After a decade in business, Crane Solutions in Savannah, Ga., has proved it is a model for weathering economic storms. The company was founded in 2004 during favorable economic times, only to encounter one of the worst economic conditions just a few years later.
Owner, Brian Dooley began his career with a thriving lawn care company in metro Atlanta. He built it up, sold it to another company and moved to Savannah to try his hand at the crane business. In 1997, Dooley began working for Dozier Crane. He came into the business with no background in the crane industry. Dozier Cook, Dooley’s father-in-law, took him under his wing and taught him the business.
“I did everything from sales, to erecting cranes, tearing cranes down and driving a truck, you name it, I did it,” Dooley said. “I wasn’t just a salesman. I learned all aspects of the crane business. When I rented a crane, I had to tear it down, load it and I had to move it myself. So, I had to learn how to operate cranes too. I had to pressure wash, paint and anything else you can think of that is needed for cranes, booms, blocks, etc. I’ve done it all, from conventional truck cranes, to hydraulic cranes, to crawler cranes — all of it. That’s how I got in the crane business.”
Dooley’s crane knowledge helped him land and develop rental accounts while at Dozier and further his knowledge and expertise in the rental market. He learned all aspects of lattice boom cranes, hydraulic truck cranes and rough terrain cranes.
Dooley worked for Dozier Crane for seven years. Dozier approached Dooley on a Sunday afternoon and suggested they start a new crane company. “Upon start up, I had decided that the name for the new company be Crane Source. However, when we went to incorporate the company (whether by intention or not-I’m not sure), Dozier put down the name as Crane Solutions, Inc. And the rest is history!” said Dooley.
After eight years of being a partnership, Dozier felt the timing was right for Dooley to buyout the company and the transition began.
When Dooley first started looking for property for Crane Solutions, the main concern was location. He had already purchased another yard in Hardeeville, S.C., which was designated to be the first location, but didn’t have the advantages of the Savannah location he was interested in. Dozier and Dooley purchased the Savannah property in late 2005, and moved into it in July of 2007.
The shop is located near the port of Savannah with shipping lines directly to Africa, and to the ports of Jacksonville and Miami, which has helped the company’s South American business.
The full-service facility is built specifically for crane repairs, paint work, cylinder work, electrical work and total rebuilds.
At the time, Dozier was growing at a fast pace, and getting into a lot of newer machines and high-end rentals.
“He and I thought it might be a good idea that I start selling some of the ’older stuff.’ We did that for a short amount of time and then the boom in the economy and crane sales hit, and before you know it, I was selling million dollar pieces, new pieces and rentals on my own,” said Dooley.
The company grew quickly, and Dooley took advantage of prosperous economic times. Crane Solutions went from zero to $33 million in revenue in about three and a half years.
The company carries anywhere between 15 to 40 machines for sale at any given time — dependent upon the market fluctuations. In order to diversify his business, Dooley keeps up to a dozen machines out on rent at any given time. He said that growing the rental business is a focus not only for rough terrain cranes, but in the crawlers too.
Crane Solutions was the first SANY crane dealer in the United States. “At the time, if you ordered a crawler crane there was a one year waiting list on Link-Belt, Terex and Manitowoc. We knew that the crawler cranes in China were available immediately. Neither of us were familiar with the cranes in China so Dozier and I decided to take a trip and inspect the Fusion and SANYfactories.” said Dooley. The two found the Sany products would meet their immediate needs and purchased (2) Sany SCC 1500 cranes — one for Dozier Crane the other for Crane Solutions.
On another trip to China, Dozier and Dooley had a meeting with the CEO of Sany. “We offered to purchase a 300-ton crawler crane if they would bring it to the U.S. and put it in the 2008 ConExpo show in Las Vegas. This was the very first 300-ton Sany in the U.S. and the first 300-ton to be sold in the USA. This crane was sold at ConExpo to Custom Truck & Equipment based in Missouri,” said Dooley.
Crane Solutions maintained a dealership status for the SANY line from 2006 to 2010.
“The departure was simple, when the economy took a turn in 2009, we weren’t buying any new cranes, and quite frankly, I don’t think a lot of people were buying any new ones at the time. After two years of not buying any new cranes, SANY wanted to know if I was buying or not. We really didn’t need to buy million dollar cranes that we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to sell or rent. So we parted ways with the manufacturer on very friendly terms. That was the only new equipment line we ever had. Now we’re selling used machines from manufacturers such as Grove, Terex, Tadano, Link-Belt and others. At the time we departed from new sales, we were just weathering the downturn. We started focusing on less expensive used $100,000 cranes that we could turn and be profitable on and frankly, it’s what the people were buying at the time. We were just gearing down, like you need to during a tough economy.”
