Five Star Equipment Celebrates a Quarter Century

Mon August 04, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Jennifer Hetrick



“We were ready to step up and expand. John Deere saw our desire and liked our attitude. They were ready to grow with us.”

Frank Gallo and Bill Bochicchio comment on the philosophy that has grown Five Star Equipment to be a solid, successful dealership in New York and Pennsylvania. 2008 celebrates Five Star’s 25th year as the Deere dealer growing from a small company in Dunmore, Pa., to eight branch locations in two states. Prior to starting their own company, the two men had worked together at Ingersoll Rand — Gallo as service manager and Bochicchio in sales. They started their own business in 1980 when they purchased Drake Diesel, Dunmore, Pa. This company was a GMC dealership that sold Detroit, Cummins and Caterpillar engines, Dresser Leroy compressors and drills and Driltec rotary drills.

On Their Own

They purchased the GMC truck dealership because they knew they wanted to make a move on their own and the truck dealership was readily available. They liked the idea of the truck dealership because of the variety of diesel engines that it sold and because of the drilling equipment it offered. Drilling and blasting was the background the two men were bringing with them from Ingersoll Rand, so they were already familiar with a lot of the equipment the truck dealership sold.

But 1983 was the year the men’s business partnership really took off. That was the year they expanded their company by purchasing a local John Deere dealership called Charles Siepiela Inc. The dealership represented John Deere construction, forestry and utility equipment. The dealership was moved to Dunmore to join Drake Diesel and Five Star Equipment was born.

The name was derived from the combination of the GMC Five Star Mark of Excellence along with the rare military rank five star general in order to represent the quality products and service they intended to offer their customers.

“The truck dealership got us started, but what we really wanted was to deal with construction equipment. That’s where our comfort level was [high]. That is why we were quick to jump on the opportunity to own a John Deere franchise,” Gallo said.

“Our timing with John Deere was excellent. We were looking to grow our company as fast as possible and Deere had identified that they wanted to grow their product offerings to U.S. contractors. In order to do that effectively they needed larger dealerships. So we sort of grew together,” Bochicchio said.

Two Decades of Growth

And grow Five Star did, at a steady pace throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The next big year for the company was 1986, when it purchased a John Deere dealership located in Rochester, N.Y., called Empire Tractor Company, which they changed to carry the Five Star name. The businessmen also saw a terrific opportunity in the southern tier of New York State around Binghamton, which was an open territory for John Deere construction equipment. They claimed the territory and built a new 8,000-sq.-ft. facility in Kirkwood, N.Y.

Another equipment dealer, Monroe Equipment, Stroudsburg, Pa., became a part of Five Star Equipment in 1990. The following year, Five Star Equipment acquired another large territory, this time the eight county area surrounding Syracuse, N.Y. Another new facility appeared, this one 15,000 sq. ft., in East Syracuse.

In 1992, Drake Diesel, the original GMC truck dealership purchased in 1980, was closed, because the men wanted to focus on their John Deere iron and get out of the truck business. In those early years, the truck business and the John Deere franchise operated under the same roof, which was very unique to the industry.

Brand New Digs

A 44,000-sq.-ft. facility in Dunmore, Pa., purchased in 1994, would become the company’s new headquarters, when the old facility was slated to be torn down to accommodate local highway construction.

“Much of our expansion was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the construction equipment market was down significantly and many equipment distributors were struggling. We looked at this as an opportunity to grow, acquiring dealerships that were having a hard time dealing with the difficult market conditions. We showed our commitment to supporting contractors by putting up state-of-the-art facilities in markets like Syracuse and Binghamton that had not seen such strong commitment from John Deere in the past,” said Bochicchio.

Going Strong

The growth of Five Star Equipment remained strong after the establishment of the new headquarters in 1994. In 1996 the Rochester facility added a 10,000-sq.-ft. shop. The purchase of Halligan and Roberts in Oriskany, N.Y., took place in 1997. And Five Star Equipment started the new millennium by becoming the Hitachi dealer for central and western New York.

Five Star kept very busy in 2004. February saw a move into the Buffalo, N.Y., area with the purchase of Mecca Krull, a John Deere dealership in Orchard Park, N.Y. In July, the company obtained Troyer Equipment, Waterford, Pa. And in August, Five Star expanded its presence in the logging industry by becoming a Timberjack dealer.

