Mergers and acquisitions are a common occurrence in the interlinked transportation and tradeshow industries, but the reasons behind them all aren’t always clear.
Many on the periphery may assume that it’s always larger entities approaching smaller companies for a piece (or the whole) pie. In the case of Tantara Transportation Group and Sunset Transportation in Las Vegas, it was the other way around and a completely different situation that merged their operations four years ago in August.
In 2010, Sunset Transportation Las Vegas City Manager Rick Watts was a man who needed a plan – and fast! He spearheaded the deal with Tantara, not because Sunset wasn’t growing on its own, but because an uncontrollable set of circumstances made the decision for him.
“I looked at options and approached Tantara. They did driving for us on the Interstate, and we drove locally. It was my decision to call Tantara. They came in, and what I promised, they made happen,” Watts explained.
Strategically acquiring Sunset proved to be a smart business decision for Tantara. Sunset has grown exponentially since 2010. Its annual earnings skyrocketed from $1.3 million to $9.5 million. Its national presence rose after the acquisition, with Sunset expanding to 48 states and Canada.
Sunset also stepped up its Las Vegas facility from 60,000 square feet to 106,000 to accommodate Tantara’s substantial investment in its fleet. The facility is expected to gain an additional 10,000 square feet in the near future.
“We have 10 times what we had before,” added Michael Montgomery, director of operations, Sunset Transportation. “We went from 37 flatbeds and 10 vans to 150 vans and 50 tractors. We purchased more forklifts and a new building. We were restricted with the smaller building, so we grew the fleet to get more business.”
Calling the transition relatively seamless, Watts added he was excited about the influx of equipment. In the past, the company leased much of its equipment.
What perhaps cemented Tantara’s acquisition of Sunset is their longtime collaborative relationship, but one thing is for sure, Tantara leadership recognized Watts from day one as a trusted strategic partner.
“When we bought Sunset, we knew that Rick Watts was basically the company,” stated Montgomery. “He developed it to what is today. It’s mostly his clients. He is the one everyone knows.”
With a history in the transportation and tradeshow industries starting back to his high school years, Watts basically matured in various roles before finding his place at Sunset. Along the way, he befriended and made contacts around Las Vegas.
By the time Sunset’s original owner sent him to open the first Sunset office – a 5,000 square-foot space – in 1997, Watts already personally knew much of his target customer base. Many of his soon-to-be clients either worked with him or knew him in his younger years and had moved up to management-level positions.
Watts also knows many of the employees working for the two biggest names in the U.S. tradeshow industry, GES and Freeman. Therefore, he became proficient at knowing their procedures as well as the different marshalling yard requirements around Las Vegas.
Under the leadership of Watts, Sunset outgrew its facilities multiple times before Tantara purchased it, and each time, the company moved into spaces much bigger than the last.
Contributing to the early and current growth of Sunset is Watts’ unique way of operating. When customers place shipping orders with other companies, they may go through the sales staff first, according to Watts. Not so at Sunset. Instead, Watts or his assistant, Jamie Montoya, takes the order.
“I book the freight, plan it and operate it. Customers just need to make one call, not go through several people,” Watts explained. “Other companies are set up differently. This is behind our growth. I also know when I can put a driver on a certain job. We are good at making quick adjustments. “
Watts assigns specific truck drivers to major accounts, so the client and driver are familiar with each other. He tends to know immediately if a driver is busy with a certain job or not, or if a driver complements a certain client. Sometimes, if no other driver is available to serve the client, Watts takes on driver duties.
“People call him and rely on him. Rick even gets calls from clients on his day off,” added Dave Turner, operations manager, Sunset Transportation. “It’s not easy doing what he does.”
There’s a reason clients feel comfortable calling Watts at the office or on his day off. Not only does he say he tells the truth to clients no matter what, but he also has a way of explaining the smallest or complicated details to get others to understand the bigger picture – whether he’s using an analogy or real life example. This natural ability surely serves him and Tantara-Sunset well when it comes to acquiring new customers.