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Excellent Service the Key to Hills Machinery’s Success

Fri March 04, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

Jim and Adam Hills made a pretty gutsy move in 2010.

Right in the middle of a slow economy, the two brothers and business partners decided to expand their three-year-old equipment business by opening a second location.

With businesses falling victim to the recession right and left, particularly relatively new companies with little or no reputation in the marketplace, the move would seem to be extremely risky.

Several months later, though, their bold initiative seems to be paying off as Hills Machinery is a thriving enterprise with a bright future.

The Columbia, S.C.-based construction equipment dealership specializes in selling, renting and service and in its brief time in business, has managed to build its reputation as a trusted and reliable company.

The brothers first opened the doors on their business in Columbia in September 2007. Almost exactly three years later, a second location of Hills Machinery was up and running in the Charleston area.

“We were able to do that because we saw a good bit of economic improvement in 2010,” Jim Hills said. “We had been expanding and we are optimistic that 2011 may be a breakout year for us.”

The opening of the Charleston shop also coincided with the fact that the company began carrying a complete line of Case construction equipment earlier in 2010.

“As it turns out, there is a lot of Case machinery working in the Charleston area, so we wanted to make sure that we could be there to capitalize on that with our parts and service capabilities,” he said.

Hills Machinery has managed to weather the tough economy, Hills said, by changing its objectives to meet new market demands.

“I think our company has kind of morphed two or three times, actually,” explained Hills, who has worked in the equipment business since 1994. “We started out mostly buying used equipment and trying to run a rental fleet like we had in the past at other companies, but we quickly found out that that was not going to last. As a result, we downsized our rental fleet and added about nine additional mechanics.”

By re-focusing its attention on parts and service, Hills said the company was able to steadily gain more and more business.

“We have really pushed the sale of after-market components for Caterpillar and we go heavily after the service work on non-Case product lines,” he added. “We carry about 80 percent of the available parts that Caterpillar manufactures for the after-market. That is everything from engine components to cylinders, filters, ground engaging tools, undercarriage, etc.”

Jim Hills serves as company president and runs the Columbia operation, while Adam is vice president and proprietor of the Charleston shop.

More than half of the firm’s approximately 20 employees work in the Columbia location, with the rest in Charleston, as well as one salesman in Greenville, N.C., an area that Jim Hills said is an untapped market.

“We keep a few machines up there for rental and he is selling Case there, as well,” he said.

Case actually approached Hills Machinery through a mutual contact, Hills said, after learning of the company’s strong commitment to service.

“For us, the attraction to Case was that they offered us a full product line — everything from compact to heavy equipment, asphalt equipment, dirt equipment, etc.,” he said. “So, we thought it was a pretty unique opportunity for an upstart business like ours to be able to take on a full blown OEM product line.”

In addition to carrying Case, Hills Machinery also sells Caterpillar equipment and parts, as well as a line of Interstate trailers and accessories and Magnum Attachments.

“I think that across the course of 2011, you will begin to see us add in some other product lines, as well,” Hills added.

The company offers customers same-day parts delivery and on-site service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Technicians at Hills Machinery undergo a rigorous training program and then update their education on a regular basis.

“We have the guys take classes almost weekly online and when the manufacturers offer classes, we send them as often as we can. We also do that with our sales and parts people,” Jim Hills said. “Additionally, we have weekly conference calls within our various groups [sales, parts and service] where we all take part in a roundtable discussion on whatever course work we have covered that week.”

Hills said that he and his brother believe that by striving for excellence in the parts and service end of the business, they can attract more customers for the sales and rental end.

“The market simply hasn’t improved enough that we can depend solely on the sale of new machinery,” he admitted. “Our strategy has been to bring new customers on board through the service part of the company and then when they do decide that they want to buy new or used equipment, we hopefully have established a trusting relationship where they view us as a partner.”

Both locations of Hills Machinery are about the same size with around 12,000 sq. ft. of parts and service space on several acres.

The Columbia shop is located at 1014 Atlas Way in the southeast part of town near Williams-Brice Stadium. The Charleston location is at 7168B Cross County Road in North Charleston.

For more information, call the Columbia office at 803/658-0200 or toll free at 888/ 830-5939.

For more information, call the Charleston shop at 843/225-9377 or toll free at 866/ 830-7577 or visit CEG

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