Burr Truck opened its doors in Vestal, NY, 50 years ago. At the time, the company was basically recession-proof; there was a shortage of good drivers – even then; and the idea of a million-mile truck? Laughable.
“I can remember in the early days, about every 200,000 miles or so, you’d have to rebuild a diesel engine,” said co-founder Melvin Burr. “The idea of a million-mile truck was laughed at.”
Burr Truck was founded in 1967 by Charlie Burr and his sons Clark and Melvin. They originally opened as a dealer for Diamond Rep and Oshkosh trucks, Strick trailers, and Cummins and Detroit diesel engines. In 1977, they took a chance on Volvo trucks, which were new to the American market.
“I believe we are the oldest Volvo dealer in the United States,” Melvin told Fleet Owner. “From the very early days, we were dealer number 40, and I think we are the only one left out of that original group.”
Before opening Burr Truck, Charlie worked for a freight company that specialized in outside repairs and fleet services. The owners wanted out of the business, so Charlie approached them and mentioned he wanted to continue the franchise. They gave him 30 days to make the necessary arrangements, and Clark and Melvin, who were serving in the military at the time, agreed to go into business with him.
After becoming a Volvo dealer, the company eventually took on Isuzu, Western Star, GMC’s medium-duty trucks, and Mitsubishi. Today, Burr Truck’s services include truck sales, truck leasing and rental, maintenance, parts sales, snow and ice removal equipment, and the dealership is an upfitter for numerous body manufacturers.
The company has been taken over by Melvin’s son Mike Burr, who is vice president, and Clark’s son Chuck Burr, who is president. This year, Burr truck is celebrating 50 years of service and its deep family roots.
“We’re family owned and operated and we run our business as a family,” Mike explained. “The decision-making and the way we reacted to changes in the market have always been driven by our family. Not only do we support our four families, we support all the other 30-something employees we’ve had over the years.”
In the early days, Melvin said he and his brother would work until 3 or 4 in the morning and on Christmas and on holidays with their father to ensure their customers were taken care of. In the mid-1990s, Volvo recognized the dealership for its dealer performance with its Second to None award.
From the day Volvo drove up with a truck in 1977 wanting to know if Burr would become a dealer, Melvin said they’ve always had a close relationship – and in those days, they knew everyone at Volvo.
“Reliability even early on was very good – reliability and fuel economy,” Mike said about Volvo Trucks. “I think they’ve always been on the edge of innovation. Some of their core values of safety are in line with our family environment. It aligns with who we are at the core.”
One thing that has always been a constant within the industry is a shortage of good drivers and retaining good employees. Chuck noted that companies buy trucks to keep their drivers safe, attentive and reliable, which is why he feels Volvo has been so successful among the fleets they serve.
Over the past five years or so, the company has found it challenging to replace some long-term employees, who, like Clark and Melvin, have retired. “To find people who are that dedicated is a big challenge,” Mike said. “We’re fortunate that we have found some great people, but it’s something we’re challenged with – that consistency year over year to have reliable employees.”
As for truck sales going forward, Mike projects the same thing industry specialists have been saying recently: slow, steady growth without any major peaks. And he says that’s a good thing.
“You don’t fall as hard,” Mike explained. “To continue on and improve on the business without having to worry about that big spike is a good thing for a few years.”
Chuck said he interested to see what technological advancements develop in the next five years, and referred to times ahead as challenging, exciting, and scary. But when it all comes down to it, he said customer relationships are really at the crux of what matters.
“I think more and more customers are going to come to the realization that it’s not so much the truck they’re going to buy, but without a good, strong dealer network none of that really matters,” Chuck explained. “Customers are realizing they have to align themselves with a good, strong dealer network.”
And that’s what Burr Truck hopes to continue bringing to its customers in the years to come.