Stoughton Trailers LLC: Ready for the Long Haul in Short Order

Stoughton Trailers LLC (Stoughton) is a specialized trailer manufacturer based in Stoughton, Wis. The company has grown to include two locations – Brodhead and Evansville – and is celebrating its 51-year anniversary in 2012. Stoughton is a family-owned and -operated business ranking in the top five of North American companies in its industry sector. Stoughton employs innovative technology and safety standards to remain ahead of the curve, according to Bob Wahlin, president of Stoughton.

The company’s footprint lies mainly in the upper Midwest and central Canada; however, Stoughton serves all coast to coast in North America, depending on where its customers are. Perhaps this is part of why the company has earned over a dozen awards in safety, excellence in business and green practices in the last decade alone. “Safety, quality and productivity, in that order, are the company’s metrics for profitability,” says Keith Wise, community relations and training manager at Stoughton.

Resilience and Adaptability

Stoughton’s flexibility and diversity has pulled the company through the recession, which hit the manufacturing-based economy in the Midwest particularly hard over the past five years. “Seven years ago we underwent a complete renovation of our manufacturing facilities to increase productivity and capacity,” Wise recalls.

When Stoughton was forced to downsize, the company was knocked back to 15 percent of capacity. Stoughton was down to 250 employees in 2009 from over 1,500 only a few years before. Stoughton kicked into high gear, sending its remaining manufacturing staff back to school. In order to stay competitive, employees gained additional skills and training in safety, ergonomics, quality customer service and Lean Six Sigma.

With amped-up manpower, Stoughton got to work on molding its existing product lines to better fit the needs of customers in addition to bringing back some old products that were a fit for growing markets.

“We’re continually looking for ways to improve our products and bring better value to our customers,” says Wise. “We’re expanding into other markets. We’re producing grain haulers for farmers. We used to make them in the ’80s, but we got out of that market when demand decreased. We got back into it three years ago; we’ve successfully reinserted ourselves into the market.”

Stoughton plans to remain flexible, and Wise believes it is the only way to continue to expand the company’s market. “We’re not turning a deaf ear to anything,” he explains.

Stoughton’s engineering staff is readily available to ensure that the company’s clients attain both what is wanted and needed out a Stoughton product. The company certainly has a model it can reproduce, but stock units are built to meet immediate customer needs. In order to meet the specifications determined by each customer, orders are designed and built to a variety of customizations.

Flexing for the Future

The company is currently developing a line of products intended to make loading and unloading its successful line of trailers even easier than it already was. This line of containers, that Wise refers to as Relo-Cubes, employ a concept similar to that of the PODS storage systems. The cubes can fit into a standard van and are compatible with forklifts, allowing the Relo-Cubes to be unloaded on site or transferred to another trailer, van or even airplane. The company’s team of engineers also continues to make current product innovations, ensuring Stoughton stays competitive.

“We’re up to 850 employees from where we were in 2009,” states Wise, adding, “We’re looking to expand to 1,100 in the next year or so.” With market declines in manufacturing, however, good candidates have been hard to come by. Wise has personally contacted multiple trade schools for recruiting and has visits planned to local high schools.

“The major misconception out there is that manufacturing is looking for high school dropouts or people with no marketable skills, but that isn’t the case,” he explains. The industry has developed some very advanced technologies over the past decade or so. Wise adds, “It takes someone with a reasonable amount of intelligence and skills to function on our operation if we’re going to remain competitive not only on the productivity side, but also in standards of quality.”

Stoughton does a vast amount of in-house education. A standard training period for new hires at the company lasts two weeks, and Stoughton even runs its own weld-training operation. “With us it’s about developing those skill sets that may have weakened over the years or just haven’t ever been established,” Wise says.

Stoughton offers the opportunity for employees to grow in an extremely safe environment. “What sets us apart in this industry aside from quality is our dedication to safety,” he reinforces, “It’s very, very important to us.”

For the next few years, aside from increasing its workforce, Stoughton is looking to expand the company’s market to more industries. “We always want to be able to develop relationships with new customers,” Wise explains. “But we need to be able to continue to serve and maintain our existing customer base; that’s one thing we can’t lose sight of.”

The company’s goal is simple: to make its trailers more productive and longer-lasting with lower maintenance. From start to finish, the Stoughton team focuses on the details for every customer. Stoughton Trailers LLC has earned a reputation for delivering high-quality, long-lasting trailers and intermodal products that effectively lower operating costs across the board.