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Roland Machinery Co. Celebrates 50 Years

Tue February 24, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Hard work has always been the foundation for the American Dream and the underlying theme for every success story throughout this country’s history.

Roland Machinery (RMC) is one of these stories. For the past half-century, the Roland family has worked relentlessly to become a major player in the Midwest equipment distribution market. Today, the family-owned Komatsu business is widely recognized as being among the most successful equipment dealerships in North America, with 15 branches in the Midwest states of Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana.

The company’s recipe for success has been, and remains, simple — represent a great product line and ensure filling customers’ needs through excellent product support and service. But that’s easier said than done.

“The selling of construction equipment is a demanding job if done successfully,” Earl Roland, founder of Roland Machinery, said. “Not only is there a lot preparation time in selling a big ticket item, but the after sale attention to the customer is not only expected, it’s demanded!”

Earl and his family demand this of themselves. He has said a number of times that his reasoning for diving into the heavy equipment market was to feed a family and security. Since then, his goals have everything to do with how and why Roland Machinery does business. “One comforting factor is that this company is a family affair and will always be,” he said.

The idea of family has become the driving force behind Roland Machinery’s longevity and continued success. The company now is run by the second generation with Ray Roland serving as president. The third generation is in key management positions with Matt Roland as vice president sales and Rachel (Roland) Pennell as director of human resources.

A Family Affair

In families, children often mimic the successes of their parents. Roland Machinery’s second-generation president is no different and makes no bones about it. Ray Roland said his management style was influenced by his father. He hopes to pass the torch to his children in the near future.

Ray’s interest in the company came at a very early age and remained strong even after he graduated from Texas A&M University in 1969. After graduation, Ray got right into the mix and started in sales and then moved into management in 1977.

Earl remembered fondly that Ray’s interest in the company started very early.

“Ray started here when he was in grade school in the advertising department,” Earl recalled. “Actually both Ray and Bob [second oldest son], would handle mailers and advertising during their summer break. So, I guess you could say that Ray has been with the company since he was 12 years old.”

As president of Roland Machinery, Ray said he intends to continue that success using the same methods his father practiced for more than 50 years.

“We pride ourselves on family,” Ray said. “As a family-owned business, customers are never too far away from reaching one of the owners.”

In fact, Ray’s son, Matt, has been vice president and sales manager since 2000 and his daughter, Rachel, is director of human resources and oversees insurance and fleet management.

“I doubt there’s another Komatsu dealer that has three generations working within the company,” Ray said. “I think the fact that we are family-owned does bring a lot to the party.”

It’s no secret that family is very important to Roland Machinery as well as in the construction industry.

“A lot of our customers’ businesses are family-owned,” Ray emphasized. “This just gives us another way to relate to our customers.”

The Future

Looks Bright

Staying on this successful track for 50 years means always finding new ways to gain an advantage over the competition and hiring people who have the same goal in mind.

“Roland Machinery Co. has been stable and consistently growing for “50 years,” Matt said. “In fact, we’ve more than doubled sales since I’ve been with the business through natural growth and digging deeper into the market.”

As the vice president of sales, Matt concentrates on supporting retail sales activities, assisting divisional managers and acquiring product from manufacturers.

In order to ensure Roland Machinery customers receive the best in equipment and services, Matt emphasized that the company invests a lot of time and money in its own infrastructure.

“We constantly reinvest in our people and our company by training mechanics and always keeping lots of parts on the shelf,” Matt said. “Also, we reinvest in new buildings and new service trucks. We not only sell and rent equipment, we also provide excellent product support.”

As a family business, Roland Machinery understands that customers are buying much more than just product and that every time customers purchase equipment from the company, they are investing in Roland Machinery’s reputation.

“Our customers deserve [a] good return on their investment,” Matt argued. “To ensure the return, RMC delivers customized packages of products and services along with continual re-investment in its infrastructure; training employees, adding service trucks, increasing parts inventory, upgrading and expanding buildings. All this coupled with a sales and support team that is committed to our customers’ success. These attributes are key components to RMC’s success.

“I’m looking for an honest, hard-working and smart person that wants to solve our customers’ problems,” Matt explained. “Essentially, we need our sales team to sell the idea that Roland Machinery provides solutions that make our customers money.”

Ray agrees with Matt’s philosophy and said the company looks for honest and hardworking people who will be faithful to the company.

Roland Machinery Sells Quality

The early 1980s brought some drastic and exciting changes to Roland Machinery.

Roland Machinery first agreed to take on Komatsu in 1982 and the company carried both the IH and Komatsu line until 1984. Ultimately, the construction equipment division of International Harvester was sold to Dresser Industries.

“We made the final decision to stick with Komatsu in 1984,” Earl said.

