Pacific Utility Equipment Expands To Provide Local Service on a Regional Scale

March 1, 1999
PACIFIC Utility Equipment Company continues to expand its presence in the West with multiple locations to better serve customers. One of the newest service

PACIFIC Utility Equipment Company continues to expand its presence in the West with multiple locations to better serve customers. One of the newest service centers is in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Roy Goecks, president of Pacific Utility Equipment Company refers to his branches as service centers. Pacific Utility has a service center at its home office in Portland, Oregon.

Other service centers are in Reno, Nevada; Seattle and Spokane, Washington; and Sacramento and Ontario, California. At each location, Pacific Utility services aerial lifts, digger derricks, cranes, cable equipment, snow cats, sewer cleaners, sweepers, trailers, and tub grinders.

"The emphasis is changing from sales to service," says Wayne Miller, manager of the service center in Salt Lake City. "Parts and service are becoming a larger portion of business at each service center because trucks are lasting longer."

An advantage with multiple locations is that vehicles can be built at the location closest to the customer, Miller says. Before vehicles are built, customers and mechanics have a meeting so there are no misunderstandings in specifications.

Hands-On Customer Inspections

Customers can inspect the vehicle as it is being built and make changes, he says. Before the vehicle is painted, the customer has another opportunity to make an inspection.

"We want to see if everything's in the right location and if anything needs to be added," Miller says. "While the truck is built, customers become more involved in the process and take more ownership in the vehicle."

The Salt Lake City service center has a 17,000-sq-ft shop and 4,000 square feet of space used for offices and parts. The service center is a full-line truck equipment distributor with the exception of dump bodies.

"We carry a broad range of truck equipment with the exception of dump bodies because of price competition," Miller says. "We handle more sanders and plows, but they're not our core business. In Salt Lake City, we do more work installing and servicing aerial devices and digger derricks."

In 1998, the Salt Lake City service center did $6.2 million in business, Miller says. About 75% of that was new equipment installation

Truck-mounted street sweepers and sewer cleaners are 15% to 20% of new equipment installations, he says. The other 55% of new equipment installations are aerial devices and digger derricks. Another 25% is parts and service.

Most of the Salt Lake City customers are utility companies, municipalities, the Utah Department of Transportation, cable television, and telephone companies. Only one other aerial device distributor in Salt Lake City competes for these customers.

Utah Service Center

Pacific Utility bought the Salt Lake City service center in February 1993 from the WH Pingree Company. Pingree was in the same business as Pacific Utility and carried the same product lines, including Hi-Ranger, Versalift, and Simon-Telelect, which is now known as Terex Telelect.

More aerial devices and digger derricks are mounted on large truck chassis in the Salt Lake City service center than in each of the other service centers, Miller says. Customers in Utah need the larger chassis because of the rough terrain in the local area.

Vehicles are sometimes built on chassis such as an Oshkosh 6x6 used for setting and maintaining telephone poles that carry utility lines. The trucks are often used off-road in desert and sage brush.

Poles used off-road are usually larger in diameter and farther apart from each other. The farther apart the poles are, the taller they have to be. This requires the heavy-duty digger derricks sold and serviced by Pacific Utility.

Service centers operate independently of the parent company in an effort to better serve customers in the local market, Miller says. Even though the service centers are independent of each other, they handle the same products.

In addition to the same products, different items are sold by each location. The Salt Lake City service center sells more snowplows than either Portland or Seattle.

Different Product Offerings

Camel sewer cleaners and Johnston street sweepers are some of the truck-mounted equipment sold in Salt Lake City. But these products are not sold by the Pacific Utility service center in southern California because Camel and Johnston already have strong distributors there.

The Salt Lake City service center carries a wide variety of products for customers spread over a wide geographical base, Miller says. A customer base in Boise, Idaho, is 350 miles, and another large concentration of customers in Las Vegas, Nevada, is 400 miles.

