For Bill Van Sant, the equipment market was offering him a chance to start fresh, and do it all right.
After having been involved for more than thirty years with several heavy capital equipment manufacturers serving the construction and forestry industries, Van Sant had taken a step back. Pursuing a number of related ventures during the last seven years, he gained a new perspective on today’s equipment OEMs, dealers and customers and how they work together. Then, the recent economic downturn brought many of the old problems and needs into focus.
What if he could take a “greenfield approach” to re-entering the business?
What if he was to build a new OEM from the ground up with no baggage, no strings attached?
“I felt the industry overall was losing sight of how to deliver real value to its customers,” Van Sant reflected. “Some manufacturers put resources into product ’innovations’ simply for the sake of having something ’new’ to sell. When times get tough, they cut back costs anywhere they could. Somewhere along the line, we lost track of how these decisions affect the value associated with fulfilling customers’ expectations and needs.”
With a clean slate before him, Van Sant went to work assembling the pieces he would need for his greenfield company: a clear direction, financing, knowledgeable people; manufacturing capability, a strong service network with quality dealers who shared his customer-centric philosophy.
Then, when the opportunity arrived to bring a successful new product to America, the final piece fell into place.
“The Safest Couplers on the Planet”
This past January, at the 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) Summit in San Antonio, Norco Attachments made its debut. A division of Norco LLC, Norco Attachments is already shipping custom attachments for a complete range of excavator sizes and applications. The company also has its sights set on expanding its line to fit other types of equipment. But the cornerstone of the Norco line is a product, relatively new to North and Central America, that has been billed as “the safest coupler on the planet.”
Norco’s Wedgelock quick coupler features a back-up locking system, known as the “I-Lock,” that engages the front attachment pin automatically, without requiring a machine operator to activate the main locking mechanism.
“The Wedgelock coupler adds instant safety on the job site,” Van Sant said. “It secures the attachment to the coupler in the very initial latching stage, completely independent from the primary un-locking step activated by the control switch.
“These couplers set our benchmark for the Norco value proposition” he continued. “Customers have to be productive to be profitable. And they have to work safely to be productive. Wedgelock adds a whole new level of value to the attachment market.”
The Wedgelock coupler’s high strength construction increases its wearability and reduces weight, helping to maximize product performance and reliability. Its low profile design ensures optimum breakout force and power at the bucket tip. Pin center variations are accommodated automatically and lifting eyes are fitted as standard, ensuring safe lifting capability.
Wedgelock began as a family owned and operated business based in New Zealand that specializes in the design and manufacture of excavator attachments. On Jan. 1, 2010, Norco Attachments entered into a joint venture with the firm to manufacture and market Wedgelock products in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
“We could see quickly that our companies were a good fit because their philosophies and ours matched very closely. We knew this company could make a lot of in-roads in North America if they had a domestic manufacturer,” said Van Sant.
Complementing the coupler is Wedgelock’s extensive line-up of rippers, buckets, rakes, thumbs, grapples and spades. Wedgelock models cover the total range of excavators and their attachments, from Class 5 mini-ex’s up to Class 200 mine shovels.
Crushers — the Perfect Addition to the Mix
A recent addition to the Norco Attachment product line is the new dimension crusher. According to Van Sant, “These units combine the best features of cone, jaw and roll crushers and their design concept falls perfectly in line with our technology and engineering philosophies.”
Mark Hollister, Norco’s senior vice president, indicated that today, dealers can give contractors the opportunity to crush everything from rock and granite to demolition materials onsite saving them time and money on transportation as well as landfill tipping fees.
“With the quick coupling arrangement, almost any skid steer loader easily transforms into a portable, durable, quiet, efficient and safe to use crushing machine,” said Hollister.
He continued by indicating that rental houses and dealers with rental fleets have started to recognize the value of this unit as they invest in attachments to increase their machine utilization rates,
Later on this summer, Hollister indicated that their team was starting to line up, in cooperation with their dealer group, a “Tow & Show” crusher program across the country.
“The only way to appreciate this machine is to actually see it in action as either a primary or secondary crusher.”
Value Begins With People
From the beginning, Van Sant’s “value” focus zeroed in on people he could count on to deliver it. His first strategic moves for the Norco Attachments venture were to recruit Carl Hartfield as president and CEO, along with Mark Hollister as senior vice president. Their first assignment, in turn, was to begin assembling a team of engineers, technicians and sales professionals with a proven understanding of how the equipment business works.
“I spent years working in the equipment distribution channel myself,” said Hollister. “I understand the value that the dealer network represents to equipment users. Our goal is to build a network of Norco dealers who are deeply committed to excellent customer service. And then to make sure our dealers get the factory support they need so they can follow through.
“We are working with the kind of dealers who can help us to establish a reputation for providing the best experience for their customers. We don’t sell products, we sell solutions. Our value proposition is to deliver what customers need to perform safely and profitably in the field. What customers need most is outstanding dealer service.”