Komatsu was relatively new in the United States at the time. Taking on Komatsu increased Roland Machinery’s already expanding presence in the Midwest.

“We’ve been with Komatsu now for 25 years. We are able to increase market presence thanks to Komatsu’s superior product quality and complete product line. In addition, Roland Machinery expanded into the Chicago market. Today we have three branches supporting the Chicagoland area in Bolingbrook, Marengo, and Portage, Indiana.”

“In order to better serve the Chicago customers, new buildings were added in the southeast quadrant of Chicago in Portage, Indiana, and Marengo, Illinois, to serve customers in the northwest quadrant of Chicago,” Earl said.

In 1985, Roland Machinery acquired the Komatsu account in the St. Louis area including branches in Columbia, Cape Girardeau and Palmyra in Missouri and, in 1987, Carterville, Ill.

In 2003, Roland Machinery Company acquired the Komatsu dealership in Wisconsin with headquarters in Green Bay and branches in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Wausau, as well as in Escanaba, Mich. Roland Machinery immediately built a 38,000-sq.-ft. service and parts facility on 12 acres of land on Route 94 south of Milwaukee. A second building was added in Escanaba, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula where a 28,500-sq.-ft. facility was constructed near the airport. The last new facility was a 40,000-sq.-ft. building south of Green Bay, Wis., on Route 94 in DePere and became the headquarters in Wisconsin.

“Komatsu Construction, Utility, Mining, and Forestry represent 70 percent of our business. The Wirtgen Group, which includes Vögele and Hamm, accounts for 10 percent,” said Ray. “We also sell other fine lines like Metso, LeeBoy, Atlas Copco, Tramac, Esco, Hensley, Gradall and Sennebogen.”

Roland Machinery has played an integral role in spreading the word about the Japan-based equipment manufacturer.

“Komatsu has been on a huge growth pattern in the United States for the past couple of years,” Matt said. “I believe we, along with other Komatsu dealers, have really contributed to that.”

Ray emphasized how Komatsu sales have been going up and attributed that to the quality of the machines.

“Komatsu excavators pretty much lead the way in the industry,” he said. Komatsu’s new wheel loaders have caught the attention of the market and our sales have doubled. We are also excited about the small and midsize Komatsu dozers.

“I’m very proud to be one of the best and largest Komatsu dealers in the country and I’m also proud of our company growing from small dealer in central Illinois to a regional dealer that operates in five states.”

Diversifying Portfolio

Giving customers choices has helped Roland Machinery maintain its high level of excellence. The company has expanded precisely because of the high quality of Komatsu and Roland Machinery’s other product lines.

“Komatsu as a manufacturer is better recognized by contractors,” Ray said. “With Komatsu, we now sell to small and large contractors alike and it gives contractors a real choice. We’re able to differentiate from our competition with our product support. If you take good care of customers, they will buy from you.”

In addition to expanding to 15 branches in five states, Roland Machinery has gone from eight employees in 1958 to approximately 350 employees, 50 years later. Furthermore, the company’s floor space has grown from less than 10,000 to 360,000 sq. ft. of total space that includes all 15 branches of operation.

“When you have 1,000 miles north to south, that’s a lot of different types of business up and down the Mississippi River, and multiple major metropolitan areas” Matt said. “Being diverse and carrying a lot of different brands allow us to serve the many different markets.”

In addition to construction, earth moving and mining equipment, Roland Machinery sells and services products for forestry, paving, demolition, scrap, and material handling.

Because of the large geographic territory and the different industry, Roland Machinery uses a “localized” approach for its 15 locations.

“We let our managers personally run their divisions so they can adapt to their customers’ needs,” Ray said. “For instance, this is how it works with Bill Mitchell in Missouri, Jimmy Slavens in Chicago and Bob Weier in Wisconsin.”

Ray explained that Roland Machinery’s “personal touch” has allowed all purchases “to be structured to your various needs or whatever suits your specific requirements.”

The Beginning

After leaving the Navy Air Force, Earl Roland was employed by Missouri-Illinois Tractor and Equipment Company (MIT) as a salesman in the fall of 1944. The company assigned him 16 counties in North Central Missouri.

He took residency in Moberly since that was the center of his territory and lived there about seven years. Three of his five children were born there (Ray, Bob and Patricia).

Shortly thereafter, he left MIT and acquired a Pontiac and Cadillac car dealership in Macon, Mo. Although moderately successful, that was sold and he took a job as a manager in a construction equipment dealership in Kansas with the understanding he could eventually buy into the dealership.

Eventually, Earl was offered a dealership as a partner in 1958 in Springfield, Ill. The partner was Ken McElroy who had managed a branch for the Altorfer’s Caterpillar dealership (previously Martin-Roasa) in the quad city area of Iowa. Ken and Earl named their new company McElroy-Roland Machinery Company.

