Bruce Hanusosky raced in the fast lane of entrepreneurial success.
For years, his Painesville company, High Tech Performance Inc., was growing at a double-digit clip. It quickly gained a strong reputation for making top-quality, customized semitrailers that NASCAR teams used to haul their multimillion-dollar high-performance race cars and equipment.
And then, in the late 1990s, a corporate giant tried to force his company to crash and burn into oblivion.
The competition was so brutal that Hanusosky, at times, thought his days as an entrepreneur were over. While the pressure of business survival mounted, he kept reminding himself, and his anxious employees, of the principle that laid the foundation for the company’s success.
“From day one, our company was founded on the principle of making the best of the best,” says Hanusosky. “As long as we kept manufacturing quality semitrailers, we were going to make a comeback.”
While working as a pit crew mechanic for BF Goodrich Corp.’s off-road racing program, Hanusosky, a professional driver racing everything from go-karts to Winston Cup Vintage stock cars, got the idea to build a better semitrailer for professional racing teams.
Pointing to framed photos of the stock cars he drove at speeds topping 200 mph, Hanusosky explains how his idea was born. At racing venues across the country, he noticed that the high-performance race cars and their equipment worth millions of dollars were being hauled in substandard semitrailers.
“They were real crappy,” he says. “The quality just wasn’t there.”
BF Goodrich liked Hanusosky’s vision of creating a high-quality semi and hired him to build his first trailer in 1981.
Although he had the skills and professional experience as a mechanic, carpenter, fabricator and painter, rebuilding the interior of a semitrailer was a totally different story.
“At that time, there were only three companies that were doing this type of work,” recalls Hanusosky. “There were no books to read; there were no courses I could take; so a lot of my first jobs were trial and error.”
Despite these new challenges, Hanusosky delivered his first trailer to BF Goodrich on time and on budget. Gary Pace, then director of the performance racing team, was so pleased with Hanusosky’s work that he made referrals to other racing teams.
“Gary knew everybody who was anybody in auto racing,” says Hanusosky. “Without Gary’s support, we would not be the $10 million company that we are today.”
A High Tech semitrailer is typically 53 feet long and 13 feet, 6 inches high. The top half of the air-conditioned semi carries two racing cars. The bottom half houses dozens of customized cabinets and storage space, work areas, meeting rooms, kitchenettes and crew lockers. Throughout the semi are overhead television monitors, computerized diagnostic equipment and stereo systems.
Hanusosky hit the road to sell his new concept to other NASCAR racing teams, and for good reason, too. During the 1980s and 1990s, NASCAR was growing rapidly in popularity and was becoming an enormous revenue-generating business. Today, NASCAR is a $3 billion industry.
His contacts and referrals in the racing industry fueled High Tech’s annual 10 percent to 15 percent growth for years. In addition to NASCAR, the company was manufacturing semitrailers for Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and motorcycle racing teams. While Hanusosky was selling, his wife, Judy, was managing the company’s revenues and office operations, and his brother-in-law, Bob Manley, was handling production at the Painesville plant.
Although times were good, Hanusosky didn’t see the dark clouds looming ahead.
“I was so focused on developing the racing business that I didn’t think about what could happen,” says Hanusosky. “And what happened was that a big corporation kicked our butts and we almost didn’t make it.”
As part of its marketing, the major corporate competitor, Featherlite, who was acquired in October by Cincinnati-based Universal Trailer Corp., the largest specialty trailer manufacturer in North America, was providing some of the most popular NASCAR teams free trailers ranging in value from $230,000 to $275,000.
“Every job they bid, they would either give their trailer away or bid the job lower than us,” says Hanusosky. “The problem was they were a big company with deep pockets. We went nine months without new work.”
Although High Tech had enough loyal clients to keep afloat, it was forced to lay off half of its 60 employees. It began expanding into new markets and streamlined production and business operations.
“Sometimes when things are bad, it makes things better,” Hanusosky observes. “It forced us to increase our corporate business.”
Hanusosky then turned to his managers and employees to improve the manufacturing process and reduce costs.
“We looked at every little thing ... not because we were doing it wrong, but because we needed to do it better,” says Hanusosky. “We reduced the time it took to produce a semitrailer from 2,000 work hours to 1,600.”
By the fourth quarter of 1997, High-Tech’s comeback was beginning to gain traction. The company captured more corporate jobs, which use semitrailers for marketing, training, sales and client services, including customers like Parker Hannifin Corp. and General Electric. What’s more, NASCAR racing teams grew disillusioned with its quality and service from the free trailers. As a result, some of the NASCAR teams came back to High Tech.
And in 2000, High Tech expanded its plant from 54,000 square feet to 84,000 square feet, and its workforce slowly climbed back up to 60 employees.
Hanusosky plans to keep expanding in the corporate market and grow into other niche areas. For example, more state and city governments are looking at mobile command centers to help better manage disasters. High Tech designed and manufactured a trailer for the city of Norfolk, Va., that is capable of receiving and dispatching communications via satellite and landline audio, video and data connections.
Although Hanusosky feels good about his company’s current position and its future, he’s learned that in business you can never get too comfortable.
“About the time you get comfortable someone will sneak up and steal your lunch,” he says. “You’ve got to know what is happening in the marketplace all the time, and always have your eyes open.”