Chris Palmer is president of CRW Corp.
A lot happens in 50 years. For a business to live that long, it takes an incredible amount of hard work, a host of timely if not brilliant decisions, a steady and loyal team and perhaps, above all else, an unfailing commitment to do what’s right for customers and clients it serves — all the time. Wood’s CRW exemplifies these traits and is truly an American success story.
Now operated by the second generation, CRW Corp. opened its doors as Wood’s Construction Equipment and Supplies in South Burlington, Vt., in 1961. Charles R. “Bob” Wood Sr. founded the company as a general line equipment house providing contractors with heavy construction equipment, supplies, parts and service. The company, now owned and operated by his sons, Chris Palmer and Bobby Wood, has weathered the many ups and downs of the construction industry for the past five decades.
“Our longevity in this industry is a tribute to our founder’s vision of building long-term relationships with our customer partners; providing them with the best equipment solutions available based on their needs, with the goal of assisting them with their success,” said Palmer, president of CRW Corp.
“Even with the widespread use of technology, our industry is still a people and relationship business. We have always tried to hire the best people, train them and keep them. Our customers still want to do business with people they can trust for sound advice and who will be around to take care of them when they have a problem. We feel very fortunate to have been doing that successfully for the last 50 years. Our team also understands that to be around for the next 50 years we need to keep improving what we do every day.
In the Beginning
As a young man, Bob Sr. was employed by General Dynamics in San Diego. The company manufactured aircraft and various defense products, and he worked on radar devices. He then went to work for his uncle, Howard Danner, at Parker Danner Equipment Company of Hyde Park, Mass., as a salesman. After moving to work at the company’s Vermont branch, he subsequently went into business for himself, opening an office in South Burlington, Vt.
“I was always looking for new solutions to help the contractors become more productive, which led to expanding into selling heavy equipment,” Bob Sr. recalled. “We were in on the ground floor with the first hydraulic cranes, aerial lifts and hydraulic excavators back in the ’60s and ’70s.”
C.R. Wood Corporation handled heavy equipment sales with smaller equipment rented and sold by its associated business, Rentz Corp. The two companies were combined under the Wood’s CRW Corporation name.
“We were one of JLG’s first distributors of aerial lift equipment in the country and we had a sizable rental fleet,” Bob Sr. said.
According to family lore, Bob Sr. declared he was going to put a Drott in every excavating contractor’s garage. He almost did it, since CRW Corp. was the first dealer in New England offering Drott’s hydraulic excavators.
“We sold over 400 in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont before they were purchased by J.I. Case,” he recalled.
In the early 1980s, shortly after J.I. Case purchased Drott, CRW Corp. lost the dealership to the local Case distributor. It was crippling to the company, since throughout the ’70s Drott equipment had represented the majority of its business. It was an obstacle the company overcame by expanding the equipment lines it offered its customers.
“In the late mid ’70s hydraulic boom cranes came on the scene as a viable option over the lattice boom machines in some applications. We sold a lot of the P&H Omega series cranes in those years. We are still taking some of those old machines back in trade today,” Bob Sr. noted.
A Son Returns Home
CRW Corp. had always been involved in the mobile crane and aerial lift business in northern New England and upstate New York, and Bob Sr. asked Palmer if he would be willing to help him with calling on that market segment.
“The early 1990s were not a boom time for the mobile cranes business,” Palmer said. “However, by spending time with contractors and crane service owners, I started to learn it was a market that was not being catered to by anyone else in the region. Many of my cold calls were met with a corresponding cold shoulder, as many other people were also going through a tough time, and the last thing they wanted to do was have someone calling them about buying a new crane.”
He therefore switched focus, asking them if they might be interested in selling one of their machines — and that made a huge difference in his reception.
“Now someone was approaching them as a problem solver instead of just trying to sell them something. It was a lesson that has made a huge impact on me professionally. We sold and brokered a lot of used cranes back then,” Palmer acknowledged. “Working with Bob Sr. and, more importantly, the customer base, I became a much better listener and questioner. It takes probing questions by a good salesperson to help get to the root of the problem and come up with the best possible solutions.”
Palmer learned in those early days that customers liked talking to someone who was a specialist.
“Instead of having someone call on them selling ’construction equipment,’ they really appreciated someone that had a higher level of understanding of the application and their business,” he said.
