Feenaughty Machinery: Answering Contractors' Calls for 120 Years

Ryan Whisner Headshot
Feenaughty staff accepting 2022 Takeuchi salesman of year award.
A finalist in the Equipment World Dealer of the Year program, Feenaughty Machinery sales rep Billy Parker was honored as salesman of 2022 in Takeuchi.
Takeuchi

Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Feenaughty Machinery Co. has been supporting the construction and forestry industries in the Pacific Northwest for over 120 years. 

A family-operated business since 1901, the company is recognized for its dedication to serving customers with honesty and integrity through five generations. 

Feenaughty was a finalist in Equipment World’s 2023 Big Iron Dealer of the Year.

Starting with sales of street cleaners when founder and Irish immigrant William Orlando Feenaughty moved from New York to Portland, the company has evolved to various types of timber and construction equipment. 

Maintaining a concept of cautious growth in recent years, the company has expanded to locations in Eugene, Oregon, and Woodville (Seattle), Washington.

Today, Feenaughty President Randy Harris says they sellmost everything that moves dirt under the brands Develon (formerly Doosan), Kobelco, and Takeuchi.

"It's hard to serve three masters, but that's why when we do get to that level where we can be top five, top three with all three of them, we emphasize the importance of developing those relationships with the customers,” said Brendan Green, general manager. 

Feenaughty Machinery Co. offers machines made by Takeuchi, Develon and Kobelco.Feenaughty Machinery Co. offers machines made by Takeuchi, Develon and Kobelco.TakeuchiOver the last few years when new equipment was hard to come by due to manufacturer supply issues, the focus remained on customer service and fair treatment.

“We're smart enough to know that even though there was a shortage of equipment, it was not always going to be that way,” Randy said.

“We want to make money, but you also have to take care of people, and you just can't stick it to them. We've managed through this process to take care of guys and still be fair on pricing and representation because when it goes the other way, we want them to remember that when we could have, we didn't take advantage of people.”

There are two rules that all employees at Feenaughty Machinery live by: 

  • Always do the right thing.
  • Always answer the phone.

According to retired sales rep Robert Payton, if you follow those two rules, the rest will take care of itself.

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“Make sure you can sleep at night with what you do,” Brendan said. “If you give it your best, and you still fail it, that is what it is. But you gave it your best and that's all we can expect.”

As for rule No. 2, every employee knows, you always take the call, whether it's your job or not. Whether it's a customer who wants to complain to service or sales or someone calling about a broken-down machine, the phone is always answered.

“You just have to take that call and then pass it on as needed,” Randy said. “It's the worst thing to get ahold of somebody when they're duck and covering.”

Inevitably, Feenaughty will get their customers' equipment fixed.

"But, man, if you don't answer the call, they remember that and it gives them a bad taste in their mouth," Randy said. “I've always said that if an owner doesn't contribute something to a business, they're just an anchor and we have a company where everybody works.”

The methodology sounds simple, but it makes a difference with the customers.

“That took some getting used to because this company is different than a lot of others,” Kirkpatrick said. “I can't tell you how many customers have said, one of the big reasons that we deal with you guys is that I can call the owner and president of the company on his cellphone and talk to him about equipment.”

Both Randy and Brendan can be found out in the yard crawling around the machines or dropping off parts and answering calls. That type of contact with upper management simply doesn’t happen at some of the other larger conglomerates. 

“If you tell the truth, and you answer your phone, and you try, what else can you do?” Randy said.

For contractors, dealer support is critical. Much of that comes down to communication.

“We’re always going to tell them this is where we're at and we know it's not what you want to hear, but this is what we're doing to take care of it,” said Grant Harris, Randy’s oldest son and Woodville branch manager. “I think that's gone a long way with our customers for us to just be honest and transparent with them.”

Swiss Army staff

Beyond just answering the call and doing things right, everyone on the Feenaughty staff is required to be somewhat of a Swiss Army knife when it comes to getting things done around the yard and shop.

“Companywide we have a good culture in that nobody feels like they're too big to do something," Grant said. “Nobody's going to say, 'Hey, that's not my job, so, I'm not going to do it.'”

The message goes across each of the branches, being modeled straight from the top by Randy and Brendan. No job is too big or too small for anyone.

“Most of the time you get what you model, and trying to model that from the top down is what we do,” Brendan added. “I feel like you can say this stuff till you're blue in the face, but if you don't act on it, it's not accomplishing anything.”

Randy or Brendan assisting in the yard or the shop helps push the message further downhill. If there is a machine that needs to get washed and the wash rack guy is out, someone steps up and gets it done. Parts, attachments, and even machine deliveries are made by whoever might be available.

Sales reps, who split time between being in the store on the phone or the road, are provided company trucks that allow them to serve as a delivery option.

“My stance on it is the more touch points I can have with my customers, the better relationship and the more trust that we're going to have,"  said Derek Hough, heavy equipment and forestry sales. "If that means a three- or five-hour trip to deliver something to them if they're in a pinch, I'm going to do it."

The number one part of the job at Feenaughty is to make the customers’ jobs as easy as possible. That extra level of effort in customer service often receives praise.

“I do think it's pretty unique to us, just because from what I see in the marketplace is other equipment salesmen are out there in their vehicles, which aren't capable of doing those things that our guys do to help in that way," Brendan said. "It doesn't help us get the first sale, but it helps us maintain a customer relationship and get the continued sales."

