By: Donna Duperron
Individuals often tell me they enjoy reading the Out and About columns. I have truly relished visiting businesses the past seven years to interview, to learn and to appreciate. Today’s article is about The Van Lingen Group, who is celebrating their 75th year in business. The road to their success has run through three generations of towing and recovery services.
I have had the privilege of knowing Robert, Rob, and Sean Van Lingen for almost two decades. Each time I enter a conversation with any of them, I know I am going to walk away with a history lesson. Today’s interview was not any different. I value the richness of the south bay history which Robert, Rob and Sean continually share. I feel it equally important to share the history of this three-generation business in this article as shared on their website.
Clarence Van Lingen, Robert’s dad, and Rob and Sean’s grandfather, learned about working a round-the-clock schedule growing up on a South Dakota dairy farm. As soon as he could, he left the farm for the Navy—just in time to be on board the USS Enterprise when the United States entered World War II.
The Enterprise was one of the very few surviving aircraft carriers in the Pacific fleet, and she participated in more major actions of the war than any other United States ship, along the way becoming the most decorated U.S. warship of World War II. This meant that the Enterprise was seemingly always in action, and either the ship herself or her complement of 96 aircraft were in constant need of repair. Clarence learned to reliably patch the Enterprise or the 96 aircraft as an onboard metalsmith, making it possible for the USS Enterprise to keep fighting until the end of the war.
After the war, Clarence left the Navy with a Purple Heart and a new trade. In 1948, he and his wife, Inez, with the help of their families, opened a small auto body shop on the edge of his uncle’s dairy farm in Torrance. The auto industry was booming, and he wisely recognized that the metal smith trade would likely prosper in the thriving post-war economy.
As the Van Lingen auto body business grew, Clarence found that he couldn’t get tow service on weekends. This was obviously a frustrating situation, and he made it a point to chat with the local police to learn more about the issue.
The police told him that if a car needed to be towed on the weekend, people were instructed to lock the vehicle and leave it on the side of the road until it could be picked up on Monday. Sensing that Clarence might be able and willing to help, the police told him that if he got a tow truck, they would call him when their other vendor was busy or unavailable. Little by little, starting with late-night and weekend calls, the business grew and Van Lingen Towing became a local fixture.
In the 1980’s Robert saw a new kind of towing and recovery emerging as automobile construction began to change. Instead of the use of steel, cars were incorporated with fiberglass, plastic bumpers were used to replace metal bumpers and trucks were also getting bigger which created a need for new equipment and larger tow trucks. And, although equipment was expensive, Robert invested in state-of- the-art, industry leading equipment.
Van Lingen Towing has a strong customer base that includes public safety and municipality clients. Over the years public safety has changed, and so has the need for towing services for municipalities. It’s no longer a police contract, it’s a public safety contract, which encompasses a lot more than a drunk driver or an accident. It includes city resources that are involved in hazmat and environmental situations. It includes the fire department’s extrication techniques and being aware of the importance of remediating any liability risks the city may otherwise be exposed to.”
Clearing an accident scene in a timely manner requires the right people, proper training and certification, and the right equipment. Van Lingen Towing considered these requirements and decided to address them head-on. As a result, the company purchased its own state-of-the-art Haz-Mat command trailer and developed its own Incident Management Response Team. They also use a very similar Computer-Aided Dispatch software used by public safety agencies. The benefits of knowing where every resource and incident is in real-time—and being able to see it on a map ensures our towing
operators are always on time.
“The Van Lingen Group has continually capitalized and invested in available technology and adapted to the industry. The biggest challenge that our industry faces is government over regulation. Decisions that regulate us are directed to the next election cycle,” commented Robert.
Another factor in the success of The Van Lingen Group is the ability to continually meet and listen to others in the trade. “There is a group of 32 tow companies across the United States who meet and discuss business challenges. These obstacles range from fluctuating fuel costs to increasingly competitive markets, stringent regulations, hiring and the evolving demands of technology and customer expectations,” commented Rob.
Since 1948, The Van Lingen Group has truly set the standard and raised the bar. The Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce appreciates the longtime membership of The Van Lingen Group, but most importantly, we congratulate them on their 75th anniversary based on integrity, commitment, and forward thinking.