River States Truck and Trailer, of La Crosse, Wisc., was named the 2016 Successful Dealer Award at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Texas, Thursday.
River States was one of five finalists for the annual award, which is sponsored by Automann and CDK Global.
In the 44 years since Bob Frise opened a small six-bay repair facility in downtown La Crosse, the company has grown into one of the premier truck and trailer dealers in western Wisconsin. The company, which is still family owned and operated, remains a driving force in its local community and a needed resource for transit drivers.
Frise’s son-in-law, Joe Laux, is now principal dealer of the company’s five locations. Laux is committed to the same customer-centered service that has made Rivers States the thriving business that it is, however.
River States works closely with customers to make sure they understand the product and are using it to the fullest potential. With all the advances in technology and new products coming on the market, they feel it is necessary to make sure the customer fully understands the capabilities of their product, so its benefits do not go unused and wasted. The sales department, as well as service and parts departments, are all involved in helping educate customers on the benefits of the products and services offered.
Not only does River States educate their customers, the also company maintains its standards of excellence by making sure all employees have proper training to do their jobs efficiently, effectively and to the best of their ability. Safety training has always been important to River States. Every employee from general manager, diesel tech, to receptionist undergoes safety training at least twice per year.
As a staple of the La Crosse community, River States and Laux look to play an active role in helping their community. Laux and his wife, Lynn, recently established a marketing scholarship at their alma mater, University of Wisconsin—La Crosse. The couple also contributes annually to the UW-L Athletics Department, UW-L College of Business, L Club/UW-L Foundation, and the construction of the new UW-L Stadium and campus buildings.
In addition, River States recently donated a suite during a Green Bay Packers game to the Hope Lives Foundation to be auctioned off to raise money for their foundation, which supports local families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer.
“While the size of the company may have changed, the foundation remains the same. River States is all about people,” Laux says.
Laux and River States have spent a great deal of time and energy serving the interests of many local area students, establishing scholarship programs at area high schools, technical colleges and universities.
Beginning in 2000, River States developed an apprentice technician program for student diesel technicians. Upon admittance, the program provides the student with tuition reimbursement in addition to part time employment as a tech at one of the River States locations. Each apprentice technician is teamed with a mentor to help reinforce their classroom curriculum with hands on, real world experience on site.
This program has been extremely successful and has been awarded to more than 30 diesel technician students to date, many of which have become full-time River States employees’ post-graduation.
River States also provides support for other organizations in the area including the Boys & Girls Club, Aimee Mathy Center, Red Cross, WAFER food bank, Coulee Region RSVP, Onalaska Park and Rec, Onalaska Suns Basketball Club, Boy Scout Chapter of La Crosse, Girl Scout Chapter of La Crosse, Toys for Tots, La Crosse Humane Society, New Horizons Women’s shelter and the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. River States also supports a program called First Tee Golf Sponsorship in St. Croix Valley, a program that introduces golf to elementary age students. The program focuses on golf development, character education and promotes healthy active lifestyles.
Additionally, River States has been an annual contributor in the United Way Fund drive for 16 years. The United Way helps fund area programs within the community that deal with education, poverty, housing, healthcare services, substance abuse, counseling, job training, youth mentoring, hunger, child abuse and other serious issues. With more than 40 percent employee participation, River States has raised an average of $2,500 per year for this charitable cause.
Among all these organizations, the one nearest to the company’s heart is the annual Toys for Tots donation, Laux says. Each Friday, employees are allowed to wear blue jeans for a $2 donation. The donations are collected throughout the year and matched by Laux and River States Truck & Trailer.
The result is thousands of dollars of toys purchased to fill the space under the Christmas tree for local kids in need. Over the years, River States Truck & Trailer and Laux have contributed in excess of $15,000 for this worthy cause.
And the company is equally as proud of its environmental initiatives as well as its charitable ones.
“As River States has continued to expand, many solutions have been introduced to help reduce the impact of the business’ ‘carbon footprint’ on the environment,” Laux says. “The most current projects include updating outdoor lighting to LED and bidding out a new boiler system for the La Crosse location. These high-efficiency boilers will be 95.7 percent efficient versus the original building system.”
By switching out the current HID lamps to LED lighting, the lighting will become more efficient to run and almost triple the life-cycle of the current lamps. This move will not only save dollars on the bottom line, but also will help the company reduce energy consumption and save on waste going to the landfills.
Over the past few decades, other solutions also have been set in place to help reduce waste and help River States become a “greener” company. Company mandates began in 2007, when River States set a company-wide goal to reduce paper usage 40 percent by 2015.
This goal was accomplished by implementing two central, multi-function copiers at each location and utilizing email capabilities for statements, invoices and other company related documents. River States also looked to reduce the need for printing and filing important documents, as they would now store these same items online.
Great strides have been made to help reach the long term goal of becoming “paper-less.” Many accounting functions are now completely electronic, doing away with some printing and paper filing demands.
As advertising strategies have continued to change and evolve over the last decade, River State’s marketing efforts have grown to encompass online media, social media networks, as well as traditional forms of marketing to stay connected and offer insight to their customers and industry.
River States recognized that some traditional advertising may be losing its influence on consumers. As a result, they continuously strategize their marketing efforts to stay connected and in front of the consumer as many move toward online outlets for their purchasing decisions.
One such way that River States keeps their customers informed is through their monthly online newsletter, River States E-News. Developed almost seven years ago, River States E-News provides readers with current industry information and company highlights and other relevant news to more than 1,500 subscribers. In addition, River States advertises weekly in industry related magazines, publications and newsletters in order to reach a broad audience within their marketplace.
“Social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus have all brought us closer together through instant messaging, tweets and checking-in,” Laux says.
“River States uses these social media channels to gain customers attention and encourage them to share, post, re-tweet or like – he resulting electronic word-of-mouth has been shown to be quite powerful in our marketing efforts.”
Along with the newer forms of communication with customers, River States still weighs heavily on face-to-face communication and word-of-mouth to help build and maintain solid customer relationships. With more than four decades in business, existing customer relations have been instrumental in helping grow and promote the River States brand.
“River States aims to be at the forefront of customer’s minds when it comes to quality customer service,” Laux says.
“Personal service and face-to-face communication is a major component of what River States is all about. Customers receive their parts orders by a representative of River States instead of using a courier service. This allows both the customer support and sales staff to see customers on a daily basis and become more aware of what the customer’s unique needs, both today and in the future, truly entail.”