Successful companies, particularly those remaining few that manage to stay successful for decades or more, are like living organisms — kept alive and thriving by their ability to adapt to changes in the environment, or marketplace, in which they exist.
That is abundantly evident in the case of Linder Industrial Machinery. The equipment distributor and service company, based in Plant City, Fla., is celebrating 60 years in business right now not by congratulating itself on its past, but working to ensure its continued success in the future.
One of the Southeast's Top Firms
Linder evolved from modest beginnings in the 1950s to being recognized today as one of the country's top equipment dealerships, with locations throughout Florida and the Carolinas, according to the company.
As part of its continued evolution, Linder has adopted the policy of identifying the wants of its customers before adding product lines or services, such as it did in 1975, when it became the exclusive dealership of Komatsu in Florida. The resulting partnership between Linder and Komatsu has become a very lucrative asset for contractors in the southeastern U.S.
And the practice of listening closely to its customer has also grown to become Linder's corporate philosophy.
“I see it as being customer concentric,” said John Coughlin, Linder's president since 2010. “It is listening to them and finding out what their specific needs and goals are and what they are trying to achieve because it is impossible for any company without that inside knowledge to really succeed today.
“We want to know how we can be a better resource and value to that customer,” he said. “It is absolutely critical first to sit down and develop a relationship and understanding. Our core strength comes from that close understanding and how we can become more of an essential component in the value that they are trying to sell to their clients.”
Although Komatsu has become Linder's main line of equipment, the firm has brought on other product lines such as Wirtgen, Midland, Entryre and Genesis, to name but a few. Just recently, Linder added Konecranes forklifts along with Atlas and Mantsinen material handlers to its lineup.
Parts and Service Are Upgraded
Linder has placed an emphasis in the last few years on upgrading the service side of its business in response to conversations with customers.
Coughlin acknowledged that with the stresses on the equipment marketplace in the last several years, it has been very challenging for companies like Linder to survive, much less remain in a profitable position.
“Obviously, we have had to adjust to the market, but I would say over the past four years we have experienced a significant amount of growth and improvement in our facilities and our people — especially in product support,” Coughlin said. “We have taken a different approach with our products in that we find it is most advantageous to have specialists and support a certain product in more of a targeted way rather than hopping between different brands and different models. We think this is a better way to support our customers and the products we sell to them.”
A Higher Level of Care
One example of Linder's strong partnerships with itsmanufacturers can be found in the range of services offered through its Komatsu line. Both Komatsu CARE and KOMTRAX are two maintenance solutions developed to give customers expert care for their machines.
Komatsu CARE is a complete service and advanced product support system offered to customers throughout the life of their equipment, while KOMTRAX is both a wireless equipment monitoring system and a secure, web-based application for reviewing performance and maintenance data that KOMTRAX collects and sends to customers.
Coughlin said that the ease of bringing KOMTRAX to his customers has been by educating them on the benefits they can accrue through this service. He added that this is where a well-trained Linder specialist can help.
“The development of specialists in specific segments has been a major benefit to our customer,” Coughlin said. “Komatsu introduced the intelligent machine control system, which runs the blade automatically on a dozer.
“Certainly it does take someone with engineering skills to be able read CAD drawings, as well as someone who is very computer literate and can pull the client prospective into play. We provide customers with a specialist who can intertwine all those components to show them how these services can be used to, say, reduce their costs of running a piece of equipment on a job and to be able to achieve a grade that's precise to their plan.”
Linder has continued to develop its business in direct correlation to customers needs, Coughlin said.
He characterized the evolution of rental demand from a combination of customer input and a corporate recognition of which benefits can better serve their needs.
“In the past, we rented equipment in a very generic fashion,” Coughlin said, “but now we have a specific division that focuses on the rental market through 'Komatsu Rents' and they have become a huge asset to our customers.”
Linder's used equipment division is another example of providing what the customers are looking for. The demand for low hour equipment is very strong. Through the trade-in and Komatsu Remarketing resources, Linder maintains a very large inventory.
Through Linder's eParts Central service, customers can check the inventory, order their own parts, learn how quickly they can get these parts and find out what they cost.
“As part of that, they have an option to check on the availability of used parts, too,” Coughlin said. “We have a division that focuses specifically on what those options are for a customer, including OEM [original equipment manufacturer] parts, where we provide options for all brands of equipment for them.”
Sticking to Its Core Products
Coughlin and his management team don't feel the need to add new lines of equipment or new services just for the sake of being able to say that they offer everything the customers need.
“Many dealers in the U.S. try to be all things to all people, but with past experience of other distributors, we have found that it is impossible to be in that position and be great at what we do,” he said. “I believe that the focus on the earthmoving and road building products that we sell and the specialist approach we employ has certainly given us a leg up on other companies that end up drifting away from their core products.”
Key members of Linder's management team with Coughlin include Bob Olejniczak, executive vice president of sales and marketing; Neil Thie, general parts manager; Ronnie Sims, general manager of Komatsu Rents; Floyd Kosinsky, senior product support manager; Brian Brennaman, used equipment manager; and Peggy Smith, CFO and senior vice president of finance.
All of these professionals have led Linder to the point where, today, according to the company, they enjoy a stellar reputation and a solid basis for future growth.
A Bright Future
To achieve that growth, Coughlin and his team are in an expansionist mood. Future locations are planned in all three states Linder currently serves. They include a new 38,000 sq. ft. facility in Charlotte and a 26,000 sq. ft. office in Orlando, both slated to open in 2014. In addition, Coughlin said that other offices are planned for the Hilton Head, S.C., area and in Tallahassee, Fla.
What does the next five to 10 years have in store for Linder?
“Well, there is no question that we need to take a look at our footprint and how we can better serve the market in that existing footprint,” Coughlin said.
“I think that the southeast's ports are going to be a bigger focus and with more material coming in due to the Panama Canal expansion the region's infrastructure will have to grow and certainly our earthmoving and road building equipment will command a much higher demand.”
After six decades in business, Coughlin feels that Linder has been able to establish a rock-solid reputation in the marketplace and everything they do in the future will be geared toward strengthening that standing.
“Many of the contractors that we work with are working on projects further and further away from where they are based and I think that it is huge advantage for them as they can pick up the phone and deal with the same people at Linder that they were dealing with at their main location and still have access to our services,” Coughlin said. “Sixteen locations in three states covering the southeastern US. That is probably the most powerful statement that we can make to our customers.”