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Ray Romano Takes Ownership of Ditch Witch of Tennessee

Fri December 24, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

As owner and CEO of Ditch Witch of Tennessee, Ray Romano draws upon his years of experience when handling the company’s day-to-day operations.

“After 15 years of extensive travel and living overseas, I was looking for something more local upon returning to Tennessee from Australia. After networking a bit and finding out that there was a dealership opportunity with Ditch Witch it became clear that it would be a good fit for me. Although my background and experience is with Cat dealers and Caterpillar, I view Charles Machine Works/Ditch Witch in the same way. Both manufacturers represent value, quality, productivity and durability in their respective products, as well as have great brand recognition.”

Ditch Witch of Tennessee covers middle and eastern Tennessee and several counties in southwest Virginia. It serves a broad customer base, from large interstate directional drilling companies, public and private utility companies, municipalities to building and excavation contractors to plumbers, electricians and landscaping companies.

Its two dealership locations — in Louisville, just outside Knoxville, and La Vergne, close to Nashville — have been around since the 1960s. Through the years, Romano has seen his fair share of changes in the industry.

“Aside from sales, replacement parts and repair service for trenching and plow equipment, the biggest changes have probably been the addition of field service, rental programs and the expansion of Ditch Witch’s product line, which now includes multiple size classes of directional drills, locators, compact skid steers and tool carriers.

Ditch Witch also offers underground construction equipment, which Romano said is crucial in today’s market.

“Whether it’s electric, gas, water, sewer, TV cable or Internet service, everyone wants it underground. Underground is not new for water, sewer and gas, but it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that residential subdivisions have gone underground completely in the streets and to each house. Also, with the tremendous demand for cable TV and faster broadband Internet service, there are miles of cable to be placed underground in suburban and rural areas.

“The demand for hardscapes and irrigation also has increased the need for small trenching and/or plowing equipment. With the latest directional drilling equipment you can drill through most any underground conditions, including rock. There is a busy network of utilities underground already so locating existing pipes, cables, etc. is a critical issue now before digging, trenching or drilling any new holes underground. There are a lot of old pipes and cable that need replacement so the need for underground equipment is here to stay for a while.”

With more than 30 years experience in dealing with Caterpillar, Romano believes he can serve his clients effectively, based on his global exposure. When Romano (RJV Equipment LLC) purchased the assets of the Ditch Witch of Tennessee dealership in September 2010, he felt more than prepared for his new role.

“I personally benefited from and cherish my experiences in both Australia and China. I can think of no better industry experience than managing ’greenfield’ start-ups of Cat dealerships in both Sydney and China. China was particularly challenging as you must deal with government, cultural and language differences. If you think a standard business model will work or you can just throw a bunch of expensive ex-pat management at it, you will not be profitable or successful. You must be patient, find and train a local management team and understand the culture to be successful in China.

There is a well-educated workforce available, but they lack experience, so training and patience are key. I have learned patience and to step back and observe how things are done locally first, then determine a strategic approach to the market.“

Ditch Witch of Tennessee currently lists 14 employees but expects to grow to 18 to 20 over the next 12 months. Sales Manager Doug Champion has more than 25 years’ experience, a majority of which is with Ditch Witch products in Tennessee. Joe Hunt was recently promoted from the Nashville area service manager to product support manager, having responsibility for parts and service for both locations.

In the coming year, Romano hopes to expand product offerings with additional equipment for his customers.

“We just signed a dealer agreement with Kubota to be a compact construction equipment dealer, which will provide us with excavators, compact track loaders, backhoe loaders and compact wheel loaders,” he said. “Our long-term goal is to become more of a one-stop shop, providing multiple products, new and used, parts, service, rental and consumables they need to get their jobs done without having to go somewhere else.”

As for Ditch Witch’s philosophy, Romano said, “Employee satisfaction is critical to achieving customer satisfaction. I am trying to raise our safety and productivity standards, as well as improve working conditions for employees to the benefit of our customers. Every week, I am trying to improve something, from a computer, printer or fax machine to a new welder, vehicle or hose-making machine, as well as increasing our parts and machine inventory.

“What matters is that we provide solutions to the best of our ability and with urgency. I want customers to leave with no doubt in their mind that when they need something or have a problem, we are their preferred supplier. Customers don’t want to feel that they have to check or shop around, they want to trust that you will do the best you can for them every time.” CEG

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