Location, location, location

Throughout its history, Feenaughty has had multiple stores spanning at one point across three states with locations in Portland and Eugene, Oregon; Seattle, Yakima, and Spokane, Washington; and Boise, Idaho.

That history has taught the current generation something about the caution of growth.

"We try to keep a low overhead and get the right people in the right places," Brendan said.

It took nearly three years for the current Eugene store to get established enough that Randy and Brendan began planning further expansion. 

“You have to be aggressive, but you also have to be disciplined,” Randy said, admitting that his boys have pushed him.

“I'm getting to the point where I'd be quite content staying a little bit smaller,” he said. “These boys are aggressive, and they're smart. I can't tell them no because they're doing a good job.”

The Woodville store is coming up on its first anniversary. The anticipation is that it will take a few years to get all the personnel properly established before any additional expansion is explored.

“I think the issue is, you have to have somebody that you trust to run those stores,” Randy said.

From a growth perspective, future expansion would likely entail filling the remaining gaps between the Portland and Seattle area along the Interstate 5 corridor.

Back to the future

Succession was not always a guarantee at Feenaughty. Owning a family business does not guarantee it will always remain in the family. 

Feenaughty was current CEO Randy Harris’ mother’s maiden name. Starting with his great-grandfather, the company ownership moved up through his grandfather and then his father, who married into the family, and now himself and his children, Brendan, and Grant.

Randy never planned to work for the company. He had plans to move to Oklahoma City before getting a call from his father encouraging him to join the business. 

Starting in parts, Randy began learning the business, and then his father retired about five years later, leaving him with a lot to learn.

At that point, Feenaughty was a $10 million business with about 20 employees. Today, the company has about 60 employees and is closer to $75 million.

While happy with the growth during his tenure, based on his history, Randy vowed to never force the family business upon his children.

“If you come here, and you want to be here, and you're excited about it, you're going to work harder, and you're going to have more ownership, as opposed to if you just take your son and say, 'Alright, it's your turn, here you go,'" Randy said. “They're not going to get the respect of the other employees; they're not going to want to be here. They both had to come to that on their own decision.”

Like their father, both Brendan and Grant gained experience far away from Feenaughty before joining the company. Grant nearly became a lawyer, and Brendan cut his teeth in a completely different industry. However, Brendan noted that Randy still tells them both to make sure they're not the generation that “messes things up.”

“As long as this family owns this business, it will be run by family,” Randy said. “Now, if there's another two or three branches, then they may have to hire some pretty high-level people to help maintain that.”

He knows there are always opportunities for mergers or acquisitions to occur. As far as he’s concerned, those decisions will fall on Brendan and Grant.

"It's not about me at this point. I've had my moment in the sun," Randy said, noting that the next step for Feenaughty will be up to them. He is reassured that the company would not miss a beat if he were suddenly not around.

“I've done my job.,” Randy said. “I've grown it to the next level, and now the next set of family members are taking it up yet another level." 

All in the family

Outside of expansion by adding location, Randy said the hardest thing is finding the right talent to fill open positions. Finding that technician or mechanic who is at that good journeyman level is like finding a needle in a haystack.

With the role being much more tech-driven, it's important to take care of those you have on staff.

“You need to build a spirit of care around these guys,” he said. “Being a mechanic is not an easy job, and I think part of my job is just to be there. I try to talk to everybody, every day, probably two or three times a day, I'm constantly in motion.”

The family atmosphere of Feenaughty helps maintain that core and leads to minimal turnover. Randy knows and has trained most of the staff. Maintaining that family feel while also having a disciplined structure is not easy.

"It's a tightrope because people have to be held accountable," Randy said. "You've got to allow for some people to mature, and sometimes that can be costly. When your people are training or growing and learning how to do a job on their own, there are going to be mistakes made. Just trying to manage all that is tough.”

As general manager, Brendan tries to get to both Eugene and Seattle once every other week and is at the Portland store the remainder of the time. Visits to the branch locations are alternated with Randy. 

“For Brendan and me, it's too important to not be involved in every aspect of the company,” Randy said. 

On top of competitive pay and tool allowances, Feenaughty employees enjoy baseball games, fishing trips, and other group incentives. Most important though, family always comes first.

Schedules are flexible if there is coverage and if there is a family issue or school event a mother or father should be present at, they’re granted the time off.

“We're all here for a common goal from when we clock in and when we clock out, but you’ve got to remember these guys are human beings, people with families, and you have to care about them too,” Kirkpatrick said.

All the techs are also provided with continued education opportunities on each of the equipment brands. Service has extended to techs training customers how to use new features on their equipment.

“It’s not like on a new car where you can get away with not using some of the upgraded features,” Brendan said. “In the excavator world, if you want to put a bucket on, or if you have a bucket and want to attach a mulcher, you’ve got to learn everything.”

To Randy, that continued education and all those other pieces are incentive.

"If you come here, and you show up and you work hard, you will have opportunities to grow," he said. "We're a for-profit business, and we want to make money. And we want to do a good job, but I want to be recognized by how I’ve treated people, that's my legacy.”

He acknowledges that there are probably places that are more profitable and do things differently.

“For us to rest at night, we want our employees to be taken care of, and we want our customers to be able to use our product and know that we care about their livelihood and not just ours,” Randy said. “We will do everything in our possible power to take care of customers. We're really good at what we do.”

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