On Top of the Industry
Granite State Cover and Canvas
Granite State Cover and Canvas, Inc. mainly makes truck tarpaulin (tarp) systems to cover loads, but its custom canvas projects include everything from privacy fencing to boat and pool covers. Company President Dave has steered the business into huge growth over the past few years and recently into a large new facility which has expanded its capabilities. Despite an extensive product line, Granite State Cover is adding new items and will continue to grow.
Granite State Cover is based in East Kingston, New Hampshire and was founded in 1993 by Paul Masone. Dave Callahan bought it out in 2007 and says that Paul started from scratch with a “stump and a sewing machine.”
The company’s first work was making niche truck parts. Garbage trucks have trash dumped in the back, and a hydraulic compaction system compresses it, so the truck holds more. The system is powered by hydraulic lines on top of the truck.
“These lines were famous for drying out and cracking. Once you spring a leak in a hydraulic line, it is like a snake flailing all over the place, throwing out hydraulic fuel on parked cars. Paul Masone made a little bib that went over them. It protected the hydraulic liner from drying out, and if it did rupture, it contained the spill,” says Dave.
Paul patented the product and ended up selling thousands, and this has paved the way for Granite State Cover’s reputation in the trash business. Today the company makes and installs truck tarp systems and covers everything from dump trucks hauling gravel on excavation sites to tractor trailer trucks that transport bark mulch, sand, gravel, pavement, asphalt, trash or recycling.
Dave started at the company with no experience in the trucking business, but he had worked in sales and customer service. He sat down with a sewing machine and just immersed himself in the business while copying the successful business plan that Paul had in effect. Two years later, Dave had learned about everything the company made and how it was made.
There are many competent people surrounding him including two talented managers. John Valdez works with the material end of the business and Mark Quayle at the mechanical end. “Between the three of us, we questioned how things were done. From that point forward, we found that the industry was stagnant and/or sliding down the quality scale. We decided to go in the other direction,” says Dave. Others in the industry are buying cheap imported tops that wear out with every load. Granite State Cover wanted to make something better.
Competition is fragmented, Dave tells me, and this has been a key to the success of Granite State Cover. There are many small outfits doing truck repair that will also install truck tarp systems, but these cannot offer what Granite State can in terms of tarp quality, installation and, most importantly, service.
“We have a lot of custom capabilities, whereas our competition may do truck repairs, buy a kit and install a kit, but they do not have the expertise on how to fabricate and make the kit work in a proper way. A lot of times, they are just slapping stuff together, which is doomed to fail,” says Dave.
Granite State Cover was working in a small facility and only moved into a much larger space this April. “We ran out of space at the old building about two years ago. We had to slow the pace of growth, but still managed twelve percent increase in business every year. We were just trying to service the existing customer base, but we kept expanding nonetheless. Our name is on everything we do, and through word of mouth and customer satisfaction, we kept growing,” says Dave. The expectation is that growth will be about fifteen percent per year—or better—once everything is in place at the new facility.
The new location is three times the size of the previous facility, giving the company the ability to stock a broader product line at a heavier inventory level. The old building only had one large and one small truck bays. Fifty-three-foot trailers are the legal limit for the road, and now the company can service up to six of these largest trailers at a time
Service is a crucial aspect of the business, and Dave is proud of the company’s quick turnaround on repairs. “If a truck tarp system breaks, gets hit by an excavator or becomes inoperable, it’s not planned. He needs it back as soon as possible. If this occurs, he can bring the truck in, and we will fix while he waits or within twenty-four hours. Works the same way for ordering parts. It is ordered, and we will have it installed within twenty-four hours,” says Dave.
The skill sets for this industry are unique. Everything Granite State Cover does is unlike jobs that new employees have done before. They perform an array of tasks beginning with removing material from a roll and ending with a tarp that goes onto a tractor trailer. Since new people have never done this type of work before, who qualifies?
“We mainly hire carpenters for cutting, measuring and figuring dimensions. Someone who can visualize a request for a ten by twelve room. They won’t draw up a blueprint; they will just know how to do that,” says Dave.
Mechanics are, of course, hired for the welding and fabricating aspect. However, most of the mechanics who apply have never worked on truck tarps. Training is a crucial element of what the company does. New hires have to be trained on everything, and that process takes anywhere from three to six months.
A new employee will start by working as an assistant to another mechanic, before receiving rudimentary jobs and tasks. Working together like this is a good way to pick up the necessary knowledge to move forward.
“Now that we are in a bigger facility, we can have them work on a trailer under supervision on their own for a time. We have one guy that has been here for five months. He is now doing one particular job on his own now, only asking for basic guidance,” says Dave. Currently, there are twelve people working at Granite State Cover, but soon another mechanic and a sales representative will be added to help with the expansion.
Word of mouth is the biggest source of advertisement for Granite State Cover. There is a big truck company in upstate Maine to which the company sells, and its owner has a reputation in the industry of having trailers that are always worth buying as they are impeccably maintained. When he sold a couple of trucks to a company in New York, the new owner was impressed with the tarps. Through him, Granite State Cover has expanded to serve a dozen more companies.
“What happens is, the guy in upstate New York gets the trailer that has our tarp system on it. He likes it better than the local offerings and seeks us out. He is a big player in that area, and the little guys look at the example set by the big guys. We now have about thirteen customers in upstate New York, and it seems that we pick up another one every week,” says Dave.
All of this has taken place without advertisement, but that is about to change. Granite State Cover will be seen in construction, forestry and landscape contractor magazines. The plan for increased visibility includes being involved in trade shows outside of the region to get the name known elsewhere in a new marketing and sales campaign.
A lot of large dumpsters and roll-off containers now have automated tarp systems, which Granite State Cover had not been able to do as these are time-consuming to install and take more inventory that the company did not have space for in the past. With the new facility, Granite State Cover is launching this certainly lucrative endeavor.
Last year, one of its customers had eighteen trucks and hard-topped all of the dumpsters. A hard top can go for ninety dollars and lasts about six months. “They just replenish those inventories constantly. He sells to a national trash company called Allied Republic. They call me and want to put automatic tarp systems on eighteen roll-off trucks. Each system costs $8,000.00 to install. I didn’t have the facility or space to do it. Now, I am calling everybody up and letting them know that we can,” says Dave.
Another issue being addressed by Granite State Cover is that drivers are, on average, getting older and a tarp that covers a forty-five or fifty-three-foot trailer in two pieces weighs about 150 pounds. It is difficult to move a 150-pound tarp, so the company has developed its Soft Soft Side system.
The Soft Soft Side system rolls back and forth like a shower door on wheels. The whole assembly folds like an accordion to the front of the trailer; the back end is loaded; the sides are rolled closed and snapped in place. This can all be done from the ground and is very safe for the drivers.
Granite State Cover has really pushed to make top quality products. The company is always improving and tweaking the product and guarantees everything it produces.
“We have continually pushed quality standards up in an industry that’s going down, and that’s working in our favor. We also buy ten different brands of manufactured truck tarp systems and stock them all. Not only that, we work with the manufacturers to help them improve their product line. We give them feedback from the real world of where things are failing and how they can be improved,” says Dave.