Since January, Hartfield and Hollister have deployed a hand-picked team of representatives to meet with top dealers across the country and make the case for Norco Attachments. According to Hollister, Norco sales reps aren’t there just to sell.
“We chose field staff who know and understand the ’business’ of equipment dealers, not just the ’products.’ If we are going to be successful business partners, we have to be responsive to all of their business challenges: their pricing and competitive positions, their field service and application needs, their relationships with other suppliers. The whole deal.”
According to Hartfield, the depth of Norco’s attachment and coupler line-up is a key element in his program to support the needs of the dealer. The other primary element is to deliver orders quickly from the Norco factory.
“Our past history showed us that customers and end-users want their own business to be simpler,” he explained. “They would prefer to see fewer faces when they purchase equipment. They like the one-stop shopping idea, with fewer salesmen calling on them. They also want uncomplicated, common sense machines, at lower price points and with lower operating costs. Total value. But most importantly, they need the ability to move quickly to match their equipment to the job when opportunities arise.
“This is the reality that our dealers are facing every day. So it is our job to help dealers do everything possible to meet all those customer needs. Our product line-up is designed to complement, not compete with the dealer’s primary OEM lines; to help them become that one-stop shop. Our engineering, combined with our manufacturing is tuned to turn around orders for specialized equipment in a matter of days, not weeks. So our dealers can help their customers start earning faster.”
Hollister added that his sales team also has a mandate to simplify equipment purchases for both the dealer and the customer.
“Our people are empowered to make a lot of decisions in the field. Our sales rep is the only point of contact a dealer needs when he works with Norco. And our reps don’t have to keep coming back to the office to get approvals and rubber stamps. They are on the job to help dealers make deals happen.
“We are building a company culture that is committed to the total end-user experience. People always say we should ’treat others like you want to be treated.’ At Norco we say, ’treat customers like they want to be treated!”
Quick Off the Mark
For a new start-up company that was little more than an idea one year ago, Norco has moved very quickly to define its direction, deploy its people and start delivering product. Last fall, Norco LLC acquired a 70,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Matamoros, Mexico, and set up its head office just across the border, in Brownsville, Texas.
Hartfield said the facility was a real find, ready-made to let Norco ramp up into the equipment manufacturing business in short order.
“It’s an excellent facility, with up-to-date production technology plus a highly experienced skilled workforce eager to produce quality goods. Our modular processes and machinery make the plant very lean, very flexible, so we can react quickly to customer orders. And we will match the standards and consistency of our quality to any OEM in the industry,” he said.
Simple value remains the guiding principle for Norco engineering and production staff. Hollister noted that, continuing on the Wedgelock theme of safety and productivity, the design of Norco attachments is streamlined to minimize costly bells and whistles, while maximizing performance and reliability.
“The reaction from customers so far indicates that we are on the right track”, he claimed. “The industry appears ripe for a supplier who is nimble and cost-conscious enough to meet their needs, but not trying to compete on price alone.”
Same Game, New Rules
Bill Van Sant and company represent a great wealth of experience in the equipment industry. Rather than following the well-worn paths they knew so well, the group is using its experience to chart a new course.
“We put this together in a way that changes the rules of the game because we don’t have the baggage to carry that others do. We spent a considerable amount of time planning to start this company using the clean sheet of paper approach. We have no pre-conceived paradigm, no precedents to break and no silos to take down,” he said.
“Many far-ranging factors had to converge at once for Norco to be possible,” Van Sant admitted. “We are fortunate to be the people in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the conditions that emerged. They gave us the chance to strip down our business model to its most basic simple truths: value, safety, quality, service. We are equipped to succeed with niche products that meet unique customer needs, without being ruled by a few generic high-volume units. We are happy to be a small company that is flexible, that stays close to customers, and that excels at delivering the best total return on their equipment investment.”
For more information, call 877/286-3411.
“The Safest Coupler In The World”
Securing the rights to manufacture and distribute the Wedgelock coupler was the first in a series of planned acquisitions in Norco’s strategy to become a market leader for attachments. Originally established in 1987, Wedgelock has been installed in more than 36,000 of its quick couplers worldwide from its home in New Zealand to Russia to the United Kingdom.
Carl Hartfield, president and CEO of Norco Attachments, said acquiring Wedgelock added a premier product to Norco’s range of attachments. Its ’I-Lock’ system can be operated either hydraulically or manually and it is known for its independent, initial and instant safety system, according to the manufacturer.
Engaging with the front attachment pin automatically when the attachment is connected, the system also provides a built-in time-out that re-engages the ’I-Lock’ if the attachment is not removed in a timely manner after the coupler is unlocked to disconnect. Norco offers the Wedgelock coupler for excavator buckets and attachments for units with operating weights from 5,000 to 200,000 lbs. (2,268 to 90,718 kg).
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