Randy Schuchard of Schuchard Westside GMC in Watertown, S.D., started selling trailers back in 1974, though the dealership has been at this location since 1963. Over time, the trailers on the lot have steadily increased in size, according to Schuchard.

“We’re in cattle and ranch country,” says Schuchard. “That was a good niche for many, many years for us. I can remember when it was all bumpers and just a few gooseneck trailers; then it was 20-footers. Now everything is 24 feet or bigger. As your customers grow, you have to change with them. We notice as fuel prices rise, the bigger trailers they buy, whether with its flatbeds or stock trailers. They purchase the bigger trailers so they’re able to make fewer trips and save fuel.”

Schuchard finds it’s common to sell 30-footers. In the 1990s, two steel trailers could be purchased for the price of one aluminum trailer. “Now that gap has narrowed to where customers find that if they’re going to spend $10,000 on a steel trailer and an aluminum can be bought for $15,000 — especially with all the road salt in his area of the country — that a steel also trailer goes downhill much faster compared to an aluminum. Plus the aluminum trailer is 1,800 pounds lighter.

“Remember, the customer is smarter about these things than you might think. We’re a huge aluminum trailer dealer in addition to the steel models. Whereas before we’d sell nine steels to one aluminum, now it’s the other way around. You bring me back an aluminum 10 years old, there’s no rust, they don’t need paint jobs; with steel, it it’s going downhill everyday.”

Schuchard sells some 500 trailers a year. “We’re ranchers ourselves, so we know how other ranchers want to set the trailers up; that helps us a lot with our sales of trailers. We raise buffalo, bucking bulls and horses — just like our customers. There isn’t anything tougher on trailers than that.”

Schuchard upgrades older steel trailers for his customers to keep this equipment usable. They add and smoother sides to the trailers for a more aerodynamic ride. They do this for customers unable to afford aluminum. Customers tend to tell them immediately what they can handle, expense-wise.

Out in the western areas of the Dakotas, with the more extreme weather conditions, aluminum trailers are known to crack. But the steel trailers can be dragged through the washouts and survive the abuse. Ranchers in the western part of the state figure the aluminum trailers will crack to pieces in the gullies; but the steel ones will hold together, according to Schuchard.

“Cattle inside the trailers, knocking against the walls as the trailer goes through rough country is very hard on the equipment. The weakest link on any trailer is the back four corners, by the end gate.

Speaking of customization and keeping the customer satisfied, one rancher in the western region wanted doors installed on the roof of the stock trailer, at least 3x3 feet in size, placed down the middle.

“I asked him what he wanted that for and he said to fill the trailer with ear corn through the roof and then drive out into pastures in the winter and feed ear corn to the livestock. That was a first for me. I called my manufacturer and he did it for me — the request blew his mind until I explained what they were doing it for; he’s always been accommodating with this type of thing. Anything we wanted changed, he’d change for us.

“You always have to be better than the guy selling the trailers down the road,” he says. “You have to change quickly sometimes.”