Grand Forks-based Retrax reaches sales milestone, despite pandemic and supply issues
In terms of sales, 2020 was the best year ever for Retrax, which began operating in Grand Forks in 1997.
Despite the pandemic and subsequent supply chain troubles that have plagued manufacturers, a Grand Forks-based maker of retractable truck bed covers is celebrating a sales milestone.
On Monday, March 8, Retrax announced it had sold its 500,000th truck bed cover. The landmark sale came after the company saw increased sales in 2020, as people delayed taking vacations and eating out, and instead spent their money on home improvement and vehicle projects. To meet the demand, Retrax expanded its workforce by about 15%, and now employs more than 200 people in Grand Forks.
“It’s quite the feat I think, and it’s something that our team is pretty proud of,” said Jon Fargo, general manager of Retrax.
In terms of sales, 2020 was the best year ever for Retrax, which began operating in Grand Forks in 1997. Out-the-door sales increased by 4%, and new orders for truck bed covers increased “significantly more” than that, which required hiring more workers to chip away at the mounting orders. Fargo said the company’s sales team worked hard to stay engaged with dealers and distributors, despite not being able to travel during the pandemic.
According to Fargo, the company put in place “stringent” procedures to help protect employees from the coronavirus, so they could keep moving the product from the facility to waiting customers’ hands. Employee start times were staggered, to prevent a large number of people from entering the facility at one time, and some workers were moved to the second shift. Work stations were separated by plastic barriers, which allowed workers to communicate with each other, and break times were staggered.
Fargo said his team has done a “pretty incredible job” of continuing to wear masks, despite the repeal of Grand Forks County’s mask mandate.
“We've always been very diligent, and our team understands that wearing a mask is just like any other piece of PPE out on the production floor,” Fargo said. “It's like safety glasses or hearing protection.”
But the pandemic posed other challenges in addition to the health and safety of the employees. Supply chains took a hit, as some manufacturers closed down due to coronavirus outbreaks. Fargo said it became necessary to be very flexible, and switch between product lines, depending on the availability of materials, while looking for other suppliers.
The most recent supply chain crunch happened after a late February ice storm crippled parts of Texas and other surrounding southern states, and left millions without power and drinking water for days. The storm hit aluminum manufacturers, and stymied transportation of needed raw materials.
“I think we're still feeling that a little bit,” said Sean Marks, executive vice president of marketing for Truck Hero, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company that owns Retrax. Truck Hero runs a group of companies that make branded truck, car and Jeep accessories, including hard and soft truck bed covers and more.
Fargo said his team has done a great job at being flexible, and adapting to changes in the work environment, while producing products at a rate of 40% more than in previous years. The celebration that would normally accompany reaching a sales milestone looked a bit different at Retrax, but reflected a local style.
“We celebrated in true Grand Forks style because it was about 40 degrees, so we gave everybody a T-shirt because it's warm, springtime, and then a little box of chippers from (Grand Forks candy shop) Widman's for everybody,” Fargo said.