Understanding the big picture for his business plan, Dooley said sales will always be the key focus, rentals secondary and service and repair will be a smaller part of the overall business.
“If you need an alternator for your crane, I’m not the guy. If you have a big job and need all boom cylinders repacked and all outriggers done and LMI upgrade, I’m the guy. We’re not specifically out looking for repair work, but we have the capability to do whatever is needed for our customers. Our technicians have been through both Terex and Grove certifications. Two of my chief technicians are from the U.K. and are even certified in welding and sheet metal work, and have CDL licenses. It’s a big deal to be a technician in the U.K. where the training is very intense and in-depth. We have a team of extremely skilled mechanics, there’s nothing they can’t do. They go wherever needed throughout the country or abroad. Whether it’s a rental or something we’ve sold to someone they’ll service it.”
Now that the industry is bouncing back, Dooley said he’s seeing resurgence in business. In fact, 2014 was the best year the company has seen since 2008, and 2015 is looking to be just as promising.
Dooley gives high praise to his staff.
“It’s like the Oscars, I’d like to acknowledge everyone in the organization, but Paul Wilson is my chief employee. He is the vice president of the company and has been with me for nine years. He’s very vital to my business. Also, Shea Hatch has been with me for eight years. She takes care of the money. I appreciate my employees. They’re all amazing. The strength of the company is the people.”
When asked about growth and expansion, Dooley said “in the crane business people come to you. I could have built three more locations and probably not have any more business. We don’t get a lot of walk in’s in this business. One thing we are looking at for expansion is getting into the small carry deck crane rental business. For this business, we will need to add another salesman. We’re an international sales company. We sell cranes all over the world. This salesman is going to be someone to focus on our local markets and the entire Southeast.
Dooley’s philosophy is to under promise and over deliver.
“I’m always going to give a little more than you expect. The reason I say this is because a lot of people in sales over promise and under deliver, and it’s usually a disappointment. When you get something from us, you usually get more than you asked for. That’s the key to our volume of repeat business, which is incredible.”
The focus of this company has always been rough terrain cranes.
“We’re experts at rough terrain cranes, we know everything about them. In fact, it was our slogan for a while, ’your rough terrain experts.’ We’ve owned all kinds of cranes. Our focus has always been on hydraulic rough terrain cranes. Now we are moving into other parts of the crane business. As we go forward, I think that we’re just going to have to diversify a little bit more. The rough terrain crane market is not as strong as it used to be on the sales and rental side. More people have gotten into this business since we started specializing and I think we have to diversify to be able to be everything to everyone.”
Dooley made a few observations about the crane business.
“There’s no other business I’d rather be in during any economy. I’ll take this over any other business any day. It’s rewarding, it’s a lot of fun and I don’t have to wear a suit and tie every day. I think the domestic crane market is headed for a huge upswing. For as long as I can remember, the bulk of our business has been export. That’s always been about 70 percent of our business or more. Last year was the first year ever that the domestic side was 80 percent of our business. And this year’s trending the same way. Most of the people calling us now are domestic buyers.”
Sourcing cranes is something that can be challenging and Dooley is rather selective in his purchases.
“Because people know what we buy, we get calls and e-mails from people that come to us with their machines. Everything I buy is from the United States and most of the time, people come to me.”
One thing that differentiates us is having a presence — with a top-notch facility. It’s one of those simple things that give people trust in us that we’re doing the right thing. When you drive up to our business, you can see that we’re for real. It’s not that we have a facility, but we have a nice facility. And that’s a big deal. Another big deal is having inventory. We own everything we rent or sell.”
When asked about his business dealings with his previous employer, Dozier Cook, Dooley has nothing but high praise and a few jokes.
“We work back and forth. He buys from me and I buy from him. We rent back and forth too. We do a lot of business together. But for the most part, he deals with a different client than we do. He deals with a larger crawler customer, new Terex customers and newer model cranes. I’m working with the used rough terrain crane customer. We’re in different categories. We’re probably better now than when I worked for him.” When you’re related to someone and you work with them every day, it’s sometimes hard to spend the weekend with them. Now it’s just the opposite.”
“I think he [Dozier] was happy to see me succeed, and that’s part of our relationship that is now stronger. He knows what it takes to do what I did. I did it and now we’re more of peers than employer-employee. For that reason I think our relationship is stronger. I’m not a part of Dozier Crane, but we’re family and we’re happy working together. I don’t think either one of us expected this place to do as well as it has as quickly as it has.
“My personal opinion of doing business is to give people more than what they expected and they’ll always come back. As I said before, under promise and over deliver. If you do that, you’re not going to have too many unhappy customers.
Crane Solutions is located at 58 Telfair Place, Savannah, Ga.
For more information, call 912/234-1300 or visit www.cranesolutionsonline.com.
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