The heavy duty trucks, excavators and wheel loaders lined up at Nuss Truck & Equipment are catching the eye of motorists heading south from Duluth on Interstate 35 these days.
How long has that been there?
That’s the thought of many as they pass the dealership with the towering Nuss Truck/ Mack/ Volvo sign along the freeway just south of Boundary Avenue in Proctor.
Some even stop in and ask.
“It happens on a daily basis,” said manager Mark Nygaard. “We get some who say they didn’t know we were in Duluth.”
Nuss Truck & Equipment, the area’s authorized Mack Truck distributor, actually has been around for 25 years. Until January, it was on Truck Center Drive in Duluth’s Lincoln Park, a hard-to-find site for the uninitiated and one not visible from the freeway.
Nuss sells and leases new and used trucks and trailers to trucking companies and construction equipment to contractors as well as providing parts and service.
It is one of seven Nuss locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The family-owned company is based in Rochester, Minn.
“Our customers are widespread — anybody that uses trucks and equipment,” Nygaard said.
Business at the Duluth outlet has been good in the last couple of years, so good that Nuss outgrew its old site.
The growth has been fueled by the improving economy, the uptick in construction and the addition of Volvo construction equipment to its offerings a few years ago.
Nuss Truck & Equipment’s annual revenues in Duluth have grown from $5 million to $7 million in 2008 and 2009 to the current $15 million to $20 million, Nygaard said.
One sale can be substantial: A new truck costs about $120,000, and a 30- to 53-ft. (9 to 4.9 m) trailer costs another $40,000 to $70,000, Nygaard said.
“Last year was a huge year because of Volvo construction equipment,” he said. “We just couldn’t handle that anymore on the property we had. We could not stay there.”
The addition of Volvo heavy equipment, with Nuss an authorized dealer, marked its entry into the Duluth area.
It’s why Halvor Lines became a regular customer, said Cameron Fraley, the trucking company’s chief risk and fleet officer.
“They used to be primarily Mack in this area,” he said of Nuss. “In our applications, Volvo is more (in tune) to our needs. Volvo is a big part of the reason why we use them.”
As Nuss’s sales increased, so have demand for its parts and service and the need to expand. In the past year alone, staff has increased from 17 to 32 employees, including 12 mechanics who service trucks and equipment.
“We needed to update our facility,” Nygaard said. “We needed more space. We had been there forever. It wasn’t built as a dealership. It was a garage. This is definitely a dealership.”
The company planned to expand in 2007, but then the recession hit.
“We decided with the economy, it just wasn’t the right time,” Nygaard said. “With the downturn in business, it just didn’t make any sense. So we put everything on hold.”
By 2013, the company got serious again about expanding. It began looking for another location and seriously considered a site in Superior near the Bong Bridge.
Opting instead to stay in Minnesota, it chose a site along I-35 that included a large, vacant warehouse constructed in 2006 by an online optic retailer. That company apparently was sold and the building was rented out to various tenants, Nygaard said.
The building was totally remodeled, creating offices and parts and service departments. More parking was added and better access for big trucks.
For the company, the relocation was a $5 million investment, Nygaard said. It was a move from a 10,000-sq. ft. building to one 18,000 sq. ft. It was a move from a 3½-acre site it had leased to an 11-acre site it now owns. So far, it’s using nine of those acres.
Nuss Truck’s new center is probably 100 times better than the old one, Fraley said.
“They provided an excellent service out of their old facility, but they were very cramped for space,” he said. “We were always surprised they did as good a job as they did. But this opens a whole new horizon for them. It’s more modernized, more appealing to the eye. They can get more done. You can see the efficiencies.”
Longtime customer Arrowhead Concrete Works in Hermantown favors Mack Trucks.
The company’s fleet of 35 to 40 trucks are all Mack, some purchased new, some used, said co-owner Jerry Carlson.
“We do a lot of our own truck maintenance at our plants, but we certainly do a lot of work with the Nuss trucks and Mack people there,” he said. “And they’re very friendly people to work with.”
He attended the grand opening and was impressed.
“There’s no comparison,” he said of the new center. “It’s beautiful, spacious and more functional. It has a state-of-the-arts parts department. It’s an automated parts retrieval system. You can program in the part you want, and this storage system comes around and here comes this part you’re looking for.”
The old location was inconvenient to get to, while the new one is centrally located for Arrowhead’s three plants — in Hermantown, Superior and Cloquet, he said.
Since the dealership’s move in January to the site along I-35 — accessible from the Boundary Avenue exit — it’s drawing more people in.
“Transient customers probably doubled right away from what it was at our old place,” Nygaard said, referring to passing motorists, Canadians and other visitors to the area.
But 80 percent of its business is local. And some of those customers are discovering that Nuss also sells trailers and construction equipment.
“We didn’t have a lot of inventory before, and now we have the room for it,” Nygaard said.
This story was reprinted with permission from Duluth News.