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New Crane Equipment Lifts Northeast Sales and Service to New Heights

Wed October 19, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Laurie Mercer



Fifty-one years may seem like a long time to get around to working on a new idea, but that’s the back story behind one of the nation’s newest crane sales and service companies.

Northeast Sales & Service Inc., located in Lockport and Syracuse, NY, opened its doors approximately a year ago. The idea was to help customers overcome today’s challenges when it comes to availability of sophisticated service for state-of-the-art construction cranes.

Given the robust manufacturing schedule in China, which is depleting steel supplies and the unfavorable exchange rate for the American dollar overseas, there is currently a shortage of new cranes. The cost of steel and fuel has helped propel the costs skyward, while new crane production schedules are sometimes 12 months behind.

It’s a wild time to hoist the flag on any new business.

The genesis of the new company, however, comes from a very old one, which helps level the playing field. The family-owned business of Clark Rigging and Rental continues to employ Floyd “Red” Clark, the founder, sons David and Steven, and daughter/office manager Diane Clark Bilenski.

Floyd explained that his family business noticed a niche emerging in new crane sales, and it gambled that with the value-added of already having a “matchless” service department in place, it could probably compete successfully in a hitherto untapped market.

Floyd said they were fortunate to quickly hire Wally Nowacki as sales manager for Northeast Sales & Service because Nowacki has 20 year’s experience with cranes, including several as an operator. To back him up, a team of three people primarily target the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, selling Terex and Tadano cranes ranging in price from $10,000 to $5 million.

“No doubt about it,” said Dave Clark, “some of our first sales came because of relationships the customers had with my father.” Floyd is something of a legend in upstate construction, beginning in the 1950s with the Niagara Power Project, which employed 3,000 people. Floyd credits his family with taking the company to where it is today. The diversification into sales from rentals represents the culmination of many informal family meetings at which the partners agreed that expanding any business demands that it becomes a moving target. If a business remains complacent, its customers may go to someone else.

“We wanted to become a full-service facility, so we organized sales and service as a separate entity. We’ll support customers for the lifetime of the crane,” said Clark. “We’ll support anything we sell.

“We do everything as a family,” he added. Dave as vice president has a desk job, while Steven is the dispatch person. John prefers the outdoors and is the primary operator for one of the largest cranes in New York State — a 500-ton (453.6 t) crane, which cost $2.1 million in 1999. A newer 300-ton (272 t) crane, that cost $1.2 million, is in almost constant use. Clark Rigging, the parent company, employs 40 to 80 people, depending on the time of year.

While approximately 80 percent of the Clark Rigging business has been in construction, rental and service have brought them newer opportunities. Service on the 40 rental cranes requires a high-tech shop with safety-trained operators. “The days of the grease monkeys are gone,” said Dave Clark, adding that the service technician today is more likely to be carrying a laptop computer for diagnostics. And it’s that service end that is helping lead them to new crane sales.

Clark said the service bay is populated with lots of long-time employees who do repairs, lend technical support, perform yearly inspections and oversee mechanical adjustments.

“In today’s new cranes, if you want to extend the boom,” said Clark, “you touch a computer screen. It’s a different world from the past, and one that requires specially trained operators.”

Now the sky’s the limit for Northeast Sales & Service. The company is lucky to be new, but also backed by more than a half-century of heavy lifting. The Clark family refers to crane operations as “pics.” A pic represents that moment of sublime physics when a very heavy object is lifted skyward and moved to a new location.

Cranes are different. Lifting, after all, is an extremely dangerous activity. Cranes also hold their value better than other heavy equipment. New materials make today’s cranes lighter while giving them greater capacity. Environmental concerns, including fuel efficiency, also are having an effect on design.

Judging from the family’s colorful history, the “pic” itself could be a killer whale in a tank full of water being transported from Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, or enormous struts of metal that might one day make all of the bridges on the New York State Thruway allow even higher trailer loads. They “picked” grocery store giant Danny Wegman’s 70-ton boat to cart it from one Finger Lake to another (see www.clarkrigging.com for a great visual of this event). Helping to hoist The Tornado — an enormous, 5,000-gallon fiberglass water slide at Darien Lake amusement park — kept Clark’s crane operators amused while on the job site.

Panels that top a skyscraper hotel at Turning Stone casino were put in place by the Clark-run family business, as were the tallest freestanding lights in the United States at Buffalo University’s athletic fields.

In other words, there is no singular customer for the company’s services. While the old-time manufacturing giants, including Union Carbide, Carborundum Abrasives, Hooker Chemical and others that once helped Floyd Clark lift his first crane, went out of business a long time ago, the Clark family has kept on doing the heavy lifting.

From an old company springs a new one, hoisting part of the American dream machine. Is there a new generation coming on? Check back in 10 years; the family said it’s still a little too soon to tell. CEG