Moore also notes that rental revenues for the company, which boasts an annual sales volume of $15 million last year, were up 23 percent in 2011 from the previous year and the trend promises to continue. “We had our high in 2008,” says Moore, “and we’re optimistic we can get there again this year.”
A company light on its feet
One of the reasons Metrolift was able to stay profitable during a down economy is due to management’s ability to be flexible in the face of market changes. Dahl is the first to admit he would have done some things differently if he could, but in the long run, the ability to anticipate market needs and roll with the changes is what counts. For example, when the residental housing market in Chicago dried up a couple of years ago, a lot of 6,000-pound telehandlers just sat in the yard at Metrolift. “So we sold a lot of ours to Canada,” Dahl says. “Looking back, I probably would not have done that because suddenly, the telehandler business has gotten really, really busy again. So our decision to reduce our fleet was probably not the best idea. But now we’re back to looking forward and increasing our telehandler fleet.”
Of course, being flexible has required making some tough decisions too. “In 2008, we did make some cuts and we had to let some people go,” Dahl says. “We looked into how we could reduce our expenses and we got ahead of that storm, whereas some of our competitors were very challenged financially.”
He continues, “We just felt that if we stick with the core values we have (see inset box), even when times get tough, we can weather those storms and come ouf of them hopefully in a position to take advantage of some opportunities.”
Dahl and the employees of Metrolift pride themselves on providing value-added equipment. With that in mind, they focus on three important points: on-time delivery, on-time service and repair, and correct billing.
Any one of the three points can present a multitude of challenges for a rental business, but it boils down to being responsive. Dahl says, “When there’s a problem, we find a solution and turn it around quickly. We don’t let it fester.”
For example, Dahl and his staff understand that downtime is expensive for contractors. “If equipment breaks, we try to be there within two hours, and in Chicago, to be anywhere in two hours is a challenge.”
To manage those logistics, the company uses iPhones and Fleetmatics to coordinate drivers, mechanics and sales people so customers can always get a solution in the event equipment breaks down. “If there is a problem, we handle it immediately. That’s one of the realities in a contractor’s world: you can’t get the time back if a machine is broken.”
Another way Metrolift works to reduce customer downtime is by diligently maintaining equipment and keeping fleet age on par with industry metrics, such as the Rouse Construction Rental Report. Also, to ensure equipment is in top condition and serviced promptly, the company employs five full-time road service mechanics as well as two full-time inside mechanics whose entire focus is to quality check all machines before they go out on rent.
Correct billing is also an area of vital importance. Metrolift ensures customers are charged accurately by post-billing invoices. “We strive for zero mistakes in billing,” Dahl says. “We make sure to do it right the first time. And if, for some reason, it isn’t right the first time, we get it right the second time - quickly.”
Safety – a primary initiative
A member of the the North American Regional Council for IPAF (International Powered Access Federation), Dahl holds a strong belief in making safety a priority. This is evidenced by the fact that all employees have gone through one formal safety training program or another. And while that’s an impressive fact by itself, perhaps most notable is that Metrolift employs a full-time safety director. “Not many independents have a safety director,” Dahl says, adding, “Safety is a huge initiative for us. Anybody can say they’re safe, but executing a safety strategy is a whole different deal.”