Vaculift Proves It Can Hold on to More Than Pipe - A Closer Look
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Vaculift Proves It Can Hold on to More Than Pipe

By Joanne Costin

Article Date: 06-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Growing even during the downturn, Vacuworx International seeks the right dealers to serve an expanding customer base.

In the construction industry, it can take a while for a new technology to catch on, but when it does, watch out. The Vaculift System, manufactured by Vacuworx Intl., is a perfect example.
Vacuworx entered the North American market in 1999, when company founder and President Bill Soloman sought to change the way pipe was handled in the construction industry. He believed that vacuum technology could create enough suction to lift a 20,000 pound pipe in a field application. He purchased an Australian company, moved the company to Tulsa, Okla., and then worked for about a year to perfect the Vacuworx system. The company grew slowly and steadily as Vacuworx built its business one pipeline contractor at a time, for several years.
Shawn Lowman, who joined the company as director of sales and marketing in 2007, provided a glimpse into the company’s early challenges. “It was very tough for pipeline contractors to get their head around it and try it,” said Lowman. “It wasn’t that it was overly expensive.  It was just the idea that vacuum could create enough suction to hold a 25,000 pound piece of pipe. It was a tough sell.”
However, eventually Soloman convinced a few large pipeline contractors to try the product and things started to change.
“It didn’t take them long to figure out that this is a lot safer. It is a lot faster,” said Lowman. The company claims that it is a minimum of seven times faster and a maximum of 12 times faster with loading and unloading cycles than traditional chain lifting methods. “You can also do it with fewer people,” added Lowman, “because nobody has to be on the truck or on the ground.” That all translates into dollars for contractors.
In 2006, momentum for the product began building rapidly. The product was voted by the oil and gas industry as the most innovative product of the last two decades. “Word of mouth has been our best vehicle for getting the word out about our product,” said Lowman.
The following year, Vacuworx took their business to the next level. Soloman hired Lowman and the company greatly expanded its advertising and marketing efforts throughout the pipeline industry. Solomon also hired a number of other key people in preparation for the company’s projected growth.
In 2007, the company moved two times to accommodate its growing business, first from a 6,000-square-foot facility to an 18,000-square-foot plant in January, and then in November to a 65,000-square-foot facility. The company now has approximately 45 employees.
Recognizing the need for dealers to support a growing customer base, Vacuworx began looking for dealers in late 2007 and 2008 and now has five dealers by design. “We are not trying to get there too quick,” explained Lowman. “We are very selective. We are a very customer service-oriented company and a bad dealer selection can do a lot of damage. So our process of bringing a dealer on board is a fairly long courtship to determine if they are a good fit for us and our product for them.”
According to Lowman, the best dealer candidates carry a broad line of equipment, and while the company initially focused almost exclusively on pipeline construction, its strategy has been modified to pursue other applications. “We don’t want all our eggs in one basket,” said Lowman.
Indeed, according to Lowman, anything that is large, bulky, semi-smooth, and is currently lifted with chains, hooks or other labor-intensive methods is a good candidate for the Vacuworx System. This includes concrete pipe, concrete slab, concrete boxes, plate steel, rope plate and plastic pipe, glass, marble, granite, polished stone, plastics, tubular and boxes.
The company continues to innovate and differentiate itself from competitors with new products. This past year it introduced a smaller, three-ton capacity lifter called the Miniworx Mini Lifter, a product designed to meet the needs of utility contractors.
Can I Give You Lift?
The system consists of two pieces: a self-contained vacuum lifter and a vacuum lifting pad. The pads are quickly interchanged and can be customized for special applications.
“If the customer owns one lifter, he could lift pipe, plate, anything.” said Lowman.
Possible host machines include excavators, cranes, wheel loaders, pipelayers, backhoes and forklifts. Systems range in price from $17,000 for the smallest model to up to $150,000. According to Lowman, dealers will often rent out the host machine along with the Vacuworx attachment.
Operation is simple. Push one button to lift, two buttons to set it down. Onsite training and certification are offered, if the customer wants it.
Tommy Watts, retail territory manager for Liebherr Equipment Source based in Houston, Texas, has been going strong with Vacuworx since December 2009. “The product pretty much sells itself very easily,” said Watts. “The trick is getting it in front of the clientele, and it does the rest.”
To that end, the dealer has hosted a number of demonstrations in-house to maximize exposure. The pipeline market in Texas has been heating up, and as a result that’s where the immediate impact has been for Watts. He has been impressed by the aggressive advertising and marketing efforts of Vacuworx and how it has helped open doors for him.
“You can’t go into a pipeline industry magazine or some kind of construction newspaper without finding Vacuworx in there,” said Watts.
“With this type of attachment, the [pipeline] industry is more receptive to talk to you, when you have just another excavator like everybody else,” Watts added. “You have a product that is unique. It has given Liebherr some good exposure, and some great success for us.”
While some might say a niche product limits them, Watts disagrees. “It will get you in doors that you typically have not been able to get into.” At Vacuworx’s suggestion, Watts has also become involved in several local associations that have proved helpful to building relationships.
Still, Watts cautions prospective dealers that this is not something to get into half-heartedly. You have to stock replacement parts and possess the service ability to back it up. “There is always a sense of urgency with the pipeline [industry],” said Watts. “When they are calling you and telling you they need something, it is for ‘now.’ And Vacuworx understands that, and they will not hesitate to bring a technician wherever they need to be.”
Gearing for More Growth
Lowman says the business did slow in 2009, but the company was not impacted as quite as hard as traditional equipment companies. And while the company has great visibility in the pipeline market, Lowman believes there is still untapped potential in this and other markets.
“We have another new product that will come out later this year or first quarter next year that will revolutionize another industry,” revealed an excited Lowman, who would not disclose any details of the new product.
Stay tuned – Vacuworx is one to watch. For more information about Vacuworx, call Shawn Lowman at (918) 259-3052.

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