The heavy equipment industry has changed a great deal in the last 25 years.
Randy Cram started his business, Tri-West Tractor, Inc. back in 1980 and operated as a one-man show buying and selling used equipment. At the time, the "gray market" out of Europe was in full swing and Randy was buying Caterpillar excavators and wheel loaders along with trenchers and other used equipment, bringing them to the west coast for sale. Over the next four years, Randy started building a reputation for offering late model low-hour machines. He then moved his company from San Ramon to its current location in Livermore, California, which at the time was truly out in the middle of nowhere. "We were surrounded by vacant fields and the commute was a piece of cake," Randy remembers.
By this time Tri-West Tractor had a fully staffed parts department and a couple of mechanics. The Japanese excavators were just hitting the market and Randy decided to try his hand at selling new equipment along with used. With the trust and support of a local contractor, he was able to sell a couple of new units and the marketplace realized that they were not only competitively priced but were also very productive. Other contractors soon followed suit, and in 1987, Tri-West Tractor took on the MDI/Yutani line of excavators which were manufactured by Kobelco. This began an 18-year relationship with Kobelco that has become the backbone of Tri-West's business. Kobelco is a leader in product engineering and technology and was one of the first manufacturers to put a microprocessor (computer) in their machines, which has revolutionized the excavator market. Randy explains; "Our machines are now much more powerful, productive and more efficient than ever before." The operator hasn't been left out either. "My Dad worked in the underground construction industry when having a seat back and an umbrella was considered a luxury. Today's equipment comes with multi-positioned padded "ergonomically" designed seats with seat belts, cup holders, heating/air conditioning and stereos."
During its 25-year tenure, Tri-West Tractor has striven to stay on the cutting edge of the latest technology in the equipment industry. Cram notes that in order for a contractor to remain competitive, he needs to focus on getting as much as possible out of his machinery, keeping his labor costs at a minimum. Randy and his team go above and beyond to find the right machine and attachments for each individual contractor. "We pride ourselves on being able to find that unusual or unique machine or attachment. With the introduction of quick couplers in the late 80's, contractors can get much better utilization out of their excavators. Multiple buckets, compaction wheels and pipe laying C-hooks are now common attachments on most job sites."
Equipment dealers have had to evolve dramatically over the last 25 years. Competition has increased, margins have dropped and the rental market has developed. Cram remembers when it was common to only rent new machines if you had a 3 to 6 month commitment. "Now we get a new unit in and it goes out immediately whether it is for one day or one week. A large portion of our new equipment sales starts out as a short term rental. Tri-West has one of the largest excavator rental fleets in California. We have excavators small enough to fit through the side gate at your home weighing 3200 lbs. all the way up to the 160,000 lbs. units that can accomplish any task. All of our machines are set up with quick couplers and we have standard and specialty attachments ready for rental."
A little over a year ago, Tri-West Tractor, Inc. added the Kawasaki Wheel Loader to its product line. "We have been interested in the Kawasaki line for a number of years," states Cram. "They build a quality product and are great people to work with. We feel that the Kawasaki Loader will be very complimentary to the Kobelco Excavator line." Kawasaki offers loaders for the small contractor and up to 13 cubic yard machines for rock quarries and mines. Tri-West has added a number of Kawasaki's to their rental fleet. Once again they are set up with "all the bells and whistles" to make them highly versatile and productive. "The Kawasaki's are really built to last" states Cram. They have features in their small machines that the competition doesn't offer until they get to the very large machines." Having a large rental fleet allows Tri-West to get the machines in the hands of prospective buyers. Cram is reminded of an old phrase "Try them- you'll like them."
Tri-West Tractor Inc. completes their sales and rental fleet with Terex articulated trucks, Rex compactors, used Cat dozers, water wagons and motor graders. They sell and rent specialty attachments like Rammer Hydraulic Hammers, Allied Construction Products, Hendrix Hydraulic Quick Couplers, Destec - Weldco - C & P digging buckets, Entek Compaction Wheels, JRB Loader Attachments and Felco Bedding and Backfill Products.
New to Tri-West Tractor this year is the Moby Dick Wheel Wash System. Made in Switzerland and very popular in Europe, this product is just now becoming known in the United States. "Track out" from quarries, landfills, and job sites is becoming a major problem on city streets. The daily cost to clean the streets adds up quickly." Cram states, "The Moby Dick Wheel Wash System is a solution to the problem". It is a wash system that cleans the wheels and under frame of trucks prior to leaving a muddy or dirty site". Tri-West Tractor Inc. is the distributor for the product in the Western United States. "We have already delivered 5 or 6 units and have a number of systems on order", said Cram. Moby Dick will have a large exhibit at Con-Expo which Randy feels will create a great deal of interest.
"Having great products to sell is a real benefit but our biggest asset is our people. Our parts department will go that extra mile to take care of the customer," states Cram. "Royce Fisher our Parts Manager is from the old school - the customer doesn't have to have part numbers to order a part. If they don't know the part number we will research it. Scott Megann, his assistant, is dedicated and very hard working. He has learned a great deal from Royce and brings a fresh enthusiasm to the department. Joey Atkins has really got the warehouse organized and running efficiently."
"Our Service Department is headed up by Jim Doyle and Frank Cairo. Jim is the Service Administrator while Frank is Shop Foreman and handles the technical end of the department. "My Dad was a mechanic and I have worked around a number of good mechanics and I can safely say that Frank is one of the most talented I have come across," stated Cram. "Our Field Service Technicians, Eric Popeyus, and Mike Hawxhurst are equally talented. Both have been with Tri-West for a number of years and have received factory training for the entire Tri-West product line." Tri-West Tractor recently took delivery of another new fully equipped field service truck. Cram believes strongly in product training and giving his crew the tools they need to get the job done. Rounding out the service department is Tom Doyle, welder/fabricator. "You break it and Tom will fix it," states Cram. Chris Moore has recently joined Tri-West Tractor as an apprentice mechanic.
Tri-West Tractor's sales staff consists of Bill Adkins and Mike Whitney. Bill joined Tri-West in 1996 and covers the Bay Area. "He came to our company as an owner/operator and understands what it is like to be on the other side. I think it gives him a different perspective," states Cram. "He knows the products well and understands what they can and can not do. Mike Whitney rejoined the company about a year ago. He had covered the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills for Tri-West in the early 90's and has resumed that territory. We needed someone with good connections to the aggregate and quarry business in the Central Valley and Mike was the guy. He has worked the same area since entering the industry in the late 80's. With his knowledge of our company and our products, it was a natural for Mike and Tri-West to get together again," said Cram. Mike is also the specialist for the Moby Dick line handling calls from all over the West Coast. Tri-West Tractor believes in the soft sell approach and earns their business one customer at a time. "I have always believed in the philosophy of under promising and over performing", says Cram. "We strive to be "problem solvers" for our customers, not salesmen." Show them how to make an extra buck and chances are that they will share a little of it with you down the road."
Pat Spooner and Randy's wife Mary round out the staff. They share in all functions of the office including accounting. "Pat and Mary really keep the office running smoothly," states Cram. " They make sure we don't get too far out of control."
"I have been very fortunate to surround myself with a loyal and hardworking staff and we wouldn't be celebrating our 25th year without the support of our great customers. I owe my sincere appreciation to both. We have come a long way but I can assure you we will not rest on our laurels. As one of the oldest independently owned and operated dealerships in California we will continue to strive to earn the respect and business from our peers and customers in the industry and sincerely look forward to the next 25 years.
~From Ironman Equipment Source, Jan. 2005 Western Edition