LBX In the News

Distributors: The “Sixth Man” in Harvesting Profitability

The Forest Industry Magazine
November/December 2003

In professional basketball the “sixth man” is considered to be one of the most valuable members of a team, valuable enough that an annual award for the role is a much coveted accolade. He or she is responsible for scoring when scoring is needed, playing defense when defense is called for, and, in general, doing whatever is needed to assure success for the rest of the team.

To a timber harvester, the “sixth man” is the equipment distributor, the company responsible for supplying equipment capable of enhancing profitability; for making sure parts and the expertise needed to keep that equipment working effectively are available when and where needed, and for assuring advances in the industry are brought to the attention of the logging contractor so forward thinking business owners can stay on top of their trade and remain profitable, even in challenging times.

The Forest Industry recently discussed how a distributor acts as the “sixth man” for a harvesting contractor with two men recognized by their peers as among the best at their trade. Mark Schmeltzer, a sales rep for Triad Machinery in Portland, Ore., was recently named Link-Belt Salesman of the Year for North America by the LBX Company, manufacturer of Link-Belt earthmoving and forestry equipment. Blair Gourley is sales manager at Parker Pacific, one of North America’s major forestry equipment distributors. The company has 14 stores servicing the business throughout British Columbia and the Canadian Yukon as well as a number of other machinery outlets located elsewhere in both Canada and the United States. In a recent question and answer interview the two men discussed their philosophies in terms of how they work for success on behalf of their firm’s clients.

TFI: When a potential customer contacts you, how do you begin the process of making a sale?
Mark: I don’t really worry about making a sale at first. I prefer not to begin actually selling a piece of equipment until I know what the customer is trying to do with the machinery. It’s important to know what kind of conditions they’re working in, and what kind of personnel they have. I like to go out on the actual job and see why and how things are being done. My first question to a potential customer is usually, “Where are you working and do you mind if I come out and watch?” Contractors are a smart, innovative bunch of guys and, more and more, we’re seeing them find specialized niches in the industry. If I can go out and see what they’re trying to accomplish in their own unique operation I can maybe help turn them on to new ideas and, for sure, I can avoid the mistake of presenting them with a machine that’s inappropriate for what they’re trying to do.

Blair: It’s very important a customer get the right machine for the job. We believe our obligation at Parker Pacific is to work closely with the customer to help assure the machine they eventually purchase represents the best possible value to that customer. If the machine they choose is too small for the job, productivity is reduced and maintenance costs can soar. Over-sizing can be inefficient as well. We encourage our customers to work with us on an owning and operating cost analysis before choosing a machine. We’re fortunate in that Link-Belt, our major forestry supplier for base machines provides a tremendous range of purpose-built forestry equipment to choose from. We can work with the customer to deliver a machine designed specifically to accomplish the task they need accomplished, whether they’re thinning, harvesting large timber on steep hillsides, road building or filling some other industry niche.

TFI: You use the term “purpose-built” equipment. Is that really all that important?
Blair: We think it’s very important. There are a lot of machines out there that will get the job done. So don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not putting anyone’s equipment down. But, in my view a base machine built with a particular use in mind is going to provide more value in the long run. Link-Belt’s forestry machines, for example, are significantly different from the earthmoving units Link-Belt builds. Moving dirt is a completely different operation than reaching out to the full length of a boom, picking up a log and manipulating it. Link-Belt has been very proactive in designing their machines for the rigors of the woods and it shows up in the productivity and durability of the machine when it’s actually on the ground and working.

