Equipment Purchasing Tips for the Newbie Contractor

If you're just starting a sewer and drain cleaning business, keep this advice in mind as you're preparing for your first big investment.
Equipment Purchasing Tips for the Newbie Contractor
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Starting up a new business can be challenging. There is a lot to consider, from what area to cover, to the extent of services to offer, to how you’re going to make yourself visible to your target customers. While there is plenty to tweak and perfect as you find your way through the business world, you can’t head down that road until you do one thing first: Purchase equipment.

Once contractors are well established in their business, buying equipment may be easy. But what should they be thinking about when they’re new to the game and preparing to make that first major investment in equipment?

New or used?
“A lot of contractors, when they’re first getting started, look at purchasing used equipment,” says Rick Kempher, sales manager at LMT, a manufacturer of industrial vacuum equipment.

Whether it’s a hydroexcavator, a trencher, or a pipe bursting system, going the used route can net you a better deal dollar-wise. But if you’re not careful about what you buy, used equipment can lead to you looking for a replacement sooner than you’d like. For example, Kempher’s expertise is in vacuum units, and he says the tank is an item that warrants careful inspection before purchasing something used.

“You really need to have the tanks checked to see what the thickness is on them, especially the bottom of the tank. We’ve had a lot of people who have gotten started in the business by buying used trucks off the Internet. And sometimes, once they get them, they last less than a year and the tanks are rusting out. That would be something for someone just starting out to really watch for before making a purchase.”

You can avoid a problem like that by going brand-new with your equipment, but that of course means more expense that may be difficult to handle during the startup of a business.

Weighing benefits against a budget
“A lot of customers will call me and say something like, ‘I have $30,000 to buy a complete unit, but I want to go with a new tank.’ Well, that’s not very realistic,” Kempher says. “Say the equipment body and pump is going to be around $25,000. If all they have is a $30,000 budget, that doesn’t give them much room to fit in the chassis. That’s the biggest thing we get: People trying to work within a tight budget, and it’s very difficult with new equipment.”

Kempher says contractors must weigh the benefits of buying new equipment against the budget they’re working with and the extra costs that may potentially arise going the used route. Used equipment can mean repair costs down the road that wouldn’t have happened with new equipment, which comes with the additional benefit of being under warranty for a certain period of time depending on the manufacturer.

“It’s just like buying a car,” Kempher says. “If you buy a used one, you don’t know what you’re going to get exactly. You have to figure in the maintenance cost on a used system. You’re still going to have some maintenance for a new one, but you won’t have the repair issues with a new unit that you would likely have with a used one.”

For example, the vacuum pump on a used truck could be recently replaced or 10 years old.

“A lot of people will replace their tank but they don’t replace the pump system,” Kempher says. “So you’ll end up having issues with the pump shortly down the road whereas you wouldn’t with a new unit.”

Do your homework
No matter the cost or whether a tool is new or used, the bottom line is it has to be able to get the job done. Kempher says many contractors have a sufficient understanding of what they’re going to need from their equipment in order to do the type of work they’re getting into. From there, it’s just about fitting those needs within their budget. However, there are also contractors on the other end of the spectrum.

“There are certain things they need to figure out ahead of time as far as what they’re wanting to work into a budget price,” Kempher says. “A lot depends on what their specific needs are. It’s very hard to advise someone if they’re not sure what they need because it varies all over the country.”

That is where a manufacturer’s demo day can be helpful. By getting some firsthand experience with equipment at a demo day, contractors can determine if it will fit within their scope of work. LMT held a demo day at its Galva, Illinois, manufacturing facility recently for its HX-4000 SMART-DIG hydroexcavator.

“It can give them a good idea about the capacity of the unit they’re looking at buying,” Kempher says. “Our unit (the HX-4000) is specifically designed for smaller jobs. It’s not a big industrial unit for digging into high rock areas. It will do small rock. If it’s utility locating or foundation work, it works perfect. When you get into the big 5,000 or 6,000 cfm units, they’re good for pretty much anything, but they’re very costly.

“It goes back to looking at your size and what you actually need to do the job, then not unnecessarily spending the extra money for a piece of equipment. A demo day can show a contractor if a unit will do the job for them or not.”


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