Daily diesel drivers are an expanding market for Diesel Pickup Specialists

Inman, Kan.—The diesel market has changed in the last decade, and Gary Grubbs, owner of Diesel Pickup Specialists, said it is apparent when he examines his client list.


Before 2008, Grubbs said, his clientele consisted of customers who primarily used their diesel vehicle for hauling and pulling trailers, as well as vacationers with RVs.


“We had a following of independent drivers and everywhere they went, they spread the word about us, which really got us established and well known for several states around,” he said, “and then the price of diesel went to that $4 range in 2008, and that whole industry died.”


While that segment of drivers declined, Grubbs said he has more than made up for it through a growing market of daily diesel drivers.


“These daily drivers are becoming our bread and butter,” he said. “At least 50 percent of our business now is made up of area farmers and others who are driving diesel pickups on a regular basis as their personal vehicle.”


For many of the daily diesel drivers, Grubbs said it’s their first time owning a diesel truck, so one of the new challenges is educating them on the difference between diesel and gas trucks.


“We have to educate them on the fuel system, especially the additives for winter, as well as the importance of regular fuel filter changes,” said Grubbs, who has a standing rule to change fuel filters every 10,000 miles.


Regular maintenance is also encouraged, including the use of BG Products machines, said Grubbs, who assisted in the development of its diesel induction service tool.


“We helped pioneer the induction tool,” he said. “I would stay late, doing services on 6.0-L engines. I would pull the manifold off, take pictures, and put it back on and do the induction service, so BG could examine the before and after.”


It has not always been just diesels for Grubbs, who started his career as a dealer technician at a Ford dealership in nearby McPherson, nearly 20 years ago, but he said he remembers clearly when he discovered that diesel repair was his niche.


“One day, an old diesel pickup rolled in and the big truck guys wouldn’t touch it because they said everything was too small and tight to work on,” he said. “On the other end, the car technicians didn’t want to work on it because it was too big, smelly, and dirty. I found my niche that day, and I haven’t looked back since.”


Six years later, Grubbs said he and fellow Ford technician Louie Bate, who specialized in heavy-duty repair, opened a shop in Inman, bringing with them a devoted customer base.


By 2004, Grubbs and Bate had each grown their respective customer bases to the point that Grubbs said it was best to separate, and each own and operate their own shops.


“I built a new shop just 200 yards away, and Louie kept the existing shop,” he said. “He retained his heavy-duty customers, and I took my light- and medium-duty clients and opened Diesel Pickup Specialists.”


Grubbs said he has continued to build the business since the move, and now staffs three technicians, a parts manager, and three employees in the front office, including his wife, Andrea, who manages the office.


“Our relationship with our employees is really important, and as for our technicians, we have weekly meetings and everybody sets goals for how many production hours they want for the week,” he said. “That way it is on their own determination, and all we have to do is feed them the work.”


That has been a successful strategy in this business,” Grubbs added. “It really puts the technician in control  of what they want to accomplish, since we pay them on a flat rate.”


Each technician specializes in a specific line — Ford, GM, or Dodge — and even rebuilds engines for those makes, he said.


Rebuilding in-house is on the decline, however, and with remanufacturers such as Jasper Engines & Transmission, it is often more profitable and faster to install a remanufactured engine, he said.


Grubbs, who sat on the Jasper advisory committee for two years, said the ongoing success of his business is partially due to his vendor relationships with Jasper Engines & Transmissions, BG Products, CARQUEST, and other parts and equipment providers.


“These have been win-win relationships,” he said. “I am dedicated to them and they are dedicated to me and my business.”


As Grubbs looks ahead to the future of diesel repair, he said becoming comfortable with emission-related products, such as the diesel particulate filter (DPF), is crucial to his future successes.


“Starting in 2008, they came up with a new diesel filter that goes in the exhaust system, and we need to develop our business in a fashion so we are able to service that product and know it well, because it is really going to impact our business as we move forward.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.