In 1993, the Samsung Construction Equipment Company approached Bobby Wood to express interest in CRW Corp. handling its line.
“Samsung made a cost-effective, high quality performance excavator and we found many customers were impressed with our demos and the level of technical understanding Bobby had,” Palmer said. “Slowly we began to have an impact on the local marketplace.”
By 1998, it was clear that the company needed to make a more substantial investment on the product support side of the business. The company’s machine population and geographic territory had grown substantially and it was critical that it keep its customers up and running. It was very evident that instead of looking outside for a vice president of product support, that Bobby was a perfect fit.
Crane and Lifting Divisions
Although CRW Corp. has the Volvo construction equipment line for Vermont; it covers all of New England and New York State with its crane and lifting equipment division.
The company had offered P&H cranes since the early 1970s.
Bob Coogan, who had been its Trojan loader representative in the ’70s and was now district sales representative of Link-Belt Construction Equipment Company, was looking for a strong crane distributor for New England. He persuaded the CRW Corp. management team that Link-Belt was heading in the right direction.
CRW Corp. began offering Link-Belt equipment in Vermont, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts in 1997. As a result of its success in these markets, it opened a branch in Worcester, Mass., in 1998, and then began selling in Connecticut, Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts. Maine was added in November 1999, rounding out complete coverage for the New England states. New York State, north of Westchester County, was added to its territory in 2003.
After many years of doing business in eastern New York, CRW Corp. decided its next move would take it into the central and western parts of the state.
The company hired crane industry veterans David Burkard to oversee the service side of this new venture, and Greg George and Carl Hughes as territory salesmen. Working from their homes for the first couple of years, they were responsible for helping build the customer base and operate the new branch in New York State, for which the company purchased a facility in Central Square, N.Y., in 2004.
Mike Sylvia is vice president of Crane Sales and general manager of the southern New England branch, joined the team in 2001. He oversees all branch operations and is part of the company’s senior management group.
“We are involved in all aspects of the lifting industry, such as crane and tree service companies, marine construction, steel erection, contractors and builders, as well as many other types of companies that utilize this type of equipment,” he said.
“From this location we cover all of southern New England. We like being located in central Massachusetts, because it allows us to better serve our customers,” Sylvia continued. “Our focus has been to build a strong relationship with our customers based on quality products and support and solving customer problems both before and after a sale. We are fortunate to have a team with extensive backgrounds in the industry and many years of experience.”
Palmer described CRW Corp.’s relationship with Link-Belt as exceptional, highlighted by the company’s receipt of multiple Link-Belt awards, including nine as a Top Five Dealer.
“Link-Belt has always been the leader in the lattice boom, hydraulic truck cranes and crawler cranes under 200 tons,” he said, “but in the last few years they have made significant advances in the design, performance and quality of their Flat Deck series rough-terrain cranes and their larger crawler cranes. Over the last 10 years, they have also expanded their line into Telescopic Crawler Cranes and All Terrains.”
CRW Corp. has been a National Crane Dealer since 1997.
“Long time National Crane territory manager Bob Morgan noticed the job we were doing with [another] line of boom trucks. He convinced us that National Crane offered some of the best solutions for our customers, in particular their rear-mounted cab units,” Palmer went on. “Since then we have become National Crane’s largest distributor in the region.”
Palmer observed CRW Corp. seemed to focus on the larger machines, ranging from 26 to 55 tons (23.5 to 50 t), with many being rear-mounted.
Marc Varricchione is CRW’s Boom Truck product manager.
“We are very excited about the new NBT45 rear mount boom truck that we are now stocking on Peterbilt Chassis. We think the features, value, and superior roadability will be attractive to both cranes service as well as tree service companies in the Northeast. We are also big on the new 900H series where out and down outriggers are replacing the big a-Frame units. The flexibility they give in set up is far superior from the machine of the past.”
CRW Corp. sells many used cranes and lifts throughout North America and the rest of the world. This part of its business is unique in that most of these pre-owned machines must pass an annual OSHA inspection prior to being retailed.
“We may not sell a used machine as cheaply as you might get one at auction or private sale, but you won’t be getting a surprise when you get it home and find it has a worn-out turntable bearing or bent boom sections,” Palmer promised.
