Customers in Action

Wakarusa Heavy Equipment

FROM CONTRACTOR TO EQUIPMENT RENTALS, TIM MARTIN CREATED A NICHE MARKET IN NORTHERN INDIANA

March 23, 2015

“We have Komatsus because our customers like them”

Wakarusa Heavy Equipment

For most of his adult life, Tim Martin was a general contractor. He started Timar Construction in Goshen, Ind., in 1988. Through the years, he built a good-size equipment fleet and often had machines that weren’t in daily use.

“Other contractors, who were friendly competitors, would drive by and see a dozer sitting for a week or so, and they’d call and ask if they could rent it from me,” Martin recalled. “It started happening fairly frequently, which told me there was a demand for rental machines in northern Indiana. That demand, along with some frustration based on my own rental experiences – I thought the process, with all the financial forms to fill out and hoops to jump through, was much more difficult than it needed to be – made me think there might be a niche market here that I could fill.”

So, in 2004 and 2005, Martin tested the water by leasing a building and putting some machines for rent out front, while continuing to run his contracting business. The rental test did well, so in 2006, he started Wakarusa Heavy Equipment on State Road 19 in Wakarusa, Ind.

“I feel like we created this market, which probably had a lot to do with the economy at the time,” said Martin. “We didn’t get fully up and running until 2007, and by then, the economy was starting to look a little shaky. Companies still had work, but they were getting nervous, so many wanted to rent equipment rather than buy. Obviously, that same mindset held for several years as the downturn worsened, and even today, many contractors remember what it was like and prefer the safety of renting equipment that they can turn back in when they’re done with it.”

About a year-and-a-half ago, Martin sold Timar Construction in order to focus on Wakarusa Heavy Equipment, which has consistently grown through the years.

“We try to differentiate ourselves based on outstanding service and equipment availability,” said Martin. “We have a fairly large fleet, so we usually have a piece available when someone needs it. If one of our machines goes down on a job, we try to have a mechanic there within an hour or two to get it back up and running. Those are the areas where we shine – availability and service.”

Veteran employees

Martin says the vast majority of Wakarusa Heavy Equipment’s business involves week-to-week rentals, but it offers daily and long-term rentals as well. The company also sells equipment out of its rental fleet and is a Takeuchi dealer in a three-county area around Wakarusa. His customers tend to be dirt contractors – earthmovers who do road building and site work.

Today, the company employs 16 people, including two rental coordinators, a salesman, a parts man, a service manager, five mechanics and three truck drivers who transport machines. Key personnel include rental coordinators Danny Kreager and Dan Cripe.

“Most of the guys who work here have been with us for a long time,” said Martin. “We don’t have a lot of turnover, which is helpful because they understand how we do things and what we’re all about.”

Komatsu machines and Brandeis support

Wakarusa Heavy Equipment

Equipment-wise, Martin says Wakarusa Heavy Equipment tries to carry leading brands, including a large number of Komatsu machines from Brandeis Machinery & Supply and Sales Rep Doug Fox. The fleet includes more than a dozen Komatsu hydraulic excavators, ranging from a PC490 to a PC55, and features a PC390 long-reach, a PC360, and three PC228 tight-tail-swing models. Wakarusa also has five Komatsu wheel loaders (two WA320s, two WA250s and a WA200) and three HM300 articulated haul trucks.

“We have Komatsus because our customers like them,” said Martin. “Komatsu excavators have an excellent reputation, and our customers love the Komatsu wheel loaders. I used Komatsu machines in my contracting business. They’re productive, reliable and long-lasting units with good resale value. We could buy less expensive brands, but in the long run, we don’t save much with an off-brand, because we get less money back when we sell it.

“Also, it costs us time and money to send a mechanic out to fix a machine, so hassle-free uptime is as important to us as it is to our customers,” he added. “We get that with our Komatsu units. Additionally, Komatsu machines are user-friendly. We may have half-a-dozen guys rent a machine during the course of a month. It’s important that they’re able to understand the units and know how to run them right away. With Komatsu, they’re able to do that.”

Wakarusa tends to buy equipment new and keep it in its fleet for three or four years, or about 4,000 to 5,000 hours.

“We keep a late-model fleet because that’s what people want,” said Martin. “They often tell me that they like our newer, late-model fleet. They want a shiny new piece. That’s why we’re always turning our fleet. It’s also why we power-wash everything when it comes back to us, and if it has any damage at all, even just a ding or a scuff, we fix it in our body shop before it goes back out. A side benefit is that when someone picks up a nice piece of equipment, he’s apt to take better care of it than if he picks up something that’s dented and dirty.”

Just like Wakarusa Heavy Equipment emphasizes service to its customers, it expects the same from its supplier – and gets it from Brandeis.

“As the owner of the machines, I’ve got to trust who sells them to me,” he explained. “I trust Brandeis and my Sales Rep Doug Fox. It’s a good relationship. I know they’re going to stand behind the product and give us the support we need, just like we support our customers. That’s very important to me. Brandeis and Komatsu also have very favorable financing programs, which is a real plus for us as well.”

More than he envisioned

Wakarusa Heavy Equipment

From when he first started renting out equipment on a part-time basis, to starting the business full time, to today – Martin says Wakarusa Heavy Equipment has become even more than he envisioned.

“I thought we could be successful, but I’d say we’ve done quite a bit better than I expected. Business is booming. Volume has increased virtually every year. Last year, we were actually short of certain equipment, such as aerial machines and mid-size excavators.

“At this time, we’re nearly maxed out,” he added. “Everyone in every department is busy. Toward the end of the year, we were scrambling to get everything done, but I don’t have any complaints. It’s a good problem to have.”

Despite the growth, Martin says he’s not interested in expanding Wakarusa Heavy Equipment beyond its current size and footprint.

“We could do more work – certainly on the service side. Contractors are always calling and wanting us to work on their machines. They’ll say, ‘I’ve got a skid loader, and it’s not running right. Can I bring it in?’ So we could probably double the repair work we’re doing, but my guys are very busy with our own work. It’s tough to find good mechanics, so trying to increase our staff to handle more work just doesn’t make a lot of sense for us right now.

“We’ve got good people; we’re enjoying ourselves; and we’re making money, which is great. I don’t feel a burning desire to grow the company. Our intention is to just maintain the business at its present size and continue to meet our customers’ needs to the best of our abilities. On days when everything’s running smoothly, I get tempted to open another location, but then I realize, enough is enough. I’ve got to be able to spend at least a little time with my wife and kids.”