OLIVE BRANCH — Fire trucks are not only critical to protect lives and property. They can also be quite expensive and intricate pieces of equipment with costs for a new truck ranging from between $110,000 to nearly $1 million.
Jeff Kuntz and Bobby Wharton, partners in Pro-Fire Equipment, were awarded the Mississippi and Arkansas dealership for one of the leading fire equipment companies in the U.S., Pierce Manufacturing Inc., www.piercemanufacturing.com, this past October. Pierce Manufacturing, whose parent company is Oshkosh Corp., sells $1.2 billion per year in fire trucks and apparatus.
Wharton said he became interested in the Pierce dealership because it dovetailed nicely with another business he owns, G & W Diesel of Memphis, Tenn., a 42-year-old company that represents dealers for five different brands of diesel engines and the Allison brand of power transmission components.
“G & W Diesel was already servicing a lot of fire apparatus in north Mississippi, western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas,” Wharton said. “When this opportunity arose last year, we saw this as a perfect match with G & W Diesel. It was an opportunity to sell the fire trucks rather than just service them. We saw it as a sound business opportunity that we took advantage of. “
Kuntz is a fire fighter who also has eight years of experience in selling fire trucks. The company also has four other salesmen, all either current or former fire fighters. Wharton said it is important that salesmen are people who know the business and the language of fire fighters.
Fire-Pro Equipment bills itself as “the fire-fighter’s company” that provides service to make sure that the equipment is reliable when it is called upon to be used to save lives and protect property.
“We’re here to keep the equipment serviced properly and quickly,” Wharton said. “No product you sell is any better than the service behind it.”
Wharton said business has been brisk so far. In fact, they have sold quite a few more trucks than they expected.
“We didn’t think our sales and leads would be this overwhelming at this stage of the game,” Wharton said. “Business has been fantastic so far. We thought we would have more time to get things in place, but we aren’t complaining. We have sold quite a few trucks in the last four and a half months.”
A decision had to be made quickly about the Pierce Manufacturing dealership. Wharton and Kuntz flew to Appleton, Wis., to meet with the company, were offered the dealership, and had only 10 days to get everything going.
The climate for business has been good in part because Mississippi has grants that are allowing a lot of rural and volunteer fire departments to buy new fire equipment. And municipalities always need to update and replace fire-fighting equipment, Wharton said.
Wharton said they have been so busy with sales that it has been difficult to find time for other startup needs such as buying a headquarters for the business. But Pro-Fire equipment recently purchased property at 7195 Maygan Drive located in the Olive Branch Industrial Park that gives them 6,000 square feet for sales. Their service facility is 36,000 square feet. In addition to the trucks, the company plans to sell supporting lines of fire equipment such as axes, helmets, fire suits, boots, air packs, flashlights and fire hoses
While small rural volunteer fire departments are likely to buy trucks in the range of $110,000 to $150,000, Pierce Manufacturing’s trucks can run as high as $900,000 for a truck that is fully computerized with a 100-foot ladder.
Pro-Fire Equipment has found a unique use for a truck that has been retired from fire fighting and converted into a barbecue cooker. The company uses the truck to compete at barbecue contests. It is fully mobile and self-contained, and can be driven to whatever event it is being used for. “It is good advertising for us,” Wharton said. “We also do some non-profit volunteer work with it.”
The company recently used the truck to cook food for a fund raiser held to help DeSoto County Deputy Sheriff James Burks Jr., who was hit by a car while directing traffic. Pro-Fire Equipment was one of the sponsors for the event for Burks, who was in intensive care for three weeks after the accident.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.