CRW Corp. believes it may be the only distributor doing business with Link-Belt, Manitowoc (National Crane and Shuttlelift Industrial Cranes) and Tadano (Boom Trucks). Other leading brands offered by this division include Gunnebo Johnson, LSI and Genie/Terex telehandlers.
In addition to sales and service, CRW Corp. offers a broad range of rental options for customers. Rental equipment includes industrial cranes (8.5 to 25 tons [7.7 to 22.6 t]), rough-terrain cranes (30 to 90 tons [27 to 81.6 t]), crawler cranes (50 to 230 tons [45 to 208.6 t]) and boom trucks (10 to 45 tons [9 to 40 t]). They also have added telescopic boom crawler cranes to the fleet that have been very popular.
In the Vermont branch, CRW Corp. offers excavators from 3,500 to 85,000 lbs. (1,587 to 38,555 kg), loaders from 0.75 to 6 yd. (0.7 to 5.4 m), skid steer loaders, loader backhoes, forklifts, wheeled excavators, soil compactors and a full line of attachments.
Rental-purchase options also are available on most models.
After-sales support is critical. As Bobby declared, “The saying ’Sales sells the first machines, service sells the rest’ should be updated to ’Product support sells them all.’”
Having Bobby Wood overseeing after-market support for all three branches has given the company a big advantage, according to Palmer, since his brother is co-owner of the company he can make business decisions quickly and has developed critical relationships with the manufacturers to further support CRW Corp.’s customers.
The company’s parts department stocks a large inventory of parts and accessories for its primary lines of equipment, plus it also sells parts for machines manufactured by Koehring, P&H, American, Superpac, Champion, Samsung and Scat Trac.
Steve McKnight arrived at CRW Corp. in May 2001 to take up the post of parts manager.
“Prior to this, I had over 23 years at John Deere construction equipment dealerships, holding various positions including parts manager, general parts manager and inventory control manager of multi-location dealership groups that evolved through different owners over this time span,” he said. “Prior to that, I had a couple years at a Caterpillar dealer, so I really have over 30 years of uninterrupted heavy equipment parts experience.
“When I started at CRW, Volvo had recently acquired the Samsung line, for which CRW Corp. was a dealer, so the timing was good for me, as I got in on the ground floor as the product line and procedures developed,” McKnight noted.
While he is involved in all functions of the parts department, McKnight’s main focus is on inventory control, for which he constantly monitors new parts requirements as well as reducing obsolete parts.
The company provides a 24/7 emergency service system and fields a professional crew of technicians. Staff experience is enhanced by factory training, and the company was awarded Manitowoc Crane Care Elite Status, based on its investment and performance in supporting National Crane products.
CRW Corp. also has signed the AED Foundation Commitment to Knowledge Pledge, by which it undertakes to provide each employee with the opportunity for at least 40 hours of additional training annually.
CRW Corp. also keeps customers and other interested parties informed through its bi-annual newsletters, The Northeast Crane Report for crane owners and Today’s Dirt for site contractors.
2006: a Monumental Year
The company’s 45th anniversary year of 2006 was described by Palmer as monumental for CRW Corp.
“Bobby and I were able to put together an offer to buy the rest of the company shares from our parents Bob and Roberta Wood. As with most family businesses, it was a long and tedious ordeal. It was very hard on all of us, but we found through compromise and constant communication we were able to get it done,” he said.
And how did the previous generation feel about their sons taking over the business? Former Owner and company Treasurer Roberta Wood pointed out, “Knowing the company is in good hands makes it easier to walk away.”
After weathering the recent downturn in the construction business CRW is once again growing even in these challenging times. “We have been fortunate to remain profitable even through these past few years “ which we attribute to the hard work and loyalty of our team members.” Palmer stated.” 2011 has each department growing again, some to record numbers.”
“Our commitment to providing unparalleled customer service after the sale has paid off.”
Founder Bob Sr. has often referred to his customers as “partners and good friends.” In turn, the company prides itself on partnering with customers with a goal of mutual success.
Beyond that, what do the principals see as the secret of their phenomenal success?
Bob Sr. stated the key was “hiring the right people, [those] who will stay with the company for the long haul.”
“The one thing we have come to realize in the past 10 years is just how important it is to have the best people. I think in the past, the company was defined by my parents. It is now defined by our team members,” he said. “That is why we try very hard to keep and attract the good ones, and invest in them and our future. We also promote to all of our people that they must do what they say they are going to do. Integrity with our customers, suppliers and business partners is one of our core philosophies that we preach to all of our employees.”