The company gradually succeeded by selling International Harvester Construction Equipment including Hough pay loaders and Galion motorgraders and rollers.

Earl said that a lot of the sales were used machines that were bought for resale in Missouri and southern Illinois. For example, a large amount of success came from a quarry operation that was opening in southern Illinois and created a considerable volume for McElroy-Roland Machinery Co.

Ken was 13 years Earl’s senior and wanted to retire in 1970 so his stock was acquired with the help of First National Bank and International Harvester. They set up an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) plan with several of their employees, which proved a very good investment for them. All of them have long since retired.

Service With a Smile

Roland Machinery can provide parts and service to customers from 15 branches and 100 service trucks.

“Since the machines we sell could cost several hundred thousand dollars, it is important to keep them running with the minimum amount of downtime,” Ray said. “It is very important to all contractors, large and small, if we hope to get repeat business.”

Matt added that Roland Machinery’s service staff is composed entirely of trained technicians.

“Since our machines require skilled technicians to provide the necessary service to keep downtime to a minimum, they are trained to work on all machines, either at the factory or in our shop by skilled instructors employed by Roland Machinery Co. They are all computer- and cell phone-equipped to communicate with headquarters or manufacturers extranet Web sites.

Technology has changed during the past 50 years, especially in the past 20 years. The Roland family endeavors to change with the times.

With technology changing so quickly, one of the challenges we have is keeping technicians up to speed,” Ray said. “We have made an aggressive commitment to product support by having two full-time trainers.”

Roland Machinery requires that its technicians have 60 hours per year on training, which led to Roland Machinery to being awarded the best trained Komatsu dealership in 2007.

An award coming from Komatsu means a lot to Earl, Ray and Matt.

“Jerry Eastburn, along with his team, have managed the RMC Parts and Service department in such a way that ensures long term growth for Roland Machinery Company. The foundation is extremely strong for our organization with everyone understanding the product support direction,” Matt stated.

For the past 20 years, 40-year industry veteran Jerry Eastburn, vice president of product support has helped shape the company’s excellent service reputation. Over that time, changes in technology have transformed product and customer support, into a 24/7 job.

“Technology has become more electronically controlled and computerized and that has enabled us to provide our customers quicker and more accurate service,” Eastburn said. “We have 100 mobile service trucks that are available to go to the job site, wherever the equipment is, and do the repair on site.”

He said his team of 140 technicians in all 15 branches always try to respond to a service call within 24 hours or less.

In addition to sponsoring two-year Voc-Tech programs to train technicians, Roland Machinery has two full time in-house trainers based in Springfield and DePere, Wis.

“The trainers provide our technicians with at least 60 hours of training, annually,” Eastburn said. “In a technician, we look for experience, education and attitude.”

In his 20 years at Roland Machinery, Eastburn recalled many instances when the company went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure a customer remained satisfied.

“We do it all the time,” Eastburn said. “If a customer breaks down in the middle of the night or on Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever, we’ll be there, day in and day out.”

One tool that assists sales representatives and technicians is KOMTRAX.

“KOMTRAX is the most forward thinking system we have,” Matt said. “It offers more benefits to customers than just a GPS location. It gives back substantial information on performance of equipment and gives the contractor cost-saving feedback.”

KOMTRAX — a Virtual Fleet Manager

KOMTRAX is both a wireless equipment monitoring system and a secure, Web-based application used for reviewing the data KOMTRAX collects and sends. Packaged with maps, lists, graphs and charts, KOMTRAX already is installed on most Tier-III Komatsu construction equipment.

Dennis Gray, Roland Machinery’s manager of warranty and technical assistance, has been with the company for four years. Three of those years have been devoted to KOMTRAX.

“KOMTRAX started in February 2006 and I have had the opportunity of being the first to deal with Komtrax. With commitment to registering machines provisioned either equipped standard or retrofitting with Universal Komtrax Kits.

“Roland Machinery has recognized from the beginning the benefit and virtual value advantage for both our customers and our organization, to equip as many machines as possible with this 5-year free monthly service Komtrax offered.”

Gray’s duties include KOMTRAX activation, training of sales/PSSR, service and parts personnel and providing accessibility of Komtrax to job function requirements so that anyone can address parts/service issues. Included is the setup of customer accessibility and arranging training to view the KOMTRAX Web-Site of its registered machines.

“Training of personnel is approached one-on-one in addition to providing both internal and Komatsu offered Web casting, allowing us to hit our numerous branch locations spread out over five states with current information,” Gray said. “Roland Machinery has a full out effort to get information into the hands of parts and service to recognize KOMTRAX as a monitoring tool assisting with movement or abnormalities in machine operation. This being identified allows our technicians and parts department to work economically and efficiently.

