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July 24, 2023

Hartford Truck Equipment’s $8M-plus expansion sparked by pandemic growth, new business

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED South Windsor’s Hartford Truck Equipment is building a 53,000-square-foot warehouse with some office space behind its current facility on John Fitch Boulevard.
Hartford Truck Equipment at a glance
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On the heels of steady growth over the last decade, South Windsor-based Hartford Truck Equipment is investing more than $8 million in a significant expansion.

The second-generation truck equipment distributor is building a 53,000-square-foot warehouse behind its current headquarters at 95 John Fitch Blvd. It will include about 8,000 square feet of second-floor office space.

The project comes as the company continues to grow as one of the region’s larger distributors of commercial truck parts and accessories, according to Owner and General Manager Blake Brannon.

Blake Brannon

“We keep growing and expanding,” Brannon said. “We went from an under 5,000-square-foot building in 1994, to more than 17,000 square feet by 2017, and now we’re busting at the seams again.”

Hartford Truck Equipment was founded in 1994 by Brannon’s father and mother, Patrick and Lynn. Blake, 40, and his brother Derek, 39, took over the family business after their parents died roughly a decade ago, and the company has been growing steadily for years.

It offers a complete line of truck equipment and accessories. Blake Brannon said the company serves as a final assembly point for many types of small commercial vehicles, fitting them with truck beds, liftable truck beds, truck bodies, and other accessories such as snow plows, sanders and salters.

“We’ll take a chassis that has no body on it, no pickup bed or anything, and we’ll put a service or dump body on it and basically complete it,” Brannon said.

Brannon said between 65% to 70% of the company’s business comes from working directly with dealerships that sell completed commercial trucks to customers. Dealerships will hire Hartford Truck to upfit their vehicles with whatever the customer needs.

Hartford Truck moved to its current home — site of the former Ten Pin Bowling Alley on John Fitch Boulevard — in 2017, growing from nine to 17 employees that year. The company now has 45 employees, almost tripling its employment count from just six years ago.

Much of that growth has come over the past several years. In 2019, Hartford Truck became the first Connecticut company to join the bailment pools of car manufacturers Ford and Ram Trucks, Brannon said.

The distinction allows the company to be a “middleman” by purchasing trucks directly from the manufacturers, and then upfitting them with equipment, before selling them to dealerships. It has allowed Hartford Equipment to expand its reach by having readily available work trucks to sell to fleets across the country, not just in the region.

“That business has really grown the most for us,” Brannon said. “Our customer reach used to be kind of local in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but now we’re going from Bangor (Maine), down to South Carolina and out to Wyoming. Anyone who’s willing to deal with potentially some shipping issues, we’re selling out there now.”

He also credits recent growth to new business picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Hartford Truck and the industries it serves remained working while others shut down.

Brannon declined to disclose revenues, but said the company has averaged more than 15% growth since 2018, with the largest revenue increase (40%) occurring from 2020 to 2021.

“COVID actually kind of boosted us,” Brannon said. “We were deemed essential and had a lot of municipal trucks in the shop. We were servicing snow plows in the winter and really never slowed down.”

New expansion

Hartford Truck Equipment in 2021 purchased the almost 12-acre parcel behind its current headquarters, where the expansion is occurring. After dealing with zoning changes — the property was historically zoned for residential use — work began on the large warehouse earlier this year.

Bloomfield-based contractor and construction management firm PDS Engineering & Construction is overseeing the project. The third-generation firm also worked on Hartford Truck’s move to its current location in 2017.

PDS President Bill Jodice said the foundation for the new building is already installed, and steel began going up in mid-July. The project is expected to be completed in December.

Bill Jodice

“We do all the design in-house and then go right to construction, we move quickly,” Jodice said. “Doing it in-house is a big benefit for customers, rather than working with all different kinds of entities to get a project done.”

The 53,000-square-foot facility will mainly be used for storage. The company doesn’t necessarily need all this space now, but if growth over the past several years is any indication, it will soon.

“The intention is that we’re going to be able to grow into that, like we did when we moved down here,” Brannon said.

The building is only part of the project, though. Much of the new space on-site will be a paved parking area for 217 trucks.

“It’s not like we have small parts,” Brannon said. “The things that I have are big truck bodies and I need space to store those things. They’re not sitting on a shelf, they’re sitting in a lot.”

Jodice said the Hartford Truck Equipment project is one of many his firm is currently working on in the state.

“We’re still seeing construction being strong in Connecticut — we haven’t seen a slowdown yet, fortunately,” Jodice said.

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