How Liftech Equipment Companies, Inc. creates differentiation based on the quality of the dealership
On January 1, 2019, Liftech Equipment CFO Mike Vaughan will assume the position of Chairman of the Board of the MHEDA Board of Directors. Liftech Equipment has a long and storied relationship with the association and Mike will not be the first Liftech employee to serve in a leadership position within MHEDA. Joe Verzino, President of Liftech, served as President of the association in 1997 and one of the company’s original partners, Earl Forstoff served on the board in the early years of the association.
“You could say that board service is in Liftech’s blood,” says Vaughan.
Over the years, Liftech has remained involved with the association through all levels of the company, beyond board service. In fact, the company has been a MHEDA member for longer (55 years) than it has been called Liftech.
Liftech was established in 1988, when Syracuse Supply approached Joe Verzino and a group of other partners about purchasing the material handling assets of the company and becoming a private entity. So, 30 years ago, Liftech Equipment was established in East Syracuse, NY. The newly-private company was able to hit the ground running with about 90 employees, its own facilities and a management team already in place.
“I think it was a tremendous advantage,” says Vaughan. “You have got your customer base here; you’ve got people on board. You’re devoting your energy to growing your business and fulfilling needs versus trying to catch up and figure out where you’re going to operate out of. They had the right kind of experience inside the business and then they had a skilled sales force and parts department and service technicians to be able to not have the business miss a beat during the transition from being a public company to a private business.”
Today, Liftech has grown to about 180 employees, divided evenly between technicians and sales/support staff. It has locations in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Jamestown, Schenectady and Binghamton, NY, as well as Burlington, VT.
“We’ve grown to our current size by identifying opportunities that met all of our criteria,” Verzino says. “Products that offer a meaningful market share of potential sales, offers rental, parts and service opportunities, and is made by a manufacturer who has a solid reputation for a quality product.”
Liftech works closely with the Hyster Yale Group.
“Liftech built its business around the Hyster brand and then expanded to include the Yale franchise through acquisition,” says Verzino. “HYG has played a significant role in Liftech’s success and growth. As a HYG dealer, we have at our disposal product specialists, engineers, aftermarket experts and a dealer development team that has helped ensure that we have mutually beneficial strategies for success. Their input has been invaluable throughout the years.”
In addition to partnering with top-quality manufacturer partners, Liftech has long-realized the importance of creating true differentiation with the quality of its service.
“We consider ourselves a service organization,” says Verzino. “For years, people would look at equipment businesses as a sales organization, but when you really think about it, it’s about taking care of the customer. We looked at ourselves a number of years ago and saw that we are really a service organization that sells product, versus a sales organization that services product.”
Adds Vaughan, “Product differentiation has become less and less of a significant selling point. That requires dealerships to be able to look at trying to sell themselves as the differentiating factor. One of the things we’ve been trying to do is grow our technician base. We’re a service company that sells equipment.”
A Welcoming Culture
As all MHEDA members know, growing the technician base is easier said than done. A major reason why Liftech has been able to consistently grow its base and retain the technicians that they hire comes down to company culture.
“There are a number of things we’ve been trying to do to make us a place where technicians want to come to work,” says Vaughan. “Right now, our average tenure is 10 or 11 years. We’ve developed a number of guys who come in and work here for a long time.”
One of the appealing things for technicians about working at Liftech is its commitment to being on the cutting edge of technology. Four years ago, the company went completely paperless. All technicians are equipped with iPads and laptops and smart phones.
“I think they really like the technology aspect of the job,” he says.”
Vaughan also mentions the hands-off nature it takes with technicians. They are not micromanaged.
“You’re kind of your own boss,” he says. “You get to work in some really cool places in the businesses around the area. And they like being out there on their own with some guidance from the home office but they’re not stuck in the shop. We offer healthy benefits and most of our recruiting is through word of mouth. We’re promoting that we’re a good company where you can make a good living and we’ll give you all the resources you need to be successful. Liftech is also a pretty closely-knit business with many employees having worked together for years. In the challenge of today’s economy, that intangible asset is invaluable.”
One of those resources is a technician training room that Liftech put in its Syracuse facility that offers a really positive and productive learning environment.
“I’ve been here more than 16 years and our average age of our technician workforce has fluctuated anywhere from 46 to 48 years old. Over the course of that time period we’ve had a number of guys who approached retirement age, but we’ve been able to balance that out with some really talented new hires. So we’re not an aging workforce, we are a very talented multi-generational workforce.”
A Place Employees are Proud to Work
Added together, that culture, product offering and devotion to service has made Liftech one of the most successful companies in the material handling industry. The dealership has been recognized with MHEDA’s Most Valuable Partner (MVP) Award for five consecutive years. The MVP Award designation recognizes those distributors who have achieved, through documented processes, performance excellence in customer service, supplier relationships, employee training and community involvement. These dealers deliver a superior customer service experience to the end-user.
“I think it means something to the customers and it means something to the employees,” says Verzino. “It’s a validation that a lot of the things that the business is built on and the values we have are affirmed by the principles. As we began to earn that and began to talk about it, it was a source of pride that we have that a lot of material handling dealers in our area aren’t MVP winners. We promote that to our employees and if we build the momentum from the inside and develop that sense of pride, our customers will feel that.”
“I get more satisfaction from seeing people do the right things than the awards,” he adds.
An Investment in Technology
Besides the drive to go paperless, Liftech has also made strong investments in its website and social media presence.
“That’s a way to build our brand in a way that’s in tune with what we’re trying to do today. We’ve also always been involved with charitable giving, either time, money or resources. It’s part of a brand we’ve always been, just never really bragged about it,” says Vaughan. “We’ve continued to invest in technology with the goal of providing customers with the data they need to help them manage their equipment fleets. Technology enables us to accumulate and present meaningful data enabling us to engage in qualitative discussions helping customers make decisions that will improve their business and profitability.
Over the next five years, Liftech will continue to grow in much the same way it has grown for the past 30 years. A growing technician base will be the bedrock of the company’s service-oriented philosophy. An eye toward keeping up with the latest technological trends and a strong culture will be what keeps people in the family once they join.
“I think we will be successful if we continue to grow our technician base,” says Vaughan. “That’s our fundamental building block of our organization. We’ve got 86 technicians right now and we’ve been challenged to get to 100.”
As Mike Vaughan is poised to become Chairman of the Board of MHEDA and help take the association to new heights, he’s also helped position Liftech as a company ready to soar to those new heights as well.