Asked to look back over the past 13 years to the first Rush Truck Centers Technician Rodeo, CEO Rusty Rush leaned back in his chair and exhaled loudly. The past year was a wild ride for Rush — from losing his father and company founder, Marvin Rush, last May, to his dealership network’s solid position as North America’s largest, as well as the annual Tech Rodeo.
“I feel proud,” Rush said finally. “Not of me. But of our organization and our people. And I’m proud of how this event has grown. It started out as just a service event. And it’s grown to these proportions. And it’s our people that make it all come together.”
In just a few hours, Rush was scheduled to take the stage at the 2018 Technician Rodeo Banquet and speak to almost 2,000 attendees, including technicians from all over the country and their wives, OEM and Tier 1 suppliers before personally overseeing the announcement of category winners, shaking each one’s hand and handing them their portion of $285,000 in prizes. It’s an event he is immensely proud of and looks forward to every year. And one he is convinced gives his company a decided advantage in the hyper-competitive world of truck sales, parts and service.
“We do what it takes to attract good people and keep them,” Rush said. “If that means air-conditioned shops in Texas and heated shop floors in Indianapolis, so be it. And events like this rodeo are a part of that philosophy. Good technicians are hard to find. And I want to be on the leading edge of everything that will help me find them and keep them.”
Every year the Rush Rodeo seems to grow a bit more, and 2018 is no different. “The sales guys felt left out,” Rush said with a chuckle. “Just like the parts guys did before we let them compete, and the body guys did before we let them compete. And that tells me this event is working. It’s doing what it’s supposed to.”
Which is why, for the first time, the Rush Rodeo in San Antonio, Texas, this year includes an OEM and Class-specific sales category. Rush Truck Center sales professionals from around the country took video of their walk-around sales pitches and submitted them to a panel of Rush executive judges, with 21 finalists invited to compete in San Antonio for honors and prizes.
“Sometimes the level of knowledge of product that is required from a sales perspective is lost on people,” Rush said. “A lot goes into sales. To be successful, our sales representatives have to be really good at market segmentation. We’re really big in specialty markets like refuse, construction and oil and gas. And you better know your products. You better know your strengths and sell well. And the knowledge it takes to succeed in those markets is not just putting together the same spec package 5,000 times. And we wanted to recognize those talents.”
Looking to 2019 and Beyond
Looking at the trucking industry as a whole, Rush said he’s seen some expected cooling off on Class 8 and medium-duty sales as 2018 winds down. But he is still highly optimistic looking into the first half of next year. “The first half of 2019 will be strong,” he predicts. “Everything is still solid at this point. I’ve been talking to a lot of of our customers lately and they’re all pretty comfortable with their businesses right now. Spot markets are softening some. But everyone is still loaded and hauling freight. Used truck markets are still strong as well. But that worm will turn, eventually.”
Medium-duty markets are strong, as well, and Rush is confident in saying that they will remain so for the next four to five years. “There are a lot of things happening in medium-duty, such as last-mile and in-home grocery delivery, that point to a period of sustained growth.”
Still, Rush cautioned, business in the United States has always been cyclical. “The back half of next year is still evolving,” he said. “And we can’t tell anything about 2020 yet. But right now, things are going well.”
A large part of that medium-duty growth will include new electric trucks. But for the moment, Rush is not too focused on them. “My opinion is that electric trucks will enter the market. And they’ll be just another product that OEMs produce and we sell,” he said. “Just like a shelf of products in the supermarket. You pick the one that you need. But there are still a lot of obstacles in place that will have to be resolved. Things like weight, infrastructure and price. Right now, there are grants and subsidies to help with those things. But sooner or later, those subsidies will go away, and electric trucks will have to make a business case on their own.”
Likewise, Rush is not yet overly concerned about the prospect of long-haul electric trucks entering the market. “We’ll see what happens next year,” he said, noting the pending introduction of the Nikola One long-haul tractor. “But I defer to our OEMs on that front. We are the distribution and service provider in this relationship. And we do our jobs on that front. Our OEM partners are the providers of the trucks our customers need. And I trust our OEM partners to do their job and supply us with a competitive product if that technology proves viable.”
Today, Rush said, his company is busy selling and servicing trucks. But he’s always on the lookout for more opportunities to grow when opportunities present themselves. Musing on the national footprint Rush Truck Centers enjoys today, Rush said there’s room for more expansion. “I’d like to be everywhere,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s viable. But at the same time, we are always on the lookout for opportunities to expand.”