MILLINOCKET, Maine — Jeff Pelletier didn’t really want to get into building logging-truck trailers, but the demand for the product seemed irresistible.
The co-star of the Discovery Channel’s “American Loggers” TV show launched Pelletier Manufacturing Inc. of Millinocket in April, selling his first trailers and cab protectors by midsummer.
He said he saw a business opportunity that was too good to pass up.
“We interviewed a lot of people before we started this …, and everybody thought it was a good idea,” Pelletier said late last week at his new company’s garage on the Golden Road. “All the truck sellers and the owner-operators thought it was a good idea because half the trucks in the business go by here every day.”
Each new product carries the Pelletier logo made famous by the TV show, and eight trailers and 32 cab protectors — large metal pieces placed between the cab and the trailer — have been sold by the company so far. The business has created eight full-time jobs. Workers are building a half-dozen more trailers and cab protectors for showcasing and sale in the company’s parking lot.
“It’s very risky,” Pelletier said of his new venture, “but we have very good backup from Gerald Pelletier Inc. and a good line of credit from Bangor Savings Bank, which really helped us get going.” Gerald Pelletier Inc. is the family’s trucking business.
All customized and built with high-grade steel and heat-treated metals, the company’s five trailer models cost $40,000 to $50,000 each. The protectors cost $1,500 to $3,000, said Dave Theriault, Pelletier Manufacturing’s purchasing and sales agent.
Off-road fuel tanks, toolboxes, logging truck spare parts and possibly woodchip trailers are among the next items the company plans or hopes to make, Pelletier said.
Having put several hundred thousand dollars into the company — an investment that will take several years to recoup — and having secured Pine Tree Zone tax breaks, Pelletier hopes his venture will end the Canadian dominance of the industry.
“Most manufacturers are on the other side of the border, and that’s difficult for [U.S.] loggers, because they usually have to buy from there and pay a lot more to get [trailers] worked on there,” he said.
“We just hope the economy turns around,” said Mark Babin, a consultant to Pelletier Manufacturing and former owner of Valley Trailers, a Fort Kent manufacturer that closed in May 2009. “There are a lot of people out there repairing old stuff that they could replace with new.”
Babin’s design experience and the Pelletiers’ years of logging have created some smart designs, Babin said. For example, most logging truckers carry tools in their cabs. This consumes space and can create hazards — particularly, as “American Loggers” fans can attest, in truck rollovers.
“If you haul on the Golden Road, you are going to roll over,” Pelletier noted.
Pelletier’s solution: Weld a 26-by-34-inch locked toolbox to the cab protector. This creates space and eliminates injury caused by flying tools, he said.
“Everybody who has seen them has loved them,” Pelletier said.
The Pelletier-Babin connection can make Pelletier Manufacturing a big market player, said Russell Bugbee, an independent logging trucker who has known the Pelletier family for 30 years.
“I think it’s a good mix for them. They know what it takes to make a trailer survive,” especially on logging roads, Bugbee said.
Besides Stairs Welding Inc. of Hodgdon, Pelletier Manufacturing is among the few logging trailer and cab protector builders in Maine. Most are in the southern or western U.S. Pelletier’s company might benefit from the falling value of the U.S. dollar, which makes steel slightly less expensive here and might push Canadian buyers southward, Bugbee said.
“The big thing for [Pelletier Manufacturing] is the lumber market. It has turned around some, but the housing market has got to come back more. That will help them,” Bugbee said of the Pelletiers.
To spur interest in its wares, Pelletier Manufacturing is selling used Gerald Pelletier Inc. trailers and the logging company is replacing them with the new company’s 2011 models, Pelletier said. As with the automotive industry, truck-bed manufacturers start their model years in July.
The business is among several the Pelletiers have created since their show’s debut almost three years ago. Since 2008, the number of full- and part-time Pelletier workers has gone from about 65 to more than 170, Pelletier said.
Besides logging, the family owns a restaurant and laundromat in Millinocket, sponsors a NASCAR racing team and sells insurance through an affiliation with an insurance provider.
Family members have co-hosted a motorcycle rally and a truck and tractor pull, helped revitalize Millinocket’s Jerry Pond and are working to create the Katahdin region’s first multiuse recreational trail network.
“We don’t get any money [directly] from being on TV, so we feel we have to take advantage of these opportunities,” Pelletier said. “We want to do good things for ourselves and for Millinocket and for the state of Maine. That’s one of our goals — to employ people from Millinocket.”
WHO: Jeff Pelletier of ‘American Loggers’
WHAT: Pelletier Manufacturing Inc.
WHERE: Golden Road, Millinocket
WHEN: Since April 2010
WHY: To manufacture logging-truck trailers and cab protectors and to eventually produce off-road fuel tanks, toolboxes, logging truck spare parts and possibly wood chip trailers