What Guidelines Should Contractors Use When Choosing Machinery?

Any good businessperson has a defined financial picture and must stick to those numbers to be successful and profitable. Is the equipment you are thinking about purchasing part of initial first job scenario? What are your labor rates? Are you a union company or a non-union business? Are you doing residential or commercial jobs, or both? That’s just the beginning of roughly a four-step process that involved guidelines to buying machinery.

Define your company profile before buying your equipment. What type of jobs are you going after? What will the typical projects that you are seeking look like in terms of square-footage? What are the mediums that you will be working in – decorative, epoxy, polished?

Then you have to face the “Prep vs. Polish” questions. Is your equipment going to be used for preparation work? Is it going to be used for polish work? Could you be seeking a combination of the two situations? And, of course, what type of truck/trailer will be needed to transport your equipment?

The fourth and final step of this process brings everything together, but only if you’ve answered the previous questions in a straightforward and honest way. Are you looking for planetary or rotary machines? What type of diamond tooling matches the work that you will be performing? And, whatever you do, don’t forget two issues that too many (inexperienced) contractors skip: What type of vacuum system are you going to need with your grinders and polishers, and what type of return-on-investment are you seeking?

Those last two questions are keys to any successful business owner in this industry. Proper collection of the dust that you create on any job not only cuts down on labor cost, it creates a safe work environment and saves your machinery and tooling over the long term. And without understanding the proper aspects of ROI, you are dealing in the dark when it comes to running your own business.

Too many times, contractors feel that they have to be very frugal when it comes to the purchase of equipment. Oftentimes, I can divide contractor buyers into two categories:

“I don’t care what the cost is, I want the best” – This is the kind of buyer that is very rare and very straightforward.

Why should I buy yours?” – This is the buyer that is much more common. They research products until their computer keyboard catches fire, and then they start asking questions.

Both of these people are usually after a similar goal, which is quality. They want performance, longevity, support and, most of all, information. That last term, “information,” can come in many forms. It can come in a single phone call or many, many phone calls. Why such a variance? Because some people actually do their homework correctly, and others spent time but don’t know the right questions to ask, mainly because they haven’t really done the four-step self-evaluation process that I described in the opening of this story.

The good businessmen in this industry know that the more straightforward they are in their search for machinery, the better they will accomplish their goal. This industry, in many ways, is still in its infancy. We are learning about new techniques, strategies, diamond tooling and machines every day. In that context, we are all pioneers. Give and take is something that is common in all industries; but given the evolutionary aspect of this field, keeping up can pose quite a challenge.

That said, your budget remains the critical component of this experience. Setting a proper budget narrows the task at hand.

For most of the industry, the typical number is $10,000 for a first-time equipment buyer. That allocation gets the buyer a good small grinder and vacuum system, along with one or two sets of diamond tools. This package is targeted for a small contractor looking to do floor preparation and a small polish project or two.

The second tier of the industry doubles that allotment to $20,000. This gets you a good medium-size unit with a very good dust collector. It will also yield a good amount of diamond tooling for all applications. That could translate to a medium unit with prep diamonds and a set of PCD tooling for floor preparation work. For a polish contractor, it could mean multiple sets of resin bonded polishing pads. In either case, $20,000 is a great budget number and could pay for itself in just a few jobs.

Anything north of $20,000 is reserved for the larger contractors that may or may not already by involved in the industry.

Another factor in machine choice and package involves questions about your labor. Unfortunately, workers do not always treat your equipment all well as they would if it was their own. This is the type of issue that focuses on ease of use, reliability, maintenance and even diamond feedback. And all of these issues will play a big part in the success or failure of your company. It’s been my experience to live by this philosophy: Employ workers who treat your equipment like it is their own, and pay them accordingly. If you do that, you’ll have a lot less headaches.

When it comes to unionized companies, they will typically have a much larger payroll and this should be considered as part of your initial budgeting. Some union jobs require a certain amount of labor on a job site, so this is always a fluid situation.

Another consideration is whether the work is commercial or residential. The residential market does not require large machinery. Often, residential work is done with smaller, nimbler machines, a unit that can be carried up and down stairs. A small planetary machine is a great choice for this application.

When choosing machinery, a contractor not only has to consider what jobs he’s doing, but what jobs he’s going to seek in the future. Is he aiming to do large-scale heavy-duty removal work? This type of work requires many types of tooling, larger and heavier grinders and job-specific machines. (like scarifiers, jackhammers and milling machines before you even use a grinder).

A large job with a lot of square-footage many require additional machines – and may come with weekly or biweekly square-footage requirements. These types of jobs may require the contractor to partner (or use multiple partners) with similar equipment to get the job done.

Sound advice is to choose equipment units that can be used for multiple applications. Decorative contractors prefer small lightweight units for polishing underlayments. A high-square-footage polisher likes the larger footprint of a big planetary grinder. A demo contractor likes the weight and torque of a large rotary machine. When seeking answers to these types of real-life situations, try to question contractors who are already working on those types of jobs to receive the best feedback before you make any commitment on a purchase.

But always remember that any grinding machine requires the successful removal of dust. This is an issue that is too often bypassed in the equipment search. The right vacuum unit not only helps you complete the project in a safe and efficient manner, but aids in the long-term health of both your machine (which clogs up) and your tooling (which overheats). Any vacuum you buy needs to have the latest technology and must be able to handle the conditions in which you are working.  Your work as a successful contractor and your ability to get the worth out of your machinery and tooling is all at stake when you select your vacuum unit, so never take that for granted.