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Still Going Strong After Nearly 60 Years in the Industry

Fri October 14, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Some people claim age is just a number, or that you’re only as old as you feel.

Harold Howell appears to be one of those people.

At age 77, he’s still going strong as the owner of Harold Howell Construction Equipment, in Jupiter, Fla.

“Albert E. Finley hired me in 1952 at $.60 per hour to work in the parts department. This was the old A. E. Finley organization: North Carolina Equipment Co., Florida-Georgia Tractor Co. and Hampton Roads Tractor & Equipment and A. E. Finley & Associates were all owned by Mr. Finley,” Howell began.

Howell’s journey took him to Miami to work for Florida-Georgia Tractor Co. in 1955. In 1962 he went with H. F. Mason, Albert Finley’s nephew, when he bought part of the corporation and formed H. F. Mason Equipment with headquarters in Lakeland, Fla.

Howell spent two years in Miami and then moved to West Palm Beach when that territory opened.

“I liked the territory because it was so diversified. I called on the area around the Everglades, Palm Beach, West Palm Beach and the Bahamas. Every day was exciting because every day was different with such a diverse customer base.”

Northwest draglines, Cedarapids crushers and pavers, Etnyre distributors and Rogers trailers were the accounts.

Howell stayed until 1976 when he was promoted to vice president and sales manager and moved to Lakeland. He spent 10 years in corporate.

“In 1985 I went into business for myself and moved back to West Palm Beach. I buy and sell used equipment but specialize in draglines, having started as a dragline salesman in the early 1960s.”

He has become known as the “guru” of draglines to many around the country and even outside the United States, which he said he takes as a compliment.

“In the early days there were no hydraulic excavators,” he said.

“The biggest change has been hydraulic excavators. When I started, contractors were using a dragline to lay pipe. Then we took on a hydraulic excavator account and demonstrated it on a project in West Palm Beach. From then on it was all hydraulic excavators for laying pipe. The machines continued to get bigger and today there are big mining machines.”

Howell is still working with some of the contractors from his early days in the business, but now he’s dealing with the third generation family members.

“More and more of the small guys disappeared as they were merged into large companies until they came to dominate the business, but there are still many individual entrepreneurs with companies that I have been successful dealing with,” he said.

Changing Times

“In the early days a handshake sealed the deal and financing was 25 percent down and the balance over 36 months,” Howell said.

“It used to be one on one selling but with the Internet it isn’t like that now. You used to sell features and benefits; now with the Internet and export you have to have the best machine with the cheapest price and you are selling to people you don’t really know. I like the one on one better.”

Auctions have become Howell’s biggest competition he said.

“I have learned to coexist with them because they are here to stay. It is the same with the Internet. Some days I love the Internet but some days I hate it. When I was first in a territory there were a couple of auction companies and they were only around when someone was liquidating their business.

“Now there are like 80 auctions going on all over the country.”

Export also has become a large part of Howell’s business.

“When I first started we didn’t do much export. I did cover the Grand Bahamas Islands and I had a couple of contractor friends doing a lot of work over there so I would go over a couple of times a month to see them and sell them some machines. Nowadays at least 80 percent of my business is export,” he said.

Now he not only buys equipment but also brokers it. Most of the equipment he buys is draglines since that is his “first love.”

“I do have verbal contracts with several large contractors to sell their used equipment. They used to always trade it in to dealers. But now I am their liquidator, I sell their machines for them instead of trading them in.”

Family and Friends

Working with him in the business is his wife, Lotta, who is secretary/treasurer and his daughter, Deborah, who is his office manager and webmaster.

“I’m very big on the Internet. I have a beautiful Web site that is current at all times. My daughter is my Web master and she keeps it current. If someone wants something I’ve got for sale I hope they would call me but if not they would go to my Web site. Its got pictures, hours and complete specifications, serial number and price of the machines I own and the ones I have for sale. Mostly export deals come from the Internet because the guy in South America, or where ever he is, has a computer also.

“Over the years I have met a lot of really great old time contractors. A handshake with them was a deal. It is not that way with a lot of the people that are out there anymore. Now you have to cross your ’T’ and dot your ’I’ to make sure everything is covered the way it should be covered. The handshake deals I miss.”

Howell is known for his cowboy boots, which he has been wearing since 1962.

“When I came into a territory I had a contractor who wore cowboy boots and he was kind of my cowboy hero so I went down to the farmers market and bought my first pair of cowboy boots and I’ve been wearing them ever since. Over the years I have been called ’cowboy’ by many of my customers and friends.”

Not Ready to Call It Quits

“It has been a good ride and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the selling,” Howell concluded.

“I’m 77 years old and I’m in good health. I have enough money to retire if I want to, but I still enjoy selling, the people in the business and I love construction equipment. As long as there are good people out there and I can find good machines to sell I am going to keep on trucking.”

Howell is the past director of Florida East Coast chapter of AGC, past director of Better Business Bureau of Palm Beach County and is currently on the advisory board of the Marlins Community Foundation.

For more information, visit CEG

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