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NEW ROUTE: Phil Rauch started his transportation company after a career as a dairy farmer.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
NEW ROUTE: Phil Rauch started his transportation company after a career as a dairy farmer.

Business Spotlight: Life is a Highway

Sancrest drives auto carriers coast to coast and sells trailers in SWMO

Posted online

Phil Rauch thought he was going to be a dairy farmer for the rest of his life.

It was a family business that dates back to 1940, when Rauch’s grandfather created Sancrest Farms in Billings. Sancrest isn’t a family name, but it’s become one.

The dairy farm sat on a “sandy crest,” giving inspiration to the name – one well-known in the agriculture industry. Rauch says he grew up milking cows and selling cattle with his family on a national level.

Now, it’s more than that.

It’s a $15.5 million company handling auto transportation and trailer sails.

Sancrest Specialized Transport and Sancrest Trailer Sales are two pieces of Sancrest LLC. The transportation business hauls auto carriers across the country, while the sales component offers a variety of trailers for auto transportation, livestock and personal use. The company employs around 40 people, including 27 drivers.

Rauch says he chose to carry on the Sancrest name when he started his transportation business in 2004. At the age of 21, he moved away from a potential lifelong career as a dairy farmer. It was the hardest decision Rauch says he’s had to make.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without growing up on a farm,” he says. “It taught me a lot of responsibility and about taking care of the stuff you work for. … The more you put into your business, the more you get out of it.”

Niche market
The transportation venture has become the “bread and butter” for Sancrest, generating $10 million-$12 million a year. The company hauls auto carriers filled with preproduction vehicles for automakers General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as well as specialty vehicles like buses and service trucks.

Sancrest trucks travel all over the country, with routes from Michigan to the West Coast and Missouri to the East Coast.

Drivers often haul auto carriers to Arizona and Michigan, where the General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler proving grounds are located. Manufacturers test preproduction models under varying conditions at these centers.

In a 2016 expansion, Rauch began selling Load Trail trailers, Sancrest’s most popular trailer brand, at his Billings location. The next year, he bought property in Rogersville and later opened Sancrest Trailer Sales in 2018. Trailer sales bring in about $5 million a year.

“We were trying to reach out and get our face in front of more people,” Rauch says. “Basically, our sales doubled once we opened that store.” Sancrest now works with several trailer suppliers, such as Maxxd Trailers, Kodiak Trailers, H&H and Impact Trailers.

Rauch considers Nixa-based Sutter Trailer Sales LLC and Trailer Trendz in mid-Missouri as Sancrest’s top competitors.

“It’s really taken off in this area,” Rauch says. “It’s a very competitive market in southwest Missouri.”

For the transportation venture, there isn’t as much direct competition because the auto transport industry is such a niche market, he says. It mainly comprises small to midsize companies dotted across the United States, Rauch says.

According to market research firm IBIS World, the $12 billion vehicle shipping industry has grown by 1.2% between 2014 and 2019, and it currently employs over 57,000 people.

Before he ventured into sales, Rauch was on the road as an owner and operator, hauling an auto trailer from Phoenix-based Sun Country Trailers. That experience led Rauch to offer feedback to Brian Moran, president and owner of Sun Country, to help improve the product.

“From the feedback I got from him was an opportunity to expand and change one of our trailers to become a larger trailer,” Moran says. “Fast forward 12 years, and now it’s our No. 1 trailer.”

Rauch helped design the Next Gen five-car carrier, which Moran says represents 140 of the 200 trailers sold a year at Sun Country.

Rauch was his first customer and has become his largest dealer.

“He gave us great visibility, not only to customers we weren’t working with today, but the customers we couldn’t reach,” Moran says.

Fully stocked
Five months ago, Sancrest added a $350,000 service facility at its Billings property.

“I wanted to be able to service any of the needs of the customers that buy trailers from us. If you’re going to be a good dealer, you need to be able to service everything you sell,” Rauch says, noting he’s hired three mechanics.

One of the most challenging decisions to make as a business owner, Rauch says, was deciding to have a fully stocked trailer lot. Sancrest’s inventory comprises over 475 trailers across the Billings and Rogersville locations.

“What has set us apart and helped us grow is not being scared to spend the money and bring in the inventory,” Rauch says, noting those strategies can require large down payments. “When the customer comes on the lot, a lot of the times you have one shot, and if you don’t have it, then they’re going to find it somewhere else.”

Aaron Alumbaugh, owner of Kodiak Trailers in Lockwood, says he’s worked with Rauch for about four years. Kodiak Trailers primarily builds steel and aluminum stock trailers and hay trailers.

Sancrest is one of about 30 dealers Alumbaugh supplies. He says Sancrest typically buys Kodiak trailers in the $5,000-$12,000 range.

Because of Rauch’s keen eye, Alumbaugh often consults Rauch on custom trailer build designs. Some customers are looking for something different.

“Sancrest is really good at thinking outside the box,” Alumbaugh says. “A lot of places just focus on cookie-cutter trailers, but they’re really good about working with customers to suit their needs.”

Rauch expects to sell around 700 trailers in 2019. Auto carriers range from $4,000 to $35,000, while utility trailers are priced $1,500-$2,600. Flatbed trailers range between $2,600 and $10,000.

Rauch’s strategy in sales is to hire people with no previous sales experience. He wants to train them to provide the customer service he’s established.

“The trailers sell themselves,” he says. “We want to sell service.”

With 2019 revenue projected between $17 million and $19 million, Rauch says he’d also like to add a service center in Rogersville.

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