106-year-old company shows no signs of aging.
Briggs Equipment, Inc., headquartered in Dallas, Texas, is considered the world’s largest distributor of Yale forklifts and Trackmobile vehicles. With 21 locations throughout the United States and Mexico, Briggs Equipment’s mission is to aggressively pursue the forklift and construction rental markets through superior customer service.
Founded in 1896, Briggs Equipment was a division of Briggs-Weaver, which had been acquired by Sammons Enterprises in 1952. Sammons Enterprises is Texas’ second largest privately held company with more than $7 billion in assets and an annual revenue of more than $1.8 billion. Sammons Enterprises owns a wide range of businesses. Its companies sell life insurance, mountain spring water and industrial products, including forklift trucks, control valves, field instruments and oil country tubing. Sammons also owns a resort in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and operates one of the largest tour companies in the United States, Adventure Tours.
Up until five years ago, Briggs Equipment operated as a division of Briggs-Weaver. As a division, it had been growing at a rate of 20 percent a year. In 1996, it became a separate business of Sammons Enterprises. Now as a separate company, Briggs Equipment is focusing on continuing that growth and expanding into new markets.
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Bratton has been with Briggs Equipment for 13 years. His first position with the company was manager of the Dallas branch. When he speaks about the 106-year-old Briggs Equipment, where it has been and where it is going, Bratton refers to the company’s mission statement: To be the customer’s supplier of choice in the products and support services we provide in the United States and Mexico while profitably meeting the expectations of our stakeholders.
“Briggs Equipment continues to be a viable, profitable company to our owners, regardless of the upturns or downturns of a particular market,” says Bratton. “You have to understand that we do things differently than so many lift truck companies, and we do have a parent that we have to answer to.” He also points out the word “stakeholders” in that mission. “Our stakeholders are both our parent company and our fellow employees who are our shareholders.”
Briggs Equipment was one of the first companies to have an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). In effect for almost 20 years, the ESOP’s average distribution over the past eight years has been 14 percent. The company’s stock value increased 50 percent over the last five years, but over the last eight years, that increase averages out to 132 percent.
|Some mechanics retire with a quarter of a million dollars in ESOP money alone, so there are strong reasons for employees to stay long-term.|
“We have had mechanics who retired with a quarter of a million dollars,” says Bratton. “That’s ESOP money alone. There are strong reasons for our employees to stay long term, and we really try to preach the benefits of long-term employment with the ESOP.”
Over the last ten years, the number of employees has tripled to 668 in the United States and 250 in Mexico. Bratton attributes much of this growth to the entrepreneurial spirit of employees, employees hired specifically because they showed that spirit.
Training for Management
Briggs Equipment has developed an innovative management training program. Trainees are recruited from colleges and sent to the company’s larger operations in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta. “We are looking for people who are communicative, open, and have an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Brenda Johnston, human resources manager. Trainees begin working in the warehouse and spend anywhere from a year to two working in every department in the company—not as administration or managers, but as front-line personnel. They learn how to stock shelves, how to do parts orders, how to take rental calls from customers. They learn everything employees do in each department.
“We ultimately want them to end up in the outside sales force and then move into management,” says Bratton.
Real-Time Vehicle Tracking
Briggs Equipment has a goal: “To be the service leader in material handling equipment,” and the parts and service departments are the key to its success. Three hundred and fifty of the 668 employees are service technicians whose purpose is to quickly respond to customer calls. Half of these service technicians work in the field.
Briggs Equipment is continually developing programs to keep pace with equipment’s ever-changing technology and complexity. The technicians’ training program—Tech-Select—trains and evaluates new technicians. The curriculum was developed jointly by Briggs Equipment and Yale Materials Handling Corporation. Tech-Select not only trains technicians on the diagnosis and repair of equipment, but is used in the ongoing education and evaluation of technicians.
|GPS lowers service response time by 30%.|
The company has also made considerable investments in technology. A technician’s response time is greatly reduced and aided by a real-time vehicle tracking system which pinpoints for the dispatcher the nearest field technician’s position relative to the customer. The use of this Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system guarantees the least amount of downtime and the highest level of productivity. In fact, response time has been lowered by 30 percent.
