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Crawler Equipment Sales Starts Third Decade of Operation

Mon March 10, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

With its first 20 years firmly placed under its figurative belt, Crawler Equipment Sales (CES) and its customers look forward to the next two decades and beyond.

Approximately 20 years after John D. Stephens founded his pipeline construction company, he decided to search for equipment on his own, rather than going through a dealer. During his search, said his son, Mark Stephens, he came to the realization that lots of other contractors in Georgia also were on the hunt for quality used machines. With that thought, he bought a few more machines than he needed to fix up for resale.

Then the idea took on a life of its own.

At first, the company focused on Komatsu machines, as the John D. Stephens crew had a lot of experience in that brand. Plus, “they wanted to sell something that we knew was a good product,” Mark Stephens said.

But, unlike dealers who are married to a specific manufacturer and sell the whole line, Mark Stephens said his company was able to sell what they saw as the best bulldozer or excavator, no matter who produced it.

In the early 1990s, the Stephens family realized that the equipment business was here to stay. The equipment dealer split from the contracting company in 2000 to become a separate entity and moved to its current location in Lawrenceville. In 2006, when it became the authorized dealer of Doosan equipment, the equipment company changed its name to Crawler Equipment Sales.

Mark Stephens said the agreement with Doosan came after he was searching for a good 400-class excavator for one of his customers. After researching Doosan’s equipment and parts availability, CES took on the line. It is the only new equipment line on the company’s lot.

Mark Stephens knows that CES wouldn’t have lasted so long if it weren’t for a group of dedicated customers. So Construction Equipment Guide went right to the source to see what’s kept them devoted to CES.

Wayne Smith of S&W Pipeline said it was an easy decision to purchase his first machine for the Loganville, Ga., company from CES 17 years ago. Smith grew up with John Stephens and knew Mark Stephens from the day he was born and trusted the pair to equip him with the right machine.

S&W started out with a Komatsu PC220LC-3. Every machine Smith has purchased since has come from the CES lot.

Smith even took the leap to a new manufacturer when CES took on the Doosan line. He bought a DX420LC and said, “it’s a great working machine.”

He gives high marks to the service department.

“They’re quick and very responsive to my needs. They’re willing to make the repairs the cheapest way possible for me by using aftermarket parts, rather than new,” he said.

The relationship between Smith and CES goes far beyond the job site. He and John Stephens often meet for breakfast or dinner to share ideas. Smith said John has played a big role in helping him succeed in business.

“They’re a very solid company and are completely customer-oriented,” Smith said. “It shows that they realize the importance of their customers and that they understand that without them, there would be no business.”

Dwight McCart of McCart Pipeline Inc. has been with CES since its inception. Through the last 20 years, he’s learned to follow John Stephens’ lead.

“He’s got a good reputation for knowing what a good piece of equipment and a good deal on a tractor is,” McCart said.

McCart has purchased Doosan machines from CES.

“Initially, the price sold us on the machine. They turned out to be very economical — very fuel efficient and strong machines and they’re getting the job done for us.”

McCart works with CES Salesman Jeff Bucksot.

“He helps us out and knows his business and what it takes. From machine sales to parts to undercarriages to cylinders, he knows how to take care of our needs.”

For McCart, one word describes CES — “dependable.”

“I can trust them and know that if I need something, they’ll do their very best to help me out and get the machine out that will help me finish the job.”

Van Snell’s first equipment purchase from John D. Stephens actually pre-dates the founding of the dealership.

“We purchased a 155 Komatsu from John D. Stephens in the mid ’80s before they actually got into the equipment business,” said the owner of E.R. Snell Contractor Inc. in Snellville, Ga. “They finished a job and didn’t need the machine anymore, so we purchased it and put it to work next to a D8 pushing scrapers.”

Snell tries to budget a certain amount for new machines each year, but, with the company bidding for work each month, some jobs call for a piece of specialized equipment.

“A lot of the time, we’ll buy them from CES on an as-needed, quick basis,” Snell said.

He said CES is an important part of his fleet’s support system.

“When we buy something, we wear it out, and we want to know that we have someone backing us, if we have a problem, for the life of the equipment,” Snell said. “When we need something, they respond and get to it immediately.”

The crew at Gary’s Grading and Pipeline Company Inc. in Monroe, Ga., generally does its service work in-house.

“But we use CES for service and parts and sometimes just to help us troubleshoot something,” said Owner Chris Opolka. “Their level of expertise is at the top in the industry and they generally can get something up and going immediately. They can give a realistic time frame of how long a machine will be down.”

Opolka said it has maintained his relationship with CES because of the availability of machines, competitive pricing and an overall confidence in its background.

He said he always talks with the CES crew before purchasing a machine.

“They give us good, honest input on the application of how we’re thinking about using a machine or the size of the machine, the bucket or the hammer we want to use. Their expertise is above and beyond in the industry and everything is based on my needs and not their own,” Opolka said.

The first machine Barry Nash, president of Nash Construction Inc. in Snellville, Ga., purchased from John D. Stephens was a Cat 955L. Since then, he has purchased another 25 machines.

“I grew up with Mark and went to school with him, so it was a natural fit to talk to him about my equipment needs,” Nash said.

He said CES is his first stop when he needs a used piece of equipment.

“They’ll buy a machine at auction, they’ll run it through their shop, they’ll change all the fluids and check all the pressures to make sure that machine is a good machine before they put it out on the yard for sale,” Nash said. “If not, they’ll get rid of the machine in another way. That’s why I buy from them.”

Approximately half of Nash’s 50-piece fleet was purchased at CES.

When Mark Stephens peers into the future of his company, he sees change coming.

“Contractors, in general, are going toward buying new machines,” he said.

So, using Doosan as a focal point, Mark expects his company’s focus to shift more toward new machines in the coming years. Doosan’s recent acquisition of Bobcat will aid in the transition, he said, as it increases the scope of machines available.

Depending on the strength of the market and the demand from its customers, Mark said the company would be prepared to add a second location, probably somewhere northeast of Lawrenceville.

But whatever the future brings, Mark said CES is ready for it. “It’s a changing world.”

For more information, call 770/822-1003. CEG Staff

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