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Family ag trailer firm steps up to fill oil needs

An oil boom in western North Dakota has helped supercharge agricultural enterprises, including a trailer business that already is at the top of its game in the Dickinson area.

Among other notable achievements, Boespflug Trailers is ranked No. 1 in North America (and the world) among sellers of Featherlite Trailers. At the same time, the company has stepped up to provide equipment for an exploding oil field market.

Perry Boespflug, 52, grew up in the Richardton area and moved to a farm and ranch north of Taylor in his early teens. He graduated high school in 1977 and attended Dickinson State University, receiving a two-year degree in 1979 with emphasis in sales and farm-ranch management. Out of school, worked as a roughneck in the region's first oil boom from 1978 to 1985 and then went to work for the City of Dickinson.

His parents, Ralph and Frieda, had started Boespflug Ranch Trailers at Taylor in 1983 and moved the business to Dickinson in 1987, calling it Boespflug Trailers and Feed, and locating it next to Stockmen's Livestock Exchange in Dickinson. Perry moonlighted for his father until 1989, when he became a partner and worked in the business full-time, initially leading its feed business. His wife, Annette, joined the business in 1993. In 1998, the Boespflugs built a new building for its headquarters.

A new generation

In 2003, Perry and Annette Boespflug purchased the business and disbanded the feed business. In 2007, they shortened the name to Boespflug Trailers.

"We never had a backwards year," Perry Boespflug said.

He and Annette worked to grow the business, and focused on leveraging manufacturers' promotion and programming to enhance sales. The results speak for themselves.

"In the last four years we've been among Featherlite's top 10 dealers, nationwide. In 2010, we were their No. 1 dealer in the world, actually," Perry said. "We've been top producers for their livestock trailer sales in 2009 and 2010."

The 2011 year is looking strong, too.

Boespflug said the most popular Featherlite trailer is a 7-by-24 foot model. That rig retails from $16,000 to $17,000, depending on promotional programs in place at a given time. Boespflug keeps 12 to 15 of those on hand all of the time, while they'd typically keep a half-dozen of 30- to 32- foot models.

"We also stock up to 53-foot ground-load livestock, semi-type trailers," he said. "We're in the midst of some of the highest-volume cattle country in the state, so it warrants that."

The company has boosted its exposure through advertising and through their website. They market in 13 states and three provinces.

Widening trade areas

Ten years ago, about 75 percent of Boespflug's business was in a 150-mile radius, Perry estimates. Today, roughly half of their business is outside of that radius. Some of its sales is in the Red River Valley area, of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota he said, and there is strong Canadian interest, despite the strengthening of their currency. That's because the U.S. is a competitive market.

Boespflug declines to be specific about volume numbers except to say he sells several hundred trailers in a year. Featherlite, based in Cresco, Iowa, is the No. 1 supplier of livestock and horse trailers, nationwide, he said.

Boespflug Trailers last year also was the No. 1 sales producer for ABU Trailer Manufacturing of Dwight near Wahpeton. That company manufactures gooseneck and bumper hitch flatbeds and dump trailers. Boespflug also is in the top five dealers for Titan steel livestock and horse trailers, and in the top 10 for Haulmark cargo trailers.

"We have always been primarily in agriculture, but in the past 10 years we're multifaceted," he said. "We've seen ag-related sales shift from 90 percent to 70 to 75 percent of our business." Other strong markets are construction, personal trailers, cargo trailers and flatbeds. "The 'energy' market has been going for the past several years, but the way the oilfield activity has kicked up, that part of the business has ramped up quickly," he said.

One of the key results of an oil boom is the availability of qualified help. Sufficient inventory is one of the keys of the current market.

Boespflugs have 160 new trailer units on hand at any given time.

"Our suppliers tell us we have the largest trailer parts inventory from Fargo to Billings, (Mont.)," he said.

A quickened pace is evident everywhere, and nowhere more than in the trailer business, he said. Buyers have demanded more of a variety, with more sizes and options.

"The way energy has ramped up in the last two or three years, we've stepped up in inventory for much higher volume in flatbed, gooseneck and cargo trailer product lines to meet those needs," he said.

"It's so wild that if you've got it on hand, they'll buy it," Boesfplug said. "If you don't, they go somewhere else, just because of the sheer need. They're wanting it, and they're wanting it now. We feel we've stepped up and met that need to the best of our ability. We always strive for that."

Pates is a reporter for Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.