Briggs Equipment maintains over $3 million in parts inventory. The objective is to provide a 95% fill rate within 24 hours on all parts. In order to provide this level of service, the parts department utilizes a computer CD-ROM parts catalog. All branches are linked electronically with each other and with manufacturers in order to locate and expedite shipments from the factory or between locations.
“We Are Becoming a Rental Industry”
It’s not surprising that Briggs Equipment has become one of the largest rental companies in the country, with over 5,000 pieces of rental equipment available. A full 37 percent of the company’s business is in the rental market. “The material handling industry is changing from basic sales to rental companies,” says Bratton. “Lift truck rentals, whether through fleet or long-term rentals, are increasing. The move is very much in this direction. People no longer want to own lift trucks and no longer want to service their own lift trucks.”
Bratton points out that customers don’t do daily and weekly rentals any longer, and as part of its overall growth strategy, Briggs Equipment is focusing on the rental opportunities available in the material handling and construction equipment markets. Briggs Equipment will also focus on fleet opportunities. “The growth of our company to be a fleet provider in our marketplace is where the real opportunity lies,” Bratton says.
Average turnaround time at Briggs Equipment for a short-term rental is close to six months. For a long-term rental, it’s three to five years. The average age of the rental fleet is 28 months. Equipment is resold at the end of the lifecycle.
Acquisitions and the Mexican Market
“Briggs Equipment is changing from being strictly a material handling company,” says Bratton. “We’re trying to think outside the box and are looking for other opportunities for growth and income.” In addition to aggressively pursuing the rental market, Briggs Equipment has ventured into construction equipment, primarily because of the rental opportunities available. Bratton points out that both construction and material handling are driven by the rental business that can be generated in either market.
|The growth of Briggs Equipment in Mexico will surpass the company’s growth in the United States.|
Briggs Equipment recently purchased the CASE Construction Equipment dealerships in all of North Carolina and Florida, which added 15 additional locations to the company’s 21 material handling locations.
In 1998, Briggs Equipment purchased a Yale dealership in Atlanta. Looking toward the future, a Yale dealership in Mexico was acquired in 1996. Three locations—Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara—service the entire country. Bratton predicts that the growth of Briggs Equipment in Mexico will surpass the company’s growth in the United States. “I think the Mexican economy is poised for much more U.S. and worldwide manufacturing to move in.”
In Mexico, the rental business accounts for 60 percent of Briggs Equipment’s total revenue. “It’s a staggering revenue when you think of it,” says Bratton.
Regional Management System
In 1998, Briggs Equipment established its Regional Management System. Instead of all branches reporting back to headquarters in Dallas, four regions were established: Dallas, Houston, Atlanta (including New Orleans) and Mexico.
|The Corporate Group supports, rather than directs, the Regional Groups|
Each region’s manager is charged with the complete responsibility and profitability of his region. They operate off separate financial statements, almost as if they were operating their own companies. “The Corporate Group then becomes a service organization for them, so we’re actually here to support the Regional Groups, rather than direct the Regional Groups,” says Bratton.
The Briggs Equipment Regional Management System allows for a more refined resource utilization. Various resources within the region are coordinated by the regional manager, including management and allocation of rental fleets and equipment inventories.
To maintain a consistent and compatible method of operations, the regional managers also recruit and train Briggs Equipment personnel. Providing better trained personnel and having the ability to share personnel resources across a region enable Briggs Equipment to furnish prompt and improved service to the customer.
According to Bratton, the system is working exceptionally well. “We’ve seen continued growth and continued profitability at a more accelerated rate,” he says, and he attributes this to the entrepreneurial charge that is given to each regional manager.
When asked about the future, Bratton is excited. “We are capable of meeting the demands of a variety of customers, whether a large corporation that needs an entire fleet, the multinational company that prefers long-term rental contracts, or the company that only needs one or two forklifts. Briggs Equipment puts the customer first. We embrace open communications. We are dedicated to satisfying needs. We are cost-competitive, reliable and are constantly in search of ways to improve.”
A 106-year-old company that delights in discovering new things and aggressively pursuing innovative new markets, Briggs Equipment proves that growing old may merely be a state of mind. As the company faces its second century of growth, it is developing new and innovative ways to pursue its motto: Briggs Equipment is the source and the solution.