Mark: The whole concept around what we’re doing in the woods today started with someone getting the bright idea they could use a hydraulic loader to do some unique things, so it’s obviously possible to get by with standard equipment on an ordinary job. You might be slower or less effective but you can do the job. But when the job is out of the ordinary, there’s a huge difference between a purpose-built machine and a standard loader. The hydraulics, the weight distribution and dozens of other parameters are different in the Link-Belt excavators than they are in a Link-Belt base machine built to function in a forestry application. Link-Belt was one of the first to understand what some of the early innovators were doing with their equipment. The company began to design and build purpose-built machines that allowed innovative contractors to take their concepts further than they’d ever thought possible when they first began experimenting. They’ve pushed their equipment design as these guys have pushed their skills, so a purpose-built Link-Belt today has the stability to work terrain a non-purpose-built machine can’t touch. We’re using oversized undercarriages and providing swing torque no one would have thought possible years ago. That makes the guys using purpose-built machinery quicker, more flexible and better prepared to take on jobs others can’t handle. That all adds up to a more competitive company able to work when some others might be out of work. It also adds up to longer machine life and higher trade in values.

TFI: So you’ve worked with the customer to select the equipment he or she needs to get the job done properly. What then?

Blair: It’s vital once the machine is in the field to provide all the back-up the customer needs for success. At Parker Pacific, for example, we’ve centralized our parts in our Langley warehouse. We service our other stores out of that facility so we carry a range of parts a single store could never stock. With 14 stores we’re never far away from a customer so, when something is needed, we have it to them as quickly as is humanly possible. We can only be successful if our customer is successful. That means we are constantly working on the customer’s behalf to assure that downtime is minimized when something is needed in the woods.

Mark: The company you’ve sold the machine to wants and needs someone who will stand behind them whether it be 3 a.m. or Saturday afternoon. At Triad we’ve been fortunate to have some of the best field crews in the business supported by a tremendous parts operation. My customers look to me as the interface. I can’t tell them I’ve got something else to do so they’ll just have to wait. If it’s 4 in the morning and they’re down, they need to know someone is there to help them get things moving again. They look to me to be that person and I look to Triad Equipment to back me up with the support the customer needs. Triad is a fantastic company in that respect. Our crews will go out and work with the customer to problem solve and, once they’re on site, they don’t just do the job and go, they’ll go the extra mile in working with operators to identify potential problems and work them out as well while they’re right there. We’re the guys no one really wants to see but when we’re needed, we’re needed now. If we do our job well, the customer is more profitable. We can only do well if the customer does well.

TFI: From a distributor’s standpoint, if you were to offer one piece of advice to a logging contractor looking at equipment what would it be?

Mark: Work closely with your representative to make sure you select the right machine for the job you’re trying to accomplish. Equipment companies like Link-Belt have done an amazing job of responding to the needs of loggers. There’s a lot of specialization going on in the woods today. If you’re mostly thinning, a machine with some special characteristics specific to thinning can truly make you more profitable. If you’re a generalist, a different equipment selection is indicated. One of the best things about my job is I get to see a lot of really bright people doing innovative things. I get to see what kind of equipment works and what doesn’t. I think one of the most important things I have to offer a customer is a feel for what equipment is likely to work best under what conditions. Logging nice flat ground with small timber is a different proposition than harvesting steep hillsides with large timber. Work with your dealer to make sure you’re selecting equipment likely to provide the best productivity over the broadest range of conditions likely to be encountered on your jobs.

Blair: For the harvesting company, value is all about durability and productivity. All too often we see people trying to get by with machinery too small for the job. It’s a natural thing to want to do the job with the least expensive machine possible but, in truth, the least expensive machine is the machine that provides the most value over the lifetime of the unit, not necessarily the machine that’s least expensive up front. Before you invest in equipment, work with us to do a “cost to own and operate analysis” based on the unique circumstances of your own company. Our long-term success is completely tied to your long-term success, so let us help you choose the best possible option so we can succeed together.

As the sixth man in a logging operation, the distributor is counted upon to stand in the shadows then shine when the teams need it at its greatest. In providing equipment capable of excelling in terms of productivity and durability, then standing behind that equipment with parts and expertise available quickly and efficiently, distributors like Parker Pacific in B.C. and the Yukon, and Triad Equipment in the Pacific Northwest, take their place as team players dedicated to the success of the logging contractors they serve.

Article reprinted with permission from The Forest Industry Magazine.


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