper, an Anaheim, California, manufacturer of steel-frame camper shells. But he soon realized he’d make more money selling truck caps. So Mihelich sold the manufacturing business in 1978 and opened a retail store in nearby Fullerton, which sold fiberglass caps, truck bumpers, and carpet kits manufactured on-site.
As the business flourished, new product lines were added — running boards and side steps, bedliners, racks, hitches and towing accessories, floor mats and lots of commercial-truck gear. A second retail facility was opened in Riverside in 1986. Fuller Truck is very much a family affair. Mihelich’s sons, Dave and Greg, grew up in the business. His wife, Barbara, runs the Fullerton store along with Greg, while Dave and his wife Vickie oversee the Riverside facility. The two stores have a combined total of 12 employees.
Located in communities that experienced a housing boom, the stores prospered for many years. But when the housing market crashed and truck sales plummeted, so did accessory sales. To stay on an even keel, employee work hours were reduced, other cost-savings measures were implemented, and sights were focused on core business. As Dave Mihelich sees it, these steps put the company back on track.
“When we purchased the Riverside store, we had a host of RV products. Then we started catering to the construction and work-truck side with tools boxes, lumber racks and so forth. It became very viable for us, because this was a fast-growing area. But we got hit pretty hard and went through tough times. In its heyday, prior to 2007, we couldn’t keep enough lumber racks in stock. When the recession hit, we had to cut way back. But I see a more positive flow now.
I attribute that directly to the housing market getting back on its feet. The housing market affected our business because we cater to companies working in that industry. Being a small business, we were able to make some changes, cut back on work hours. Fortunately, we got through it. We didn’t have to close a store, and we’re back to full time now.
Larger companies are buying new fleets and upfitting the vehicles to accommodate their needs. More independent subcontractors are also bringing in their older trucks for a lumber rack, a toolbox or storage boxes. We also do hitches and various types of towing accessories, mainly bolt-on, electrical and brake controllers.
We’re just starting to get into LEDs. You know it’s a good product when you see the amount of vendors jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve done some LED emergency lighting for city maintenance vehicles, and lighting systems for landscaping companies that are required to have additional flashers when they’re working on city streets.
We have a list of potential customers, mainly businesses and contractors. We’ve put together a three-ring binder that we use as a marketing tool. It has brochures, catalogs and information on the various products we have. The area we service is very spread out. If companies are close enough, we’ll visit them. If not, we contact them by phone, then mail the binder.
We also keep our information in front of dealers. A lot of car dealers in our area have been there for years. They’re familiar with our company, and it’s a critical part of our business. It’s important to maintain a presence and update information when new catalogs or products come out. That gives our sales gal a reason to remind them we’re here when they need us.
Another big thing is the Internet exposure we get from being tied to the dealer locators of our major vendors. A lot of people who are searching for a brand or a type of product go on the Internet. That’s a big tool that vendors provide and that drives traffic. It benefits them and us. Looking ahead, I’m optimistic. Last year, we had the release of the new Tundra and GM trucks. As long as dealers have inventory, I predict a good amount of business.
Though the Transit Connect has slowed a bit, we’ve been doing van packages, typically a bulkhead partition behind the driver and passenger seats, shelving, wall liners, floor mats, window screens, and ladder racks. It’s a good niche. We tell people it’s a business tooland help them design a package that will work best for their business.
There’s a lot of information online. But when it comes to designing a package, customers are looking for someone to bring them through the process and talk about the different benefits and features of the equipment. When you help people make an educated decision, then price isn’t that much of an issue. I would say customer service is a key to our success. We know we can’t please everybody all the time, but we make a concerted effort to make every job right. We often put customer service above the dollar. But in the long run, it pays off. We strive to provide quality products and quality service. I would much rather sell a higher quality product at a higher price than a product I’m not comfortable with and that the customer may have a problem with down the road. That’s a big factor in our longevity.”