In 1985 Ron Barlet was hired by his wife’s family to liquidate the assets of Bejac Corporation in Placentia, Calif. He took a 90-day leave of absence from his job in the finance sector to help end the family’s 30-year run in the underground pipeline contracting business.
Fast forward 30 years and Bejac’s equipment, mostly Link-Belt excavators with Genesis demolition attachments, has 17 machines on the Apple Computer Campus job in Cupertino, Calif.
Those in-between years are a story of adaptation, diversification and survival in the equipment industry.
Barlet failed to do the liquidation he was hired to do in 1985. While working to sell off the equipment remaining in Bejac’s fleet, he was approached by a contractor about renting an excavator that was still in the yard.
“I said ’ok you can rent it’, and suddenly there was a new revenue stream. In the 80’s rental was fairly unique and bare rental in its infancy. People purchased equipment, they didn’t rent it,” Barlet noted.
Over the weeks and months that followed, it became obvious to Barlet that the company could fill a need in the construction equipment rental market. He changed course, acquired the company and began to build what is now a powerhouse in the industry.
The first few years were about finding a niche.
“I always felt that we needed to specialize in something and be good at what we did,” Barlet said.
By the early 90’s that specialty was compaction equipment. Representing the Wacker and Hamm compaction lines, Bejac was one of the first companies to put delivery trucks on the road to deliver walk-behind compaction machines.
“In most cases we could deliver within an hour to our Southern California market,” he remembered.
In 1993, Bejac added Link-Belt excavators and Kawasaki loaders to its lineup as it rode the construction boom, which continued into the early 2000’s. By now, the company had added a location in Escondido, Calif., to serve the San Diego market.
When the downturn of 2007-2008 came, Bartlet knew the company would need to adapt again.
“Based on where the construction equipment business was at the end of ’08, and on predictions that it would be pretty slim for years to come, we took a long look at what we were and what we needed to do to ensure our long-term success,” he said.
Barlet’s team decided on two initiatives that would shape the company’s future. First, to expand its territory and secondly to expand into lines that were not traditional to the construction industry.
Barlet reasoned that his company “knew diesel engines and hydraulic pumps,” and that they could learn to service any equipment that utilized those two components.
Meanwhile, expanding from its original locations in Placentia and Escondido to seven locations throughout California by 2011, made the company attractive to single line manufacturers that preferred dealing with one strong distributor in the market rather than supporting several dealers.
During this time, Link-Belt and Kawasaki allowed Bejac to greatly expand its territory, replacing dealers that had not survived the recession, while manufacturers like Bandit, Komptech and TimberPro chose the company to represent their lines.
Suddenly Bejac was supporting not only the construction industry, but also demolition, logging, recycling, green waste and scrap handling.
“Once we took over the new lines our clientele changed immediately,” he said. “We started doing business with municipalities and companies like Sierra Pacific, the largest private landowner, and who most of our logging companies work for.”
“The key to success in previously unknown industries was knowing what we did know, and knowing what we needed to learn,” according to Barlet.
The company knew diesel engines and hydraulic pumps. They could learn the new industries, and that’s what they did, quickly joining the ISRI, US Compost Council, Association of California Loggers and other groups.
Barlet likened his company’s transformation to that of an automobile engine.
“In 2007 we had only one cylinder in our car, representing one main segment,” he said. “Each decision we’ve made has moved us incrementally to where we are now, allowing us more cylinders to work with.”
Where they are now is a $50 million a year equipment dealer serving multiple diverse industries.
The latest addition to Bejac’s lineup is the full Liebherr line. It is its first multi-product line and it significantly complements what it already sells. “Liebherr adds purpose built high reach demolition machines, larger excavators, hydrostatic wheel loaders, dozers and track loaders to our offerings,” Barlet said.
In addition to Liebherr, Link-Belt, Kawasaki, Bandit, Komptech and TimberPro, Bejac also represents Atlas Copco, Genesis and Hammel, as well as the CEC crushing and screening lines.
It now has six locations in California along with a full-service facility in Phoenix, Ariz., and a service center in Reno, Nev. Bejac also opened its own central warehouse in Visalia, Calif., to supply parts and better support customers.
And, while sales have replaced rentals as its core business, Barlet hasn’t forgotten that day in 1985 that changed everything.
“People laugh at the things we rent. We’ll rent some very expensive, specialized equipment today.”
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