"As time goes on, we will probably establish a service center in Las Vegas," Miller says.

Pacific Utility currently has a fleet of 12 service trucks spread between its locations that maintain customers' vehicles. The field service trucks are operated by full-time mechanics and each carries a parts inventory of $5,000.

Besides routine maintenance and repair work, the mechanics have tools for annual tests and inspections. One of the services performed by the mechanics is a dielectric test, which is an ANSI requirement.

The dielectric test is a common way to check the integrity of the insulation on an aerial device, Miller says. The boom on an aerial device is charged with 50,000 volts to see if the boom insulation prevents the transmission of electricity.

"Some companies specialize in inspection and testing at customer locations, but they don't make repairs," Miller says. "We have a factory-trained mechanic that can make repairs and has a service truck and parts needed for the most common repairs."

Highly Qualified Mechanics

In Salt Lake City, Pacific Utility's biggest parts customers are the mechanics that make repairs in its service department, Miller says. Mechanics are highly qualified in all aspects of repair work, and those assigned to service trucks are journeyman craftsmen.

The service truck mechanics must weld, trouble shoot, and repair electrical and hydraulic components. Because of the specialized services and work performed by Pacific Utility mechanics, the shop labor rate is $62 per hour. This compares to shops that charge $45 to $48 an hour to install truck bodies such as dumps, flatbeds, and service bodies.

"We're priced out of generic truck body installations," Miller says.

The truck bodies mounted by Pacific Utility are most often customized to work with digger derricks and aerial devices.

Local Customer Service

Another advantage Pacific Utility offers is proximity to its customers, Miller says. The distributor encourages customers to make inspections of vehicles being built so they are configured to their exact specifications.

"They may look at a shovel rack installed on their truck and after seeing it they want the rack moved," Miller says. "We can relocate something as simple as a step if they're not happy with the location. Usually it's something minor, but it could be of major importance to the end user or line crew.

"It's always better when the end user looks at the truck rather than someone like a fleet manager because the end user lives with the truck."

Pacific Utility's focus on the end user is the result of the emphasis on service centers, Miller says. The distributor's only locations were in Portland, Oregon, Seattle and Spokane, Washington, for 25 years before it opened additional service centers.

"This is the way our business has evolved," Miller says. "Our growth has been phenomenal."

Pacific Utility began its expansion in 1992 when it opened a service center in Sacramento, California. The Salt Lake City service center was purchased in 1993.

In 1995, a truck equipment shop was purchased in Reno, Nevada, followed in 1998 by the purchase of Simon Westcoast in Ontario, California. Pacific Utility purchased additional property in Ontario where in the next 12 months it plans to build a larger facility to service Southern California.

Consistent Company Growth

"Pacific Utility has experienced growth every year because of its emphasis on parts and service," Miller says.

In 1998, the service center in Salt Lake City had 20% growth in parts and service. The service center's rental business in 1998 was $245,000, compared to the 1997 rental income of $28,000 for truck-mounted equipment.

Equipment rented from the Salt Lake City service center includes aerial devices, digger derricks, street sweepers, and sewer cleaners. The large increase in rental business resulted from the availability of equipment.

The trucks leased by Pacific Utility are owned by Compass Equipment Leasing in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Compass is a subsidiary of the Asplundh Tree Company, which decided last year to lease utility equipment.

In 1998, Pacific Utility built 135 trucks for Compass Equipment Leasing. The trucks are stationed at all seven of Pacific Utility's service centers.

Pacific Utility continues to be a leader in the truck equipment industry with its emphasis on service centers, equipment leasing, and sales of parts and new equipment. In addition to the parts stocked on service trucks, the Salt Lake City service center has a parts inventory of $450,000.

The company has grown considerably since 1967 when it was started in Portland by Roy Goecks. Today, Pacific Utility has combined sales of just under $50 million at seven service centers.

About the Author

Mark Nutter