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Setting Benchmark in Machine Automation Technology

Fri July 22, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Lori Lovely

Chuck Harris stands in the Raleigh showroom next to a wide selection of Topcon and other leading brands of GPS machine guidance systems.
Chuck Harris stands in the Raleigh showroom next to a wide selection of Topcon and other leading brands of GPS machine guidance systems.
Chuck Harris stands in the Raleigh showroom next to a wide selection of Topcon and other leading brands of GPS machine guidance systems. Benchmark has a fleet of service trucks staffed with knowledgeable and well-trained technicians who are ready to help you. (L-R) are Christina Lloyd, Marcus Barnes, Jim Jones, Sarah Norris, Andy Hicklin and Tony McNish. Helping contractors from the Concord, N.C., office are (L-R) Wes Smith, Kelly Biddix, Chuck Harris and Dale Mason.. Featured are the GRS-1 with PG-A1 antenna and an RL H4C rotating laser, both by Topcon. Kelly Biddix and Dale Mason load the Topcon RL-H4C rotating laser, aluminum tripod and fiberglass grade rod into the delivery truck. Benchmark has many customers in the Carolinas who depend on them to deliver products to their site, fix machines and train

The industry has changed, said Chuck Harris, president of Benchmark Tool & Supply Inc.

“Ten years ago we were ’the laser guys’ selling $5,000 pieces of equipment to the guys in the field,” explained Harris. “These days, we’re offering $100,000 high-end technology packages to the guys in the head office. That requires a quality sales staff accustomed to forging strong relationships with corporate decision makers.”

It also requires the right inventory. Benchmark is one of North Carolina’s major suppliers of positioning systems, laser equipment, machine control, software, surveying and optical instruments and field accessories. Catering to every sector of the engineering, surveying and construction industries, as well as the agricultural market, Benchmark is a distributor for quality equipment and supplies from leading manufacturers such as Topcon, Sokkia, Carlson, MicroSurvey, CST/Berger, Seco, Crain Enterprises, Rolatape, Presco and Subsurface Instruments.

Topcon, the recognized technology leader in machine control, is “way ahead of the competition,” said Harris, adding that “machine automation is the current trend in the construction industry. Topcon looks at new ways to do things and brings them to the market. They listen to the customer and build intuitive products to fit their needs.”

Popular with customers because it offers the advantage of increased productivity, while using less manpower and machinery, machine control equipment has become a necessary tool for most jobs. Benchmark represents several of Topcon’s product lines including lasers, optical equipment, GIS, telematics, GPS and both 2-D and 3-D machine control systems, which requires a staff with a strong technical expertise.

“We are very fortunate to have a great depth of talent in-house to support and train users on all the products we sell and to keep abreast of the changing technologies,” Harris stated.

Harris considers support an important aspect of his business. Benchmark offers on-site installation of every product sold, in-house and on-site training, phone and on-site support, and in-house repair.

“We made a commitment to never outsell our service capabilities,” he explained. “”We must be able to service what we sell.”

That’s not always an easy task in an industry that sees rapid and ongoing changes in software and technology, but Harris considers training “an everyday thing” to keep his staff current on the latest developments.

Founded in Raleigh, N.C., in 2004, Benchmark is a privately held company. In 2006, the company added a second location in Concord to better serve customers in the western part of the state, as well as South Carolina. Due to the growth in this region, the company recently moved into a location three times larger than the previous one. Harris said his company will continue to grow and expand, with plans for new locations in the future, and he sees a continued investment in the company’s online store. Benchmark introduced the company’s online store in 2008, and the store has increased his revenue significantly.

Recognizing that Benchmark needs to keep up with the fast pace of change in the industry, Harris said that the company is diversifying and reaching out to different markets. In an attempt to be a one-stop resource for contractors, surveyors and engineers, they are augmenting their sales and service by focusing on the rental business.

“A lot of companies have down-sized,” he indicated. “Their level of commitment has changed: they look at the length of a job in order to decide whether to purchase or rent equipment. If the job isn’t long or they don’t think they’ll need the equipment later, they might rent it.”

The industry may be changing, but helping customers work more efficiently and precisely is still the goal these former “laser guys” set out to achieve every day. CEG

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