Invest in Service and Safety

Give service and safety training programs a long overdue tune-up.

As I'm writing this, besides freezing my backside off, I've been hearing that some - the key word being "some" and not "all" - of the bigger contractors in our area are developing a backlog of future work. For Chicago in January, that's not bad.

So let's assume you start hearing and seeing the same thing. Better yet, maybe you're one of the "some" referred to earlier. If and when that happens, you will start to dig out the equipment that has been lying dormant for the last 18 months and hope that it works properly when you start it up. You may even take a peek at your maintenance logs to see just how far behind you are on your planned maintenance schedule.

If a unit doesn't sound right or just isn't working right, you probably start to contemplate whether you should service it before taking it out or take the chance that it will not break down on the job. On the other hand, you know the jobs you get will be really tight and you can't afford to lose two or three days because equipment breaks down. So you wind up arguing with yourself about having the unit serviced vs. not having it serviced.

Plan out your service needs

If you decide to have your fleet maintenance brought up to date, you next have to decide when and who will do the work. In the past, this was a simple question to answer. Not any longer.

Dealers and other service centers all went through the same downturn you did and, as a result, laid off both shop and field personnel. It is very likely they sold off field service units, as well. In short, your supply of service resources is diminished from past levels.

If you choose to defer maintenance work, you stand the chance of winding up on a very long waiting list just when you can't afford to wait. And if Murphy hangs around your shop like it does mine, when you get to the front of the line, the parts you need will be out of stock and three weeks out. Never fails.

To be able to sleep nights, do yourself a favor. Take your equipment list and:

  • prioritize which units need to be ready to go and the work that needs to be done;
  • have the units inspected to get quotes for the work and start the process, or put the quotes on the shelf;
  • stay in touch with the dealer service department, and send units for service as your workload starts to firm up.

If a unit misses the start date for a job, you still have the rental option available to you.

Make safety training a priority

Safety training has never been more important. When you consider the size of the risk compared to the minimal cost of supplying the training, you just have to do it to keep your company and family financially secure.

While safety training is important, it is more important to do it the right way by using a certified instructor with a true certificate and not a card somebody made up in the back office after showing a salesman how to operate a piece of equipment. You will get better training and your employees and insurance company will appreciate it in the long run.

Although I referenced equipment training, most of you have more than just that to contend with. Whatever type of safety training it is, make sure whoever you are paying to do the training has the appropriate credentials to do the job properly.

Why is safety training so important now? Because many of you will be hiring new workers, and you will not know if they have had proper training. To be safe, you may want to offer a refresher course or specific courses in those areas where your risk is the highest.

If you feel the glass is now half full, you may want to get your equipment and personnel tuned up to ensure maximum profits and zero injuries. It makes sense to do that while you still can for a reasonable dollar. If you still feel the glass is half empty, you can leave the equipment sit, rent what you need and have your vendors come out to review safety procedures as needed. Either method works, depending on how you feel about your local market and the resources you have available.

Garry Bartecki is the managing member of GB Financial Services LLP and VP Finance for the Associated Equipment Distributors. He can be reached at (708) 347-9109 or