Cover Story : ILoca Services, Inc.
Dan Thompson fully understands how much customers mean to his business and he also knows the value of hard work: two traits that anyone in the trucking industry can appreciate. Dan is the president and owner of Aurora, IL-based ILoca Services, a company incorporated by his late brother Jim Thompson in 1989. ILoca has grown to three locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa by providing a host of products and services. Most notably, the family-owned business with 64 employees sells 3,000 trailers per year in addition to the 3,000 trailers ILoca owns and leases to trucking companies and private manufacturers across the country. But it all started with hard work and an understanding that you have to put the customer first.
A native of Chicagoland, Dan grew up with four brothers and a sister surrounded by entrepreneurship.
His father was a Marine who became a top national salesman for Delco for three years straight, before going in to wholesale auto parts as a business owner. Dan’s mother was the daughter of a newspaper owner in California. At the young age of thirteen, she would sometimes drive a truck to deliver newspapers at 3 AM. Entrepreneurship is clearly in the blood of the Thompson family.
In 1984, Jim Thompson answered a newspaper ad and went to work in sales for Strick Trailer. Jim was very successful, working his way up to branch manager of its Chicago location. In the early 1990’s, trailer manufacturers were struggling to provide the quantity of trailers that were needed to serve America’s growing economy. Rather than disappoint his customers, Jim found used trailers to purchase and provided the equipment that his customers needed immediately. Going above and beyond and his spirit of entrepreneurship led Jim to open ILoca Services. With the help of his wife, who was also raising the children, they worked together as a team.
In the early 90’s, ILoca opened for business.
Jim purchased a 32-foot office trailer from Bud Grane (Grane Transportation) and set up shop on a 1-acre lot in Bolingbrook. ILoca was truly a full time trailer rental and sales business. In 1994, with encouragement from their father, younger brother Dan came on board.
The brothers did whatever it took to serve their customers.
“I remember one time Jim was sick. I had to get on to the property by blowtorching the frozen lock on the gate for five minutes for the ice to melt. It still didn’t open, so I had to climb over the barbed wired fence to open up the office,” Dan recalls. Being the owner of a young trailer business also meant repairing trailers in the dead of a Chicago winter; fixing them at night so they would be ready for rent in the morning to keep the utilization tight and customers happy.
Dan says, “Jim would be on one side of the trailer with a rivet gun and I’d be at the back of the trailer sitting on a milk crate replacing the mud flap. Your hands are just frozen, and the wind is whipping in with about a -30 wind chill. It was rough. I still remember looking up and seeing the greenish twinkling of the sky at 7 o’clock at night in February. But you do whatever you’ve got to do to serve the customer and strengthen the business.”
After a while, in addition to renting trailers, ILoca became a new van dealer and picked up the Monon Trailer dry van line.
Then, in 1996, the growing business moved to Liberty Street in Aurora and the brothers began to add employees, including mechanics, operations staff, and sales people. In the mid 90’s ILoca became a dealer for another Aurora-based company, Dynaweld and broadened its line to heavy haul and construction trailers.
In 1999, ILoca became a dealer for Fontaine, a decision that helped ILoca’s growth to take off. “Even today, nearly 20 years later, Fontaine is still one of our top product lines,” says Thompson. “They make a great product and are a true partner of ours in every sense of the word.”
In 2004, ILoca needed a new van line and became a dealer for Hyundai. “Six months later, we cancelled them in favor of Vanguard. It was a very clear choice in terms of quality,” says Dan Thompson. “We made the decision we thought was best for our customers and put our confidence in Vanguard. It was a great decision!”
A few years after the success with Vanguard vans, CIMC, the parent company of Vanguard. Having great success in Europe, Asia, and Australia, brought its redesigned refrigerated trailer to North America. CIMC had 60% of the worldwide refrigerated container market and therefore ILoca quickly jumped on this refrigerated trailer product as well. “When we added the Vanguard reefer trailer to our line, it was the first time in over 30 years that any trailer company in North America had reexamined their reefer product. The industry was still selling a dinosaur of a product. The CIMC/Vanguard reefer has a ton of fuel saving features built into the standard product and when you’re talking increased fuel costs, it’s a big deal!” explained Thompson.
ILoca offers a wide variety of new trailer types including vans, reefers, flatbeds, stepdecks, double drops, lowboys, extendibles, dump trailers, chassis’, and containers. In addition to Fontaine and CIMC/Vanguard. ILoca represents Fontaine Heavy Haul, Manac, Dorsey, Talbert, CIMC Intermodal, Travis and most recently, MAC.
