Man and Machine: Why Contractors Bond With a Brand

Jan. 4, 2012

Arguably, brand loyalty in the construction equipment market is stimulated by myriad factors-reliability on the job, operational comfort, maintenance demands, and, of course, purchase price, cost of ownership, and resale value. Some say that fierce loyalty stems from generations of equipment use history, within the family business, for example. But one doesn’t have to dig too deeply to discover that, in large part, brand loyalty is rooted in relationships. Most often, it’s the relationship between contractors and their local equipment dealers, as service and support remains so integral to profitability and uptime-and also it’s relationships with manufacturer’s representatives and with the employees who operate the machines day after day. No matter how spectacular the machine, in the end it’s usually the human factor that tips the scale.

With that said, we’re taking a look specifically at the brand loyalty factors affecting the use of various brands of skid-steers and compact track loaders-the job-site workhorses that seem to take the most abuse and abrasion. While not every revered brand is represented in this feature, those manufacturers participating were given the opportunity to have a loyal customer explain just what’s behind their purchase or rental preferences.

Located in Mifflinburg, PA, Dave Gutelius Excavating specializes in projects of all sizes, including multimillion-dollar utility rehabilitation projects and municipal, commercial, and residential development site work. Company owner Dave Gutelius says his work force has grown to more than 100 employees with crews able to handle all site work, including excavation, utilities, paving, grading, and concrete.

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Dave Gutelius Excavating Inc.
Since he founded the company in 1986, Gutelius says he has “tried out” just about every skid-steer brand before settling on models manufactured by Takeuchi. He currently owns and operates eight Takeuchi TL150 skid-steers, which he says are differentiated by their undercarriage design. “This is the only brand that has held up for us. The undercarriage is the best we have found due to it featuring steel versus rubber rollers. This makes a huge difference. On the other units we had tried, the rubber rollers and then the idlers would break apart,” he says.

According to Takeuchi engineers, the undercarriage design minimizes the number of moving parts by using only six internally sealed and lubricated steel rollers and one idler per side. Importantly, they say, the TL150 tracks, rollers, idlers, and sprockets maintain steel-on-steel contact versus units that feature rubber-on-rubber contact, which can cause chunking of the tracks and components. The TL150 undercarriage is unitarily designed and welded directly through the frame versus units that have bolt-on undercarriages. Also, unlike undercarriages that are extremely open, which leaves rollers and idlers exposed to dirt and debris buildup, the TL150 undercarriage is slanted at a downward angle so that debris falls away.

“These units are easy to maintain, and we don’t have to touch the engines. Our guys love these machines,” says Gutelius, who stresses an equal appreciation for the local dealer, Groff Tractor & Equipment. “They are here even before I call them. I can’t say enough about them.”

JK Excavating & Utilities Inc.
Located in Mason, OH, and in business for more than 25 years, JK Excavating & Utilities Inc. boasts more than 50 employees and is known for its high-quality grading, gravel and concrete work, and snow removal. Jerry Koller is president of the company, and he is also an ardent fan of Caterpillar products. He had initially started with a competitive brand, but switched to Caterpillar skid-steers and compact track loaders many years ago. “We’ve owned so many Caterpillar units, and we like the features-such as the ride, the controls and operation of the machines, the response, maneuverability, and the comfortable cabs,” he says.

Koller operates several Cat C-Series 279 Compact Track Loaders and is planning the purchase of a new Cat Series-3 257B Multi-Terrain Loader, which he has earmarked for light gravel haul work and for the expansion of the snow-removal portion of his business. “You can’t go wrong with anything that says Caterpillar on it. They stand behind their products. In fact, we do a lot of testing for them and give them feedback on new products,” he says.

According to Caterpillar, the C-Series Compact Track Loaders feature sealed and pressurized cabs for a clean and more quiet operating environment; a suspended undercarriage with low ground pressure, allowing work on sensitive surfaces and in soft underfoot conditions; a high-performance power train; a high-flow XPS hydraulic system; and adjustable seat-mounted controls and an available air-ride seat for greater comfort.

Standardizing with one brand is important to Koller, and he stresses that standardization certainly leads to better parts and service support. “We work closely with the dealer, Ohio Cat. The dealer service is phenomenal, and my salesman there is exceptional. This is a relationship business. You can have the best brand out there, but if the support is not there, you have nothing,” he says.

JPM Enterprises Inc.
Specializing in site development work in the Cedar Rapids region of Iowa, JPM Enterprises also stresses the importance of relationships. Jared Morris is the equipment foreman for the company, and he works closely with Rexco Equipment, which is the local Bobcat dealer. “They are outstanding. If I have a breakdown, they will bring out another machine to me. They will also supply me with any attachment I need. You don’t get that kind of service everywhere. Others will simply say, “˜Sorry, I wish we had a machine to help you out,'” he says.

