On Record: Around the table

It was understandable if they were a bit apprehensive. They’d just sat down in a U formation with a microphone placed squarely in front of them. This was the first time all 12 contractors vying to be the 2005 Equipment World Contractor of the Year had met each other. There was some quiet sizing up going on, plus the underlying question of who would win the following night.

This happens every year at the roundtable, which starts off our Contractor of the Year event. Then the questions begin and people start to talk. The finalists begin to see the connections, intersections and even big differences between themselves and the other contractors around the table.

For our part, as editors, the roundtable is one of the ways we delve into what’s happening in the marketplace, what’s keeping contractors tossing and turning at night and what they’ve found leads to success in this business. As I told several of our finalists before the event, we weren’t going to ask them anything they didn’t already know, or wasn’t ingrained in their business practices.

Some general areas of agreement from our class of 2005:

  • Prioritize your customer base. It will allow you to lessen the amount of low-bid work you do and also the inherent craziness that ensues when you grab every job just to get work. Bigger isn’t always better.
  • Top concerns for 2005: insurance premiums, fuel prices and keeping good personnel.
  • There were no surprises in what the finalists listed as equipment essentials: service, reliability and quality. This is especially true in a landscape where prices are viewed as more or less equal.

But some of the most interesting information came when we asked the finalists to give us the good and the ugly when it came to the relationships they have with their dealers. They don’t forget the helping hands … or the slights.

“I was an 18 year old with no credit and the local dealership financed a machine for me. That goes a long way.”

“One dealer turned over every stone in trying to find a machine for us. I give him high marks.”

“We had a machine that just wasn’t working and the dealer gave us a break on the bill. No matter how good your equipment is, stuff is going to happen. It’s a great opportunity to create some loyalty.”

“When we started out, I had a lot of dealers who would not talk to me or take me seriously.”

And what do the contractors feel sets them apart from their competition? The almost unanimous answer was service. This translates into completing projects on time, offering a fair price and communication. “If something goes wrong,” said one finalist, “we make sure we call the client before he calls us. It sets us apart.”