Jerry Shustrin, President of Crestone International, front of a new Pierce aerial ladder.


By Jeffrey Leib
Denver Post Business Writer
W ould you buy a used fire truck from Jerry Shustrin and Don Kennedy?
You would if you needed one.

They are a bit of an odd couple, but the two men have meshed distinctly different business skills to form a venture with great potential. It sells top-quality used fire apparatus to other countries and to rural communities in the United States.

Shustrin has been in the import-export business for more than a decade. He primarily was selling used auto and truck parts to Mexico for that country's older fleet of vehicles until he met Kennedy about three years ago.

Kennedy heads Front Range Fire Apparatus in Boulder, which sells and repairs new and used fire trucks throughout Colorado and Wyoming. His wife, Elinor, and their daughter Leah own the business with him.

Leonardo Ffrench, the Consul General of Mexico in Denver until last June, had told Shustrin that officials of the small Mexican state of Tlaxcala, east of Mexico City, were looking for used fire trucks in good condition.

Serendipitously, Shustrin was introduced to Don Kennedy at about the same time and the two teamed up to sell reconditioned trucks and stainless steel water tankers to Tlaxcala.

"I saw Mexico as our second-biggest trading partner, as a very literate country that needs products," Shustrin said.

He complimented Ffrench for performing the pivotal matchmaking with Tlaxcala officials. Ffrench left the consul post in Denver last summer for a similar position in Chicago.

Shustrin, 42, calls his company, Crestone International, Inc., after the mountain peak in southern Colorado. A native New Yorker, he was just out of college 21 years ago when he came to Colorado to work as a mountaineering guide.

He speaks Spanish and has been involved in a number of businesses over the past two decades, including helping start the Rainbow natural foods venture in Denver.

His trading days with Mexico date to the late 1970's, when he imported pottery to the United States.

Kennedy, 61, was a Boulder firefighter for 20 years before he retired in 1984 to devote more time to what had been a sideline business, the repair and maintenance of fire trucks.

That year, Kennedy and his wife started Front Range Fire Apparatus, as a fire truck and equipment repair shop and a dealership that sells new fire trucks produced by Pierce Manufacturing Co., the premier maker of fire trucks in the United States.

Kennedy said the opportunity to sell top-quality used fire trucks is just now developing since it is only trucks built after 1970 that have the features - including diesel engines, power steering, automatic transmissions, and air brakes - desired by the buyers of used fire trucks.

Don Kennedy atop a Pierce aerial ladder.

These trucks are now two decades old and departments are ready to buy replacements. Yet if the trucks have been properly maintained, they may have many more years of life for a rural U.S. or foreign fire department.

New fire trucks typically cost anywhere from $200,000 to $600,000, depending on their make, the features they have and whether they are pumpers or aerial trucks.

Shustrin said he and Kennedy can deliver a reconditioned pumper to Mexico or to rural fire departments in the United States for between $40,000 and $75,000.

Used aerial trucks sell for between $75,000 and $150,000. Their prices can be as little as one-third or one-quarter the cost of a new aerial truck.

In marketing fire trucks to Mexico, Shustrin handles the dealmaking with Mexican officials and Kennedy uses his fire department contacts throughout the United States to find low mileage, rust free trucks.

Kennedy and Shustrin are picky about what they buy for resale.

Trying to pawn off overused, rusted-out trucks would be a foolish business practice and ruin the opportunity for future sales in Mexico and elsewhere, Kennedy said. "I would not sell a piece of equipment that we would not use ourselves as active firefighters."

One day last week, Shustrin opened a letter from one American city offering a used fire truck for sale.

He and Leah Kennedy, who joined her parents in the family business about four years ago, frowned at the pictures that came with the letter.

"See, we would never buy this truck," Shustrin said, pointing to pictures of rust and corrosion.

He and the Kennedy's don't buy used trucks from big-city fire departments or from the East. Typically, these trucks have too much wear and tear; they've made too many runs and have too much salt damage and rust.

Instead, Shustrin and Kennedy look for low-mileage, 15 to 20 year-old trucks that are well-maintained by rural and small-city fire departments in the West.

In January 1994, they had just such a truck, a 1972 TeleSqrt aerial truck with a Ford chassis and a Pierce body. The two were negotiating with Tlaxcala officials on the sale of this first truck when the Mexican officials called Shustrin on a Friday and said, you've got a deal, but you've got to get the truck to Laredo by Monday at noon, he recalled.

The aerial truck was sitting in Kennedy's repair garage in Boulder.

"I told them, `Give me 15 minutes and I'll get right back to you.' I called Don and he said the truck needed four more hours of maintenance work," Shustrin said.

He and Kennedy agreed to the terms of the deal with Tlaxcala. Shustrin told the Mexican officials to wire payment for the truck to his Denver bank. The parties used the Federal Reserve Bank to expedite the rapid transfer of funds.

With the maintenance complete on the aerial truck, Kennedy's son drove it the 1,200 miles to Laredo. Because of its gearing, the truck could go no faster than 50 to 60 miles an hour.

Shustrin said it arrived at 11 a.m. on Monday, cementing a business relationship that enabled Crestone to sell at least another 10 pieces of new and used fire apparatus to Tlaxcala.

Late last year, the peso devaluation in Mexico put a temporary brake on the sale of fire trucks to Mexico, so Shustrin and Kennedy turned to market the same types of used trucks to fire departments in rural areas of the United States.

They signed agreements or have deals in the works with departments in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Earlier this year, Winnfield (La.) Fire Department Chief Arthur Chandler and some associates came to Denver to drive home a 1976 American LaFrance 75-foot aerial platform that they bought from Shustrin and Kennedy.

They paid at least $25,000 less than they would have paid to get an equivalent truck from anyone else, Kennedy said.

Shustrin is back to selling trucks in Mexico. He soon will attend two trade fairs in the country, including one that should be attended by all of Mexico's fire chiefs.

Ffrench said it helps if U.S. exporters understand the language and business culture of Mexico. "Within the Latin culture, sometimes you have to develop a friendship before you do business," he said, adding that Shustrin understands this.

Chandler, the Louisiana fire chief, also liked the business style of Shustrin and Kennedy.

"I have nothing but high regards for both of them," Chandler said. "The truck we looked at was even better than they had advertised, better than we expected."

He was so pleased that he recommended Shustrin and Kennedy's used truck business to fire chiefs throughout Louisiana.

(OCTOBER 9, 1995)

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