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An Aerial View

Lizzy Lift Is Building a Business That’s Reaching for the Sky

An Aerial View

There’s an old saying that says it’s better to be lucky than good.

In the tricky mobile aerial platform industry, it helps to be both.

Lizzy Lift is a boutique rental operation in Elmhurst, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, that specializes in niche scissor lifts.

The company was started by sisters Jennifer Lombard and Liz Brugioni in 1998 out of a spareroom in the Brugioni’s house. They invested every penny they had into just 12 pieces of equipment, all scissor lifts, of course, and now they supply thousands of worksites from Seattle to Puerto Rico, Mexico and even Canada.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were young and motivated because we knew we had found our niche,” Lombard told Lift and Access. “There was no plan B.”

The sisters were raised in the Midwestern equipment rental industry and learned the ropes from their dad, who supported his family as owner and operator of a forklift rental agency. 

It was working for their dad where they learned the intricacies of providing old-fashioned, hometown customer service; the importance of tactical logistics and how to get lucky by spotting an opportunity.

“In the early days, everyone was renting the same equipment, so we learned quickly that the way to stand out was by offering what the other rental companies weren’t,” Lombard recalled.

That was the “ah-ha” moment for Lizzy Lift, and what came next might be called a little lucky. As Lombard and Brugioni slowly built their business, behind the scenes, online retailers like Amazon and Walmart were building the first mega warehouses where smaller, more capable lifts would become essential.

“I’ve always had a bit of a super-power when it came to identifying trends, and I spotted the demand for these lifts about a decade early,” Lombard recalled.

Lombard used her superpower to be the first equipment rental company in North America to rent the PD-S320s, from German company PB Lifttechnik GmbH. These lifts are widespread in Europe and Asia, where space has long been at a premium, forcing businesses to build upward versus outward for decades. The lack of available land for the current generation of hulking fulfillment and warehousing facilities forced builders to find ways to maximize vertical as well as horizontal spaces.

In order to satisfy the seemingly endless demand for “right now” shopping fulfillment, these retailers have invested billions in vast networks of automatic racking systems. Picture a scene straight out of the Matrix, where robots harvest endless rows of 100-foot racks stocked with items like couches, flat-screen TVs and frozen pizzas, in real time, before being packaged and shipped to customers.

Twisting throughout these facilities is a labyrinth of towering racks, which form a maze of serpentine paths, impossible to navigate with anything much wider than a shopping cart.

Montaze Broz, a company working out of St. Petersburg, Fla. but based in Pardubice, Czech Republic, builds and installs these automatic racking systems across four continents for companies like Amazon, Walmart, Lego and Nestle.

“We used Lizzy Lift because they were the only ones who had the lifts we needed,” Michael Prajsler, a project manager here in North America for Montaez Broz, told Lift and Access. “We literally wouldn’t have been able to do our job without Lizzy Lift’s PBs.”

The PB scissor lifts Prajsler is referring to are less than 6-feet wide, fully electric, noiseless, fluidless and emissionless lifts that are the only ones on the continent that can reach, and operate at height, 105-feet in the air.

The U.S. has been fortunate to be able to build out, instead of up, for nearly our entire history thanks to the vast expanses of land available for development. However, the desire from consumers for instant fulfillment, combined with skyrocketing real estate prices, have forced builders to find innovative ways to build these new facilities upward as far as outward.

Having the foresight to get those PB lifts on hand — along with the hard-earned wisdom of how to conquer the logistical obstacles that come with getting the new lifts on site — is what has made Lizzy Lift the go-to stop for the array of niche lifts needed to build these new megacenters.

“These lifts are useful because of their compact size, reach and carrying capacity,” Prajsler said. “Boom lifts can’t get there so while the lifts are efficient, safe and save us a lot of time and money, they’re also crucial, just from an access standpoint.”

Lizzy Lift currently has about 50 of the 105-foot PBs on hand, and — taking a trick they learned from their dad — the lifts are strategically spread out across the continent for efficient transport. 

“The most expensive aspect of these machines, aside from buying them, is getting them from job site to job site,” Lombard lamented. “Since the job sites where these lifts are needed are spread out all over the country, we knew immediately that we’d have to stage them all over to satisfy demand.”

Demand for these specialty lifts can be feast or famine, Lombard told Lift and Access, with fleets of the specialized lifts needed for initial construction, which often lasts for months, with demand waning as the project nears completion.

“There’s a lot of juggling, so being in constant communication with our customers is the key to our business. Schedules always change and projects are always going to get delayed, so knowing what our customers are going to need, and when they’re going to need it, has always been at the heart of what we do everyday.”

These prolonged rentals, combined with the streaky and unpredictable demand, have led to occasional problems due to the equipment being onsite for so long.

“No one will ever take care of your equipment like you do, especially the batteries,” Lombard said with a laugh. “These PBs are very reliable, but just like with all specialized equipment, they require trained operators to capitalize on their efficiency.”

This is the dilemma rental companies like Lizzy Lift face with these types of lifts, and it also echoes throughout nearly every sector of the construction industry; the glaring lack of skilled workers. Due to the increasing technical complexity of the lifts, ensuring end users are qualified to operate these foreign, noiseless, emissionless and fluidless lifts requires special training, which all-too often doesn’t happen.  

However, just offering training for end users hasn’t been effective in minimizing the inefficiencies that emerge when new workers have to operate unfamiliar equipment. Lombard estimates that about 25% of the service calls they field are due to operator error or unfamiliarity with the lifts, costing rental companies time to dispatch a technician while the lift sits idle.

“We’ve been offering custom training for end users for more than a decade,” Lombard said. “But, if only one or two guys on a job site are trained, and they leave or get promoted, we’re right back to square one again.”

Getting workers trained, and keeping them trained on the equipment, has long vexed foremen and rental companies alike.

“Companies should invest in themselves — and investing in the small amount of time it takes to get trained on the equipment would save at least twice as much downtime for operator error or unfamiliarity with the lifts,” Lombard said. “We still train thousands of users every year, but it’s still on an ad-hoc basis. Our experience informs us that if job sites had training managers it would not only increase overall efficiency but will also increase safety.”

Another issue with these lifts is the gargantuan electrical load required to charge the batteries, requiring a dedicated, 240-volt, 30-amp breaker, which is the standard in Europe but not here in the U.S. with our 110-volt grid.

In order to overcome this, diesel generators are brought on site to charge these essential lifts, bringing more equipment, pollution and noise to charge these “green,” all-electric machines, which is extremely inefficient.

You’d think that, for an industry so focused on squeezing every drop of efficiency out of every step in the building process, simple training would be a no-brainer. However, the hurdles mentioned earlier have allowed inefficiencies to creep into the industry. 

“Job sites are living, breathing things. They change in split seconds,” Lombard said. “We make it a point to stay in constant communication with our clients. Nothing can replace good customer service.”

With all of this talk about automation and technology, it turns out that some old-fashioned industry wisdom, combined with a knowledgeable, friendly voice on the other end of the phone (and maybe just a bit of luck), is still the recipe for success in the scissor lift sector.

“We originally went to Lizzy Lift because we had to,” Prajsler confessed. “We still work with them because they’re the best at what they do.”


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