Morris says that when he buys a machine, he wants performance. “Bobcat is the best out there. We have two T870 Compact Track Loaders, and one T320 Compact Track Loader. We went with them for the workability and the performance and comfort. My operators work 10-hour shifts, and they want roomy cabs and well-insulated quiet cabs. They also like the visibility from the cab, the speed of the machine, and the overall appearance of the unit. They like the suspension package on the T870, which makes the ride so much better when on rough terrain. Additionally, they find them so easy to maneuver when dumping into dump trucks. This is due to the fact that the reach on the unit is significantly higher than that of competitive units,” he says.

According to Bobcat, the T870 is Bobcat’s largest compact track loader, and its 12-foot lift height makes it the highest-lifting compact track loader on the market. The model, says its engineers, also provides operators with more powerful hydraulics, increased fuel capacity, increased pushing power, and higher horsepower over other Bobcat compact track loaders.

“We tried out other brands of machines while we were waiting on the delivery of a new Bobcat unit, but they just weren’t the same. We want to stay with one brand, as we don’t want to train everyone on new machines with different joysticks and control panels. It takes a lot of time to learn the operation of a new machine, and when we get in the grove on the job site, we don’t want to hop back and forth between different brands of machines. You have to stay with the machines that got you where you are,” says Morris.

But the bottom line, says Morris, is ultimately all about relationships. “The Bobcat sales and service people have treated us so well over the 10 years that we’ve owned the equipment that there is no reason to go in a different direction,” he says.

Dunlap Lawn Service Inc.
Dunlap Lawn Service Inc., of Greensboro, NC, is a small, family-owned operation that provides full-service commercial landscaping and irrigation installation and maintenance. In its 11-year business history, the company has grown from just two employees to more than 60 landscaping professionals.

When asked what issue is most important when purchasing new equipment, co-owner Shannon Dunlap says, “It’s reliability, hands down. We review product specifications before making a purchase so that we know what we need and can make a product selection accordingly. However, it’s hard to quantify reliability prior to investing in equipment. We operate at a speed that allows little margin for downtime due to equipment failure, so reliability is key to performing at a rate that our customers expect.”

To maintain day-to-day reliability, Dunlap says he sticks with John Deere equipment. “Deere’s equipment stands the test of time. We have a certain level of comfort in simply knowing we’re investing in a product that’s been proven to be reliable for such a long time. We utilize both a Deere 317 and a 322 skid-steer. These skid-steers offer both the power and durability that allows us to get more done in less time. These units work as well today as they did on day one,” he says.

Particularly important to landscapers is a machine’s maneuverability on slopes. According to Deere, the units offer greater stability on slopes due to optimal weight distribution, a low center of gravity, high ground clearance, and superior balance.

The Deere CT322 is engineered with a tipping load capacity of 6,400 pounds, allowing precise placement of pallets and an ability to tackle the toughest material-moving tasks. For the speed that Dunlap’s crews require, the Deere bucket breakout and tractive efforts yield greater prying, digging and pushing power for faster bucket fills and more loads per hour.

As to the local dealer, Dunlap says, “Our dealer always has what we need when we need it. They’re accountable and willing to work with us to meet our needs from inventory to pricing.”

Anderson Brothers Construction
Family owned since 1940 and based in Brainerd, MN, Anderson Brothers Construction Co. describes itself as a “multidisciplined contractor specializing in municipal, commercial and residential infrastructure.” The operation employs more than 200 skilled workers. Rob Larson is director of equipment and reports that the company has exclusively rented Terex PT60 Compact Track Loaders for four out of the five years that they have used compact track loaders. “We rent three Terex units for the long-term (six months or more) and other Terex units on a daily, weekly or monthly basis,” he says.

Larson says he remains loyal to the Terex brand for two reasons. “First, we get great support from Brainerd General Rental. If we have a problem day or night, they will be here for us. Secondly, it’s the improved undercarriage life of the Terex machines. This is a huge issue as a machine renter and an even bigger issue in the purchase of a machine. Terex has designed the units with better balance and better weight distribution. In other machines, when the balance is off, the idlers will go bad and the rollers are soon to follow,” he adds.

According to Terex, the PT60’s Undercarriage uses 24 wheels to spread the machine’s weight over the length and width of its rubber tracks. By using a maximum number of wheels, the weight per wheel is lower, track life is longer, and traction is improved. The suspension of the undercarriage increases traction even more, and promotes longer machine and track life, while keeping the operator more comfortable throughout the shift.

“Now we are looking more seriously at purchasing versus rental as the track-mounted units have improved so much over the years, and when we do purchase, we will go with a Terex model,” says Larson.

Brand Loyalty
Brand loyalty is created through excellence, and is built and maintained based upon relationships. While brand loyalty is part perception, it is also part reality. Why is one product viewed as being better than another? Why is one sales person seen as more credible than another? What is gained by the contractor in forming these bonds? Certainly they may feel a greater comfort level in the feel-good land of loyalty. Ultimately, equipment buyers find great satisfaction in finding that “connection” to the right machine and the right people for their business.