The best example of change in the trucking industry is 10 feet of chrome just under the cab. It’s a tube composed of multiple parts, some fatter than others.
“That right there is about $10,000 to $15,000,” Stan Williams says.
So how much did a semi’s exhaust mechanism used to cost?
“You’d get a muffler for around $69,” he says. “If it was on sale, you’d get it for $59.”
Emissions standards are but one of a litany of regulatory changes that have turned the trucking industry on its head in recent decades.
For Williams Service in Florence, the challenge has been to stay ahead of the curve in an ever-changing industry while holding firm to the customer-service values that make it stand out as a small-scale provider for truck sale and repair.
Rodney Williams, Stan’s father, started the business in 1962. More than half the staff at Williams Service has been working there for more than 20 years, with three-quarters working for more than 10.
Rodney’s seen a lot of change in his time. Where a few decades ago, he’d see a lot business from individual truckers with single rigs, the trend now is toward small fleets of between five and 20 trucks.
Stan, who’s now the truck sales manager, has had a different change to wrangle in the past five years: the popularity of the Internet.
Williams Service has made sales recently to people from Los Angeles and the state of Washington.
“Everybody goes to the Internet now to buy something major,” Stan said. “If it’s not to do research, it’s to find the best deal on it.”
Yes, this includes truckers. Stan Williams said he spends $200 a week advertising on trucking websites and has been doing so for five or six years.
Trucks sell for between $100,000 and $150,000, Stan said. Just one out-of-region sale can make a big impact.
Of course, in the Internet age, one has to be wary of scam artists. Stan said he’s had a few in his time.
“I had a guy who was going to buy two trucks from me,” Stan said. “He was going to ship them to Cuba.”
The man’s suggestion for handling the deposit money made Stan raise his eyebrows. Stan suggested an alternative, more conventional method.
“Gone. Never heard from him again,” Stan said.
There were telling signs before that, however.
“He never really was interested that much in the details of the truck itself,” Stan said. “And he never tried to talk me down on price at all. Just totally happy with the price.”
Stan’s son Colin, who will be a sophomore at Marion High School this fall, works in the shop, making it a three-generation business for the Williamses.
While longevity is a point of pride for Williams Service, the business’s evolving nature makes change an essential part.
“Everything is getting to where it’s controlled with a computer,” Stan said. “If you don’t understand the way that operates and understand how to diagnose it, you’re out in the cold. You’re not going to be able to fix the guy’s truck.”
Some of his staff doesn’t want to learn computers; he’s OK with that.
“Some of our guys aren’t going to adapt to the computer. I still need those guys,” Stan said. “But the guys who are able to do the high-tech diagnostics, I have to have those, but they’re harder to find. And when you’ve got one of those, you want to pay them well and keep them.”