MACON — Mike Banks is president of Trailboss Trailers Inc., and with his baseball cap, mustache and homespun manner, he’s the ultimate good ol’ boy.
Banks says he’s not the smartest guy in the world and he knows it. He got bored with college after three semesters at nearby East Mississippi Community College, but Banks says, “I got my degree in common sense.”
It’s more like he got his degree in economics. He makes statements like
“An employee has to be worth more than we pay,” and “We have a very fragile economy that’s based on consumer confidence. Anytime there’s an increase in taxes, energy prices or interest rates, it hurts business.”
And then there’s this achievement: Trailboss sold more than 500 trailers last year — 90% of them flatbed — through a national network of dealers. His local payroll was more than a million dollars.
Alan Greenspan could benefit from a visit with Mike Banks.
Filling a void
Banks is a native of Macon and was farming with his father 19 years ago. That economic sense told him that prosperity wasn’t in farming. He was repairing and building farm trailers for himself and his neighbors during the winter months. In 1983, he took two of his homemade trailers to a farm equipment show in Moultrie, Ga., promptly sold them and got orders for two more. He figured he must be on to something.
“By ‘84, I was into trailers more than I was in cattle, so I got out of the farming business,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘What would happen if I advertised this in a trade publication,’ and when I did, that’s when our business really took off. That was a revelation about advertising that was amazing to me.” He still advertises in “Rock and Dirt” where his first ad ran, and also in several other trade magazines.
Banks believes that his trailers filled a market void for people coming into the construction industry needing a way to haul their equipment.
“They were building their own stuff up until then and there just weren’t that many competitors in the market,” he said.
Obtaining the right axles for his equipment turned out to be a big problem.
“We were getting our axles from Dexter out of Elkhart, Ind.,” Banks remembered. “There was an accident involving their axle and I kept telling them, ‘This is not compatible. Somebody’s going to get hurt,’ but they wouldn’t listen to me.”
Banks finally persuaded Dexter’s president and his engineer to come to Macon where he told them of the problem which had to do with the rim of the axle. “Their engineer got up and said, ‘I have a degree in engineering and there’s no problem,’ and I said, ‘Well, my degree is in common sense, so let me show you why it doesn’t work.’”
After Banks got through with his demonstration, the Dexter people flew back to Elkhart and were producing a new, and dependable, axle rim within 30 days. Today, all Trailboss Trailers have Dexter axles.
“The Dexter people are good to work with and they solve any problems,”
There was also a problem with pulling a tilt bed trailer, and with 90% of his sales in flat bed trailers for equipment hauling, that had to be answered. So Banks designed a partial tilt trailer that shifted more of the weight to the front.
“That’s what put us on the map,” he said. “Innovation’s been good to us.”
He also attributes his success to his dedicated employees that he pays based on dependability, job performance and attitude. Banks cites Kaye Hummer, his assistant who was formerly his secretary. “She’s efficient and has the ability to organize much better than I do.”
The Trailboss sales manager of 16 years became Banks’ brother-in-law about a year ago.
With a chuckle, Banks said, “I told my sister, ‘He’s a fine man. Don’t you change him.’”
By 1990, Trailboss (Banks came up with the name while driving through Alabama one night delivering a trailer) had outgrown the farm facility, so Banks bought the 8,000-square-foot building on U.S. 45 formerly occupied by the International Harvester dealership. The operation now occupies 35,000 square feet and another expansion is underway to house new offices and a computer room.
For Trailboss, the economic recession started 18 months ago and the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks compounded it. Their workforce has dwindled from 80 employees to 45, but some of those laid off are now being called back.
“Layoffs are the most painful thing I have to do,” Banks said.
Trailboss dealers are scattered throughout the country including Los Angeles, Atlanta and Oak Harbor, Wash. Banks said one of his best dealers who’s been with him from the beginning is John Adsit, owner of Upper Ten Trailer Sales in Hinesburg, Vt.
They exchange visits about twice a year.
“Mike Banks is a real great guy and honest as the day is long,” Adsit said. “Trailboss Trailers have a great reputation and high name recognition up here. One of the reasons is because anytime one of our customers has a problem, Mike’s goal is to get that customer back on the road as soon as possible.”
As for business problems, Banks becomes almost livid on the need for tort reform. He’s facing two lawsuits that he described as “absurd.”
“Our state is not business friendly and legislators need to understand that business hires more people than lawyers do,” he declared vehemently.
Despite those difficulties, Banks said he’s also been lucky. Maybe so, but looking at Mike Banks and his success, it’s easy to paraphrase an old saying, “Those people who work hard seem to be very lucky.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 485-7046.