Chain of Thought

Cheap Lift Truck Labor Isn't Affordable

Natural disasters and disastrous economies have something in common: they bring out itinerant contractors. These are the guys who go door to door offering to repair damaged property in the wake of a tornado or flood—or when they hear people in a neighborhood lost their jobs and can only afford the cheapest labor if they need to have something repaired. The timely offer of a quick fix under those circumstances is hard to turn down.

What if what you need repaired is a lift truck?

There are itinerant specialists for that too. They may not be the kind of scoundrels who go around taking advantage of circumstance's victims, but the value of the services they provide can be just as questionable.

Jason Bratton has seen an increase in this kind of itinerant lift truck labor in the past couple years. He's vice president of business development for BEB Industrial Asset Management, a firm which specializes in the care and feeding of equipment fleets. He sees every bill that comes across his clients' desks, and he knows when they‘ve done business with such service people. Many of these people are great mechanics, but without a dealer organization behind them, they're limited in what they can offer a company that uses newer equipment.

“These technicians [let go by their dealerships] are stuck,” Bratton told me. “No jobs out there in that market. So you see a lot of them try to maintain their relationships with old customers. Get one good account and it funds enough to have a business.”

They probably won't have the diagnostics, though. It's one thing to carry a crescent wrench and a screw driver, but another to buy a laptop and the proprietary software they need from Toyota, Raymond or Crown. Without such high-tech diagnostic tools, the labor hours rise and the parts these guys bought at retail-plus have to be marked up again for their own profit. Soon a $100 part costs $200 and all of a sudden the $50 labor rate this guy quoted doesn't look so good when a three hour job takes five hours.

So if your maintenance operation is running lean and mean and your lift trucks are on life support, beware of itinerant mechanics who don't have the support of a dealer organization behind them. They may mean well, but their service could prove to be a disservice.

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