Al Hess, founder of Wholesale Trucks of America, gives his staff the leeway to make most decisions. There’s one area, though, where he won’t let go of the reins: purchasing.
“I control the purchasing, so I know what we’re doing,” said Hess. “I monitor the purchase side more than I monitor the sales side. I give my employees the freedom of selling trucks as long as they sell them at a profit.”
Purchasing is a skill that Hess honed as a youth. His father, who was a cattleman, would give him “some leash” when they went out to buy cows.
“I would get to make those decisions, and my father would take a percentage of my buys when we sold them. I learned early on what being entrepreneurial meant,” said Hess.
From Cattle to Trucks
Hess did well in the cattle business as a kid, but the trucking industry is where he’s made his career.
He started with Arrow Truck Sales in Atlanta and then transferred to Kansas City, where he worked as a wholesaler for the company. He decided to start his own business in 2001 when Arrow sold to a larger organization.
“When that happened, I decided to go out on my own and do what I was doing, but do it for myself,” said Hess.
Driving a Business
Wholesale Trucks of America is a used truck wholesale dealer—working primarily with Class 8 tractors—that buys from fleets that are trading their vehicles.
“A lot of dealers only like to handle their own brands, so if someone trades in ‘off brands’, we purchase those and resell them to dealers across the United States,” said Hess.
Besides closely guarding the purchasing side of the business, Hess says WTA’s reputation in the industry has been critical to
the company’s success.
“Everything we do, we very sincerely attempt to do on a first-class level,” he said. “We have our trucks inspected prior to purchasing them. Then we send those inspection sheets out to our prospective customers so they can see the bad as well as the good and know what they are buying. You can spend all the money in the world on advertising, but you only have one reputation to spend. We’ve been very conscious of that.”
Hess wants to ensure the used truck industry has a solid reputation too. He’s been involved in the Used Truck Association since its founding.
“We were very passionate about putting together an organization that held people to a certain standard, improved the reputation of the used truck dealer and provided education for the new people starting in our business,” he said.
A Long-Haul Banker
Hess stresses the importance of working with a banker that is with you for the long haul.
“Having a relationship with a bank like I have with Equity Bank, and specifically Larry Hillier, has been another key to our success. We’ve had a very harmonic relationship. I can’t say enough about having somebody in your corner so you can pay for what you’re buying,” he said.
He said the reason the relationship has been so strong is that he has no hidden agenda. “I’m very open, very honest, and do what I say I’m going to do. I think when you set that up with the person who’s going to be your finance arm, whether it’s a bank or an individual—and again I
go back to reputation—the relationship will be successful.”
Hess leaves open the possibility that his two sons, who are also involved in trucking with other companies, may someday join the business.
“Whether they want to come back, where we go from here, that’s still up in the air,” he said.
In the meantime, with Equity as a partner, Hess plans to continue to grow the business, keeping it moving down the road.
Share Your Napkin Story
Some of the most amazing business stories started as an idea scribbled on a napkin.
Mark Parman, Kansas City Market President of Equity Bank, invites you to share your Napkin Story. “We not only want to hear your origin story, we can help you continue to write the rest of your company’s story,” he said.
Equity Bank is a full-service community bank with offices in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. Our group of bankers are experienced with businesses from small to large. We take the time to listen to your story and help you design the services that will benefit you and your business.
To share your napkin story, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (913) 323-9300.