“Training with our sales group is currently in place to provide KOMTRAX machine accumulated information, showing reports to assist the customer with efficient and economical operation assistance,” Gray said.

KOMTRAX uses a network of low earth-orbit satellites to relay basic and critical performance data from a machine to a computer as well as to a local Komatsu distributor — which is readily available for expert analysis and feedback. KOMTRAX collects detailed information from a machine on a daily basis and through event-driven occurrences. The operator is then provided with daily, monthly, and annual reports on both basic and more advanced aspects of machine performance.

Through the Web application, a variety of search parameters are available to help quickly find information about specific machines based on key factors such as utilization rates, age, various notification messages and more. KOMTRAX data also can be pulled into an operator’s existing management and office applications or downloaded directly into spreadsheet programs for further analysis.

“The system works on three sides: sales, service and parts,” Gray said. “First, the monitoring tool assists in recognizing movement or abnormalities in machine operations and will identify an efficient and economical operation by fuel consumption report for customers so they can make better decisions on operators and machine size for jobs.”

To access KOMTRAX for machine information, the operator logs on to the Web-based application from any computer, and views or downloads the information. Komatsu dealers can automatically monitor machines and pro-actively plan and schedule maintenance as needed. It saves time and is a convenient way to ensure that the contractors’ fleet receives the best attention and care possible, according to the company.

“KOMTRAX puts Komatsu on the forefront of technology,” Ray added. “We’ve been told by our customers that it’s the greatest tool they have. KOMTRAX has helped us make inroads into some major contracts.”

Care After the Sale

Roland Machinery pays special attention to aftermarket sale in parts.

“Most construction equipment dealers have to protect replacement parts,” Earl said. “We deal with a lot of repair, service and maintenance contracts because of the nature of construction work. Due to our years of commitment to product support, we have expanded our services to both partial and full maintenance contracts.”

Today, RMC manages more than 1,000 machines on maintenance contracts.

Gary Meister, Product Support Manager, has been at Roland Machinery for more than 20 years at the Springfield branch. He assists in the management of more than $9 million in parts sales over 15 branches.

“We work on calls and demands”, Meister said. “The 15 branches work independently, but we do have a centralized parts warehouse strategically located in Bolingbrook, Ill. This gives us the opportunity to ship parts next day through our overnight delivery service to each branch in the Roland organization.”

He agreed that customer service is a vital part of the business model and said that “our parts usually get to our customers within 24 hours – if not same day.”

In addition to parts inventory and logistics, he manages, with Brad Bosar from Wisconsin, the 18 field sales representatives who visit customers in the field in an effort to provide problem solving value to the end user. Meister said, “this sector of our business is the eyes and ears to what is going on in the market place. Most all our customer promotions are developed thru our outside sales representatives. This adds a unique dimension as to what Roland Machinery can provide our customer base and it is a free service. We hope to add value to what we sell that is unique and sets up apart from our competition.

“Servicing all brands and all types helps provide our customers with a ’one stop shop’ mentality. This fits Roland’s business philosophy very well,” he said.

Leasing Options

Roland Machinery’s rentals account for a significant portion of the company’s volume. The rental business has boomed in recent years and the company has adjusted to this trend in the construction industry.

Roland Machinery manages both rent to rent and rent to sell inventory.

Changing with the times, excelling at the rental side of business is just another example of how Roland Machinery has steadily grown for more than five decades.

“Over the years, the rental part of the business has gotten much bigger,” Earl said. “The industry began changing from an equipment selling business to a selling and renting equipment business. Our company have adapted well to that change.”

“Roland Machinery buys good used equipment — single units or entire spreads,” Ray said. “Naturally, we prefer those of manufacturers that we represent, but we will consider all brands and types.”

The Future of Roland Machinery

A lot has changed since Earl started the company 50 years ago.

“We’ve had many big deals, including one sale for about $16 million. These days, our multiple sales are up and we are in the big leagues. I think that has something to do with selling service with the sale.”

Ray and Matt anticipate continued success as Komatsu begins launching fuel-efficient machinery, such as its soon-to-be released hybrid hydraulic excavator.

“Everybody wants fuel-efficient machines,” Ray said. “Because Komatsu has been forward looking, it has constantly continued to push the industry standard.”

“Recently, cost production along with other buzz words like uptime availability and productivity has made KOMTRAX and hybrid vehicles more attractive,” Matt added. “Our future depends on being able to sell machines that are efficient while being productive. KOMTRAX alone can save a contractor 40 percent on fuel.”

With its dogged attention on product service, quality and earning contractors’ trust, the Roland family looks forward to another 50 years of success. CEG

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