In 2006 it was awarded additional counties in Central Pennsylvania centered around Williamsport. That move completed a consolidation that made Five Star Equipment one John Deere dealership where there had been 10.

Today, Five Star Equipment has eight locations, with a territory that includes northern Pennsylvania and central and western New York, including the southern tier. It has 140 employees, including 85 product support staff and 30 sales and rental representatives.

Product support manager, Mike Vergason, has 18 years of experience, starting with the company in 1989 as a service technician at the Kirkwood facility. His 85 product support staff members are fully supplied with the latest computer and software technology to support John Deere products.

“Our shop facilities are all equipped with the latest tooling systems necessary to assist with the proper diagnosis and repair of construction equipment. Laptop computers and hardware allow effective use of John Deere’s Service Advisor Software at each branch and in the field. In addition to computer technology all 16 of the Five Star service trucks are equipped with hydraulic cranes, compressors, lube systems, welders and generators. Every technician is John Deere trained and tested to rigorous qualification standards” said Vergason.

Five Star also prides itself on being one of the few distributors that offers a fully equipped, modern track rebuild shop run by Al Johnson at its Dunmore, Pa., facility.

Looking to the future, Five Star Equipment supports students through a two-year technical training program at SUNY Cobelskill College, Cobelskill, N.Y. When a student completes the course and comes to work for Five Star, Five Star pays the tuition and gives the student $10,000 worth of tools.

A Unique Way With Parts

Parts availability is an area for which Five Star Equipment is especially noted. All ordered parts can be in the hands of customers within 24 hours 97 percent of the time, according to the company.

In addition Five Star branch offices carry parts inventory in excess of $2.5 million on the shelf. The John Deere Corporate Parts Distribution Center in Syracuse, N.Y., is a strong asset for Five Star Equipment. Working with this center, Five Star is able to deliver all non-stock parts via two runner trucks to each branch by 7:30 a.m. every day.

Parts also can be ordered on the company Web site, 24 hours a day. Another feature of the Web site allows contractors to custom build machines from each feature available and then receive a quote from the sales department on that specific machine.

Tim Sinning is parts operations manager, and he has been with Five Star Equipment for 20 years.

“Our goal is to provide the right parts to our customers and service departments immediately. This is no small task considering the volume of machines sold in our territory over the past 25 years. Still we have customers using machines that sold even 10 years before Five Star was organized. We support them all,” said Sinning. “We are in it for the long haul.”

Through the years, Five Star Equipment’s customer base and product offerings have grown and changed. Customers now come in the form of construction fleet owners, as well as traditional owner operators. Municipalities, as well as mining, aggregate, recycling, forestry and farm businesses are all Deere customers in today’s world.

John Deere product offerings include backhoes, loaders, excavators, articulated trucks, skid steers, crawler tractors and logging equipment as well as a complete line of compact excavators, skid steers and track loaders.

Corporate Sales Manager Del Wayne summarized his role by saying, “We have grown this company to become one of the larger Deere dealers. We plan to bring the full range of the John Deere resources to our customers including innovative products, excellent support, operator training tools and access to inventory from every dealer in our organization.

Celebrating the Past, Anticipating the Future

Celebrating the past 25 years of accomplishments will include a visit from Sam Allen, president, and several other executives of John Deere on Aug. 4 and 5. A large contingent of customers will be on hand for this prestigious visit. Later this year, Five Star will open a brand new 12,000-sq.-ft., six-bay facility located on four acres in Williamsport, Pa. This will replace a small, outdated two-bay facility.

Looking forward and back, Gallo summarized his business experiences with John Deere so far.

“As I mentioned, Deere was striving to put premium products in the marketplace and wanted those products to be supported by premium dealers and we were ready to step up. At the same time Deere has also raised their standards of performances for the dealerships. No product will be shipped to the dealer unless all technicians, parts representatives and sales people are certified by John Deere.

“We tell our people that the John Deere product speaks for itself. What is going to set us apart as a dealership is our ability to give the John Deere product superior product support. When we first became a John Deere dealership we barely knew our neighboring John Deere dealerships and there was little or no communication. Today, John Deere has established a tremendous networking system between all of its dealers and they use this system to funnel a wealth of information to us, which only makes us better and stronger dealerships.”

With that kind of backing, imagine how strong Five Star Equipment will be in another 25 years. CEG