HOW IT ALL BEGAN...
Truck dealer ‘brings ’em back alive’
Motorists on U.S. 29 can be forgiven for being puzzled when they see a sign for Handpicked Western Trucks. Indeed, the business opened up by Mark and Colleen Grehlinger represents a different approach to truck sales.
Grehlinger specializes in used diesel pick up trucks, usually finding what a customer needs at a dealer “out west” and “bringing it back alive.” “Out west” may be only as far as the Shenandoah Valley, but in most cases it is Texas, Oklahoma or Arizona. There is a good reason for this, Grehlinger explained. Folks out west, where a “short hop to town” may involve 100 or 200 miles, have been into diesel pickups for years. “Here, about 15 out of every 100 pickups sold have diesel engines. Out west, about 15 out of every 100 trucks sold aren’t diesels,” Grehlinger said. “We’re about five or six years behind the curve.” Grehlinger discovered this first hand. “I sort of backed into this thing,” he said. “When I got out of the hydraseed business, I had a Dodge pickup with a Cummins diesel motor in it and decided to sell it because I didn’t need a work truck. After a couple of years I missed it. So I started looking for one and couldn’t find one for sale for 50 miles around.”
“A friend had been out west and told me there were lots around there. So I went out and bought one. And driving back this brainstorm hit me,” Grehlinger said. I realized a lot of folks were asking themselves, “Where can I get a good diesel truck that’ll last three times the average truck, get good gas mileage and won’t cost $40,000.” The personal truck he sold several years ago had 151,000 miles on the odometer, Grehlinger said. “The guy who bought it drives tractor-trailer and knew diesels last a long time. He still comes by. He loves his truck.”
So Grehlinger started making contacts with dealers who would sell to him wholesale. He made a few trips out to Texas and Arizona and hand-picked some good, sound diesel trucks and brought them back. And they had willing buyers. So he brought a few more back to Madison County, often driving one back, trailering a second and having another driver to bring back a third one.
“One customer said, ‘Man. I can’t believe it. I spent thousands less than if I’d bought it in the city” Grehlinger said. “We’re like the opposite of Car Max. We don’t keep hundreds of vehicles around. We see what somebody wants and call around and try to get it. “One customer needed two ‘crew cabs.’ I gave her four to choose from. Then I went and got the two she wanted. Trucks from the western states may have what might be considered high mileage, but those miles are ‘easy miles,’ a lot easier than if they’d been put on grinding around the D.C. Beltway or pounding up the sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grehlinger said. “I was with a dealer out there and he said, ‘I’m going to the bank, come with me.’ I said, ‘How far’s that? Figuring maybe four or five miles. He said, ‘About 150 miles.’ “But we drove about 70 miles an hour in cruise control and were there in two hours.”
The very dry conditions of the western states also is easier on a truck’s condition, Grehlinger said. “You wash off the undersides and they look like new.” After only six months in business, Grehlinger says he’s built up a solid client base and a reliable network of sources. “There’s stress, of course, like any business. But it’s fun. “I’m into it for making a living. Everybody has to eat. But if I felt I was making money and wasn’t treating people right it wouldn’t be fun.” Grehlinger said.
The Madison County Eagle, Madison VA, Thursday, May 20, 1999
Author - Greg Glassner Managing Editor