Why Innovative Distribution Strategies Matter in Today's Lift and Access Market

Why Innovative Distribution Strategies Matter in Today's Lift and Access Market

By Phil Duane

Finding a distribution channel for a new brand or product is a task that requires dedication, time, and resources. Every OEM venturing into the lift and access industry is well-acquainted with this challenge.

Distribution of construction related equipment in today’s marketplace is vastly different than what it was 20 years ago.

Sure, there is still the very common practice of bringing a new product to market by calling on rental companies both large and small who primarily rent products to customers. Most products are still designed, marketed, sold, and maintained through this channel. 

But as the marketplace begins to shift towards products which reflect the demands of ever-evolving environmental concerns and government regulations, there is going to be a need for those of us in the industry to address changing distributional models.

Changing Distribution

As I just mentioned, the entry to new equipment into the market often, searching for distribution channels often leads to the doors of the rental equipment industry, which has seen significant consolidation over the past two decades.

The equipment most common to the rental industry will continue to primarily move through rental distributors such as United Rentals, Sunbelt, H&E, and Herc as well as independent distributors, both large and small. 

An OEM that secures distribution through these channels can gain immediate national exposure. However, landing an order with these rental powerhouses is no easy feat. 

They require large-scale production and a robust support team, among other criteria.

The distribution model for utility lifts mirrors the current construction distribution model. 

OEMs for truck-mounted booms such as Altec, Time, and Terex, have each taken their own paths in building distribution networks. 

Altec sells directly to its customers, while Terex relies on a network of dealers throughout the U.S., and Time offers a variety of machines through its extensive map of dealers.

Now, the question is, will these traditional channels be capable of being responsible for fleets of different types of electric equipment?

Will they be able to take on new products introduced to the marketplace which evolve from new industry guidelines?

A New Case Study in Niche Market Penetration

To answer these questions, we can take a look at a product, that like the other niche products I mentioned in the January-February issue of Lift and Access, are not commonly found in rental company fleets in the United States. 

This new lift is from Lift Up, a Canadian company with around 30 years of experience. 

It is a type of aerial platform which consists of a specially designed Lift Up RH38DGA insulated aerial ladder (like a fire truck). This unique lift has a fiberglass bucket attached to the end of the boom which can lift a total weight of 350 lbs. to a 38' working height. 

It mounts on the top of a Ford low roof utility van. The basket is accessible from the rear bumper.  

Because the basket is fiberglass and the boom aluminum, it can safely work around 48 KV electricity. No outriggers are needed for full elevation or for the boom to be fully extended over the side of the van. 

Originally designed for traditional Ford low roof vans with internal combustion engines, it also operates boom functions off its own battery system, which can be charged anytime the van is running.

This means there is zero carbon footprint when performing lifting operations with the truck turned off.

So how does all this effect the Lift UP distribution model? Also, why would a product like this suddenly have a market that had been dismissed many years ago?  

Well, as first mentioned, the boom and bucket when working, runs off its own battery and has no carbon footprint. Ford’s new EV powered low roof van can be fitted with the Lift UP system.  

Secondly, the van and boom can be driven to the job site and does not need a large delivery truck to get it there. 

This usually requires a CDL licensed driver that you probably know is becoming harder and harder to find and more difficult to keep due to government and state regulations. 

If a product like Lift UP's aerial device becomes popular and necessary due to the demands for reducing emissions, how will this affect the distribution base?  

Will the manufacturer be forced to hire a massive field technical staff, or train people to handle all the electrical training needed for distribution service technicians?  Or, will the product even find its way into the standard rental system? 

A New Way

The answer is probably a new hybrid distribution model. The ladder must be mounted to the van, which will require a third-party relationship with a truck company.

For this specific example, this would be Rush Truck, a large and successful truck sales company. 

Next, the original manufacturer must have a solid and direct relationship with Ford to maintain design specific parameters.  

Another consideration is that the equipment rental company who needs to provide the product to their customers, will want to buy the complete package, not the individual pieces while having to learn to mount the boom. 

This will require the truck partner, Rush to buy the van from Ford to match the customer demand for an internal combustion engine or an EV model.  

Finally, who pushes the concept to the customer and or end user? Obviously, the rental channel could be the seller.  

The product could also be sold by the manufacturer importer (Lift UP) or the truck mounting company, or even Ford themselves if the company is already buying trucks from them directly.  

Another option is to establish a working relationship with a specialist truck vendor who takes finished truck products with special attributes and seeks out bidding opportunities for jobs requiring that type of equipment. In this case, this would be City Truck Rental.

With locations in key cities and an eagerness to embrace new products, City Rent a Truck is an ideal choice.

The Lift Up model RH38DGA was recently featured at their open house, where they educated potential customers about the product, with a comprehensive Q&A session that included insights from Ford, Rush, and Lift Up representatives.

Stay tuned for the Spring issue of Telecom and Utility Construction, where we’ll dive deeper into Lift Up’s electric van-mounted lift.

Future of Distribution

Distribution plays a critical role in the lifecycle of lift and access equipment. Multiple players from multiple distribution positions will need to work together to sell a new concept product to the rental market. 

It will certainly require strong, consistent communication between all operations along with specific roles and guidelines of responsibility. And most importantly, shared liability and shared success among all parties. 

Sound expensive? Too many hands in the pie? Well, in normal times that may be the case, but these are not normal times. As you can see, distribution is no longer just about getting products from A to B. 

 It’s about forging partnerships that resonate with shared goals, understanding the nuanced needs of the industry, and delivering products through channels that value addition and growth.

The high demand for rental equipment means finding the right distributor is crucial, though it may require considerable effort. 

Phil Duane is the Owner of Schempp Wholesale. He can be reached at phil.duane@schemppwholesale.com


Lift & Access is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.