Get the Know Their Mine Fields - Sector Check
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Get the Know Their Mine Fields

By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 10-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Public works fleet managers need dealers who communicate openly, solve problems and keep their word.

When reviewing the latest economic data on the CE industry, public works is still one of the few segments not yet affected by the sagging economy. In April, nonbuilding construction jumped 28 percent, which reflects a 24 percent gain in public works. In his May report, Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction states, “The weaker economy is still expected to have some dampening impact on nonresidential building as 2008 proceeds, and the public works sector may soon reflect tighter federal and state budgets, but so far in 2008 this restraint has only begun to emerge.” But public works has its own unique set of challenges, and dealers looking to serve this segment should know their top issues, challenges and needs. For two fleet and facilities managers, environmental issues rank at the top of their most pressing priorities. “Mainly we’re trying to become more environmental stewards and find ways to be leaner and greener, and offset cost impacts,” said Mary Joyce Ivers, fleet and facilities manager for Ventura, Calif. She spends half her time overseeing the city’s fleet of 425 large pieces of equipment and 200 pieces of smaller equipment – everything from mowers to fire trucks. The other half of her time she spends maintaining more than 75 of the city’s buildings. Like Ivers, Howard Mann is the fleet and facilities manager for Leawood, Kan., and has responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the city fleet as well as more than 34 municipal facilities. Leawood has a fleet of 151 pieces of on-road equipment as well as 80 pieces of off road equipment. While the term “green” is frequently thrown about today, Mann notes that green now encompasses more than just low emissions. “Green means multitasking equipment to cut down the number of vehicles in the fleet; it means recycling programs for parts and components, and even noise reduction,” he said. “We started requiring in our specs the decibel ratings on equipment, based on the effect the levels have on operator safety and on the public.” Multitasking equipment is definitely a trend for public works departments. Both Leawood and Ventura recently invested in hook lift hoists and both communities are looking at purchasing more because of their versatility. Following green issues, additional top concerns right now include energy costs, technician shortages and technician training. Just as technician shortages are impacting equipment dealers, the shortages are also impacting public works departments. Both Ventura and Leawood maintain their own shops.They Do Their Own Repairs
The city of Ventura has nine technicians, while Leawood has three. In both shops, the technicians must be able to work on whatever vehicle enters the shop. With a full-service garage, both cities complete the majority of equipment repair and maintenance in house. “What makes public works or government technicians unique is that they are not specialized in any one particular trade,” said Mann. “Our people are working on anything from a backhoe to a weed eater. They have to be versatile.” Although these cities complete the majority of repairs in house, they do occasionally need the assistance of their local dealers for diagnosing equipment trouble and completing the more complex repairs. Both agencies use local dealers for occasional parts purchases and rental equipment.“There are times when we do depend on our dealers,” said Ivers. “They do have some of the more complex and sophisticated diagnostic equipment. At times we need assistance in diagnosing problems with our equipment, and from there we decide whether to have them repair it or repair it in house.” The city of Leawood depends on dealers less for repairs and more for parts. However, Mann says dealers should keep in mind that he has a choice when it comes to parts sourcing. “With regards to construction equipment, many times there are commonly available items,” he said. “Sometimes I’m able to get a better price dealing directly with general parts warehouses as opposed to dealers. I understand a dealer’s need for marking up parts, but it would serve dealers well to see if they can be more competitive when re-selling.” Public Works Challenges
Dealers should keep two things in mind when approaching public works customers: (1.) they are publicly funded and, therefore, face budget constraints; and (2.) they are required to go out for competitive bids when purchasing new equipment. Public works departments must write specifications for their new equipment purchases and obtain three competitive bids for each piece of new equipment. The dealer that wins not only has the lowest bid – but matches their specs. When it comes to procurement, Mann recommends dealers meet with and participate in organizations geared toward fleet managers or public works employees to not only network but to truly understand their pain points. Having a government sales specialist on staff can really be important for capturing the sale with fleet managers, says Mann. “They have a better understanding of our mine fields we have to work through and they know how we procure equipment,” he said. These sources also caution that two tactics don’t work with fleet managers: Demos and cold calling. The occasional e-mail or phone call goes a long way to developing a rapport, said Mann. “Demos are sometimes helpful, but we’re really busy and we’re probably not going to want to look,” said Ivers. What Fleet Managers Need
Training is one of the top needs both Ivers and Mann said they are looking for from their local dealers. With shortages in qualified personnel, Mann says he is looking to his local dealers for help in providing low- or no-cost technical training. “The ability to send our techs for in-depth training on operating strategies and diagnostics would be helpful,” said Mann. Overall, before working with a dealer Mann says there are three qualities he looks for: responsiveness, integrity and how the dealer can support him. “I would expect my dealer to advocate for me to get a problem resolved, offer training and support to us, be honest about changes in their business such as staffing or price increases and communicate with us as much as possible,” said Mann. Ivers agrees. She said she views working with her local dealers as a partnership.
“But when we have a piece of equipment down we want our dealers to offer us a piece of rental equipment or have the parts available so we can be up and running quickly,” she said. “Emergency responsiveness is really important.”
Unfortunately, Ivers says she’s had some trouble with her local dealers lately. “One of the things we’re finding lately with dealers is the quality isn’t what it used to be – whether they are doing body fabrications, or they submitted a bid on our specs and they aren’t following the requirements of our specs,” said Ivers. “Dealers should make sure they follow our specs.”
Ivers says she’s looking for her local dealers to be experts on the emissions regulations and the newest technology, and she wants them to make recommendations for the equipment they should purchase.
“Anything dealers can do to work with us or recommend to us for more fuel-efficient equipment is welcome,” she said. Above all, get to know their unique needs, and then keep your promises.
“Don’t be intimidated by public works or be afraid to think outside traditional approaches to work with us,” said Mann. “Being upfront with me goes a long way.”

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