“We just recently signed up with MAC Trailers, which nicely compliments our product line. MAC gives us several new trailer types that we haven’t been involved with, including pneumatic tankers, waste trailers, and aluminum dump trailers”, states Thompson. “This brings choice to the customer for MAC or Travis aluminum dumps and rounds out our steel dump line product with Manac and CPS”.
Growing to a business with three locations and over 60 employees doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen without a customer-focused culture. Four years ago, ILoca made the decision to expand beyond its single storefront in Aurora. The company opened up a branch in Davenport, Iowa and recently expanded that facility to provide trailer service and stock new and used sale and rental trailers.
More recently, ILoca expanded into Wisconsin with a facility on I-94 with 17 acres of land in Caledonia right off the expressway. They now have four team members on staff and a large number of new and used trailers for sale as well as a wide variety of rental/lease trailers. The company has plans for additional locations as well. ILoca’s lease fleet is growing with 3,000 trailers that are leased across the country. They are easy to recognize with the famous www.semitrailers.net and “Your Partner For The Long Haul” graphics on the trailers.
A milestone for ILoca Services and its heavily trafficked website, www.semitrailers.net, was a major website overhaul in 2017. The change gave ILoca the ability to sell parts online. This aspect of the business has seen growth every month since it began. “Surprisingly, we get hits from all over the country and even the world,” states Thompson.
Dan Thompson is very proud of the service ILoca provides to all of its customers. “There are several larger, national trailer leasing companies that we compete with. But at ILoca, we pride ourselves on being able to provide a very high level of customer service from a local company. We know who we are dealing with. Know our customers personally. We care about them and we really care about their business. People know they can trust us for sales, rentals, parts, service, and leasing. We have a lot to offer,” explains Thompson.
“Our whole focus is the customer. We’re looking for win-win relationships: good business with good people. Along the way, we need to be profitable of course, because we need to pay our people and we need to make sure that the families of the people working for us are taken care of as well. But people need to make sure that their profit is fair. To grow our business we need to hit that sweet spot where you provide the best service at the best possible price.”
A visit to the ILoca corporate headquarters in Aurora will let you see firsthand the team members who work hard every day for the company.
Walking through the glass door that proudly displays the Illinois Trucking Association logo, you are greeted by a friendly face, a handshake, and an offer of “How can I help you today?” The parts showroom is impressive. It features a huge selection of cargo control products as well as all aluminum cab racks, toolboxes, and aluminum wheels. All types of trailer parts from many manufacturers.
Today, Dan Thompson is carrying on as the President of ILoca Services following the sudden loss of the company’s founder and Dan’s older brother, Jim, in 2017. “He is greatly missed by everyone here. Jim was a legend in the industry and can’t be replaced. He had great vision and learned this business, started the company, and knew where he wanted it to go. Jim and I complemented each other extremely well and we went through a lot together. But we also had a lot of fun over the years.”
ILoca is not just a family owned company. Every person working at ILoca is family. “We have a great, great group of people at ILoca,” says Dan. Joe Trost, who joined the ILoca team two years ago as Vice President of Business Development, agrees, “After joining the organization, I quickly learned that every employee truly wants to be here. Dan and Jim built a wonderful organization. Unfortunately Jim passed away, but his legacy lives on at ILoca. Every employee has a new focus to make ILoca even stronger”. Joe has doubled the productivity of the shop since joining the team. He has also been a vital part of ILoca’s success following the loss of Jim.
ILoca is a proud member of the Illinois Trucking Association.
Dan says, “We are impressed with ITA’s leadership, growth, and the good people at the association. The ITA is a great resource for people and businesses in trucking. It makes our industry stronger.” ILoca is very involved with the ITA. In addition to its sponsorship of the Truck Driving Championship, ILoca is a sponsor of the ITA Golf Classic. They also participate in its Boxing Night. ILoca has also helped sponsor the ITA Intermodal Conference. Also ILoca proudly offers ITA membership applications on its front counter.
ILoca Services has been extremely successful and therefore it continues to grow. What’s the key to ILoca’s success? States Thompson, “Obviously it’s the customers. That’s the key to anybody’s success. It’s how you treat customers and it’s all about relationships. Everyone at ILoca takes pride in getting back to customers as quickly as possible. Many dealerships lose customer focus and forget they are the reason that you are here. When you treat your customers right, they respect you and you create long term partnerships!”
Finally it comes down to this, emphasizes Thompson. “We treat our customers like we would want to be treated, and that’s as basic as it gets.”
ILoca is: Your Partner For The Long Haul! Call 855-707-2909 for all of your trailer needs.