“If you were to ask me who are the key people I would tell you all of them,” Bobby Jr. added. “Chris and I both know it is the employees that make the company what it is. Owners and managers set policies, ground rules and provide leadership. The employees make it happen.”
CRW Corp. is a family-oriented company with an “open door” policy, meaning every employee and customer can bring any issue to the owners at any time, he said.
“Our employees are part of the family, knowing their needs, being flexible and helping them is only a small part. Having state-of-the-art facilities, a safe, clean, fun team environment, competitive benefits and being committed to training all helps.”
This policy has resulted in employee dedication through both good and bad times. A large part of CRW Corp.’s staff has been with them for more than l5 years.
Raymond Curtis, the company’s CFO, is another example of how experienced, dedicated team members have contributed to CRW Corp.’s success.
“Ray has been instrumental in putting the proper cost controls and financial reporting systems in place and improving our cash flow. He has contributed substantially to our ability to grow the business,” Palmer observed.
Roberta Wood added another observation. Because CRW Corp.’s personnel are treated as part of the extended family and allowances are made for ups and downs in their personal lives, company staff “care about the company and are not just there from nine to five. Having employees totally committed to the success of the company has been the key to our growth and success over the years.”
With New Facilities…
Wood’s CRW recently broke ground on a new service and support facility in southern New England, located at the corner of Routes 56 and 20 in Oxford, Mass.
“The key item for us was to find a location that was at the center of customer base in southern New England, making it as convenient and cost effective as possible for our customer partners,” said Palmer. “Keeping the drive time within an hour of the hubs of Boston, Hartford, Providence and Springfield was a mandatory item for site location.”
The facility is specifically designed for maintaining and repairing mobile cranes. Service bays have been designed to move all major work inside and out of the elements to increase safety and efficiencies. Installation of two tandem hoisting fifteen ton overhead cranes enables the majority of the work to be performed out of the elements. Ceiling heights have been designed to accommodate removal of hydraulic swivels, winches and booms on telescopic cranes.
The new location is approximately 1 mi. south of Route 90 and less than 3 mi. west of Route 395. The new facility will more than triple the size of their current leased facility in Worcester, Mass.
“This is a major investment for us, especially in this economy. We want our customer base to know that we are committed long term to this market and that we will be offering the best quality and value in mobile crane repair and maintenance in the region. We also intend to add to our technician staff and begin offering new services at point of sale. We won’t just be servicing our current brands either. Our team will be prepared to work on all types of mobile hydraulic lifting equipment, including telescopic forklifts, aerial lifts and knuckle booms and wallboard units.”
Future expansion also is on the horizon. In CRW’s central New York facility it has purchased an additional four acres adjacent to its current facility for growth, according to Palmer.
…and New Staff
Gary Plasencia has joined the crane sales team as territory manager of eastern New York and western Massachusetts. Plasencia has experience in the mortgage and finance industry and most recently, nearly four years selling Volvo Construction Equipment.
Jeff Spencer is the new service technician based out of Bangor, Maine. He will serve the company’s Maine and eastern Canadian customers. Spencer has more than 20 years of experience in the heavy equipment repair and maintenance industry, including seven years owning and operating his own earthwork company, J.T. Spencer Earthwork.
This hire and placement will allow CRW to better serve its most northeastern partners by significantly reducing down time and repair costs, according to the company.
… and New Machines
Going forward, the company is looking to increase the solution options it can offer its customer-partners. It has increased the number of machines it has available for short-term rental as well as rental purchase options and has added telescopic crawler cranes to its rental fleet, 25 ton (22.6 t) industrial cranes and boom trucks with out and down outriggers. The company also plans to offer more integrated service options with new and used machine sales.
“At CRW, our success begins with our Customer/Partners success. Each team member is dedicated to providing solutions that lead to lower equipment operating cost. Our goal is to defend and grow the number of loyal customers by providing the right solutions at the right price, at the right time. All of our team members understand that we must strive to make our customers more successful by guiding them through the equipment ownership experience so that they can focus on servicing their customers and managing their businesses.
“We want them to depend on us for equipment solutions that make them more successful.”
For more information call 802/658-1700 or visit www.woodscrw.com.
(CEG Correspondent Mary Reed contributed to this story.) CEG