Valley Freightliner rises from the ashes

Jason Cannon

February 22, 2013

Valley FreightlinerValley Freightliner of Cleveland is settling into its new Parma, Ohio facility more than six months after its Brook Park site was destroyed by fire.

A fire raged the morning of Aug. 6 in the truck shop, eventually causing $6 million in damages, including nearly $1 million in parts and approximately a dozen used trucks.

Fire Marshals determined the fire was an act of arson, which eventually turned into an act of betrayal.

William H. Crawley, an employee of the truck store and shop, was eventually charged with arson in connection to the early morning blaze, after allegedly telling co-workers he sought to teach his bosses a lesson. Crawley was convicted earlier this month and sentenced to 16 years in prison on 24 counts of arson and aggravated arson.

Valley Freightliner officially relocated in December to Parma, but unofficially, they relocated before the fire department rolled up their hoses.

The company was in the process of opening a Hino dealership in Medina, Ohio at the time of the fire, but hadn’t stocked the lot with inventory yet.

That became the new Valley Freightliner…and Hino…and parts for both…and service for both…and everything else for everybody else.

“It was tight in there,” Valley Vice President Brian O’Donnell says of the location built for less than 15 employees that was serving as home base for more than 50.

Employees watched in horror that August morning as their jobs burned to the ground, but O’Donnell went quickly to work in putting out those assumptions as the firefighters worked to put out the flames.

“We were selling Freightliner parts that afternoon,” he said, “and we even sold a used truck that evening. We weren’t stopping and we weren’t giving up.”

The Hino dealership eventually was ready to open long before the Freightliner team had its new permanent home. The plan for this challenge was much the same as the one that late summer morning; roll with it.

“We had a Hino team and a Freightliner team,” he said. “Separate parts, separate operation, separate everything. We just ran the two businesses from the same location.”

That should have made for some interesting competition, but O’Donnell said that wasn’t always the case.

“It worked really well,” he said. “It was crowded, but it brought (the employees) closer together. They worked really well together.”

Valley Freightliner rang in the new year in its new Parma location, a former car dealership renovated to suit the heavy truck dealer’s needs.

Site acreage fell from 5 acres to 3.5, but O’Donnell says the footprint is more conducive to inventory display.

“It’s more of an open rectangle with more frontage and good lighting,” he says. “The trucks wouldn’t fit, so we converted showroom into nice office facility and customer comfort zone for drivers waiting for service.”

The move also expanded service capacity for the dealership’s 14 technicians. The previous location had 14 service bays and two wash bays. Currently that is up to 20 service bays and two wash bays.

The brief Hino/Freightliner experiment turned into what could become an expansion in the coming months. The partnership worked so well, O’Donnell said the company is considering offering Freightliner service as a regular fixture at its Hino location.

Through the ordeal, O’Donnell said his team walked away with a deeper appreciation for one another, knowing they could rely on each other to pull through in a crisis, and confidence in the company to support them along the way.

“I’m blessed to have a group of skilled, talented and really dedicated people,” he says. “Failure was not an option.”

Through all the uncertainly and stress, O’Donnell said the company wasn’t forced to cut any staff and only lost one employee.

“Before the fire, we had 53 employees,” he says. “After the fire we had 52. The one former employee is in jail.”

RELATED: Employees triumph through adversity 

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