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Success in the Cards for Willington’s Ace Equipment Sales

Fri March 13, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams

Lawrence “Larry” Becker is still going strong at 85.

Becker — born in 1923 when another New England Yankee, Calvin Coolidge, sat in the White House — is still his own commander-in-chief.

He jokes that the kids have him down to working half-days, “only” at the job from 6 to 6 daily. He used to work longer hours when he founded Becker Construction Company 61 years ago.

His businesses have expanded, and his interests now range from manufacturing crushed stone, making ready mix concrete and precast products, to buying and selling aggregate equipment and becoming a growing aggregate dealer in the New England/New York area. He credits his longevity to a good diet and exercise.

Always a family operation, his daughter, Diane Becker, joined the companies in 1984 and serves as the general manager. Her husband, John Patton, joined them in 1999 and now oversees the sales operations and the concrete business. The companies employ about 45 people with many of the employees being there for years.

Larry Becker is proud that he has many long-time employees. “Like our customers, we try to treat our employees fairly and with respect,” he said.

From Cockpits to Gravel Pits

During World War II, Becker was a B-24 flight instructor and, after the war, he went back to his hometown of Willington, Conn.

Working out of the family homestead, he founded Becker Construction Company in 1948 by buying used construction equipment and starting to do independent earthwork.

He bought property and started a gravel pit some seven years later. In the late 1970s, he added 400 acres of relatively worthless land, consisting mostly of ledge. He got an idea he should be crushing that all up, so Becker began screening and crushing operations to develop a quarry.

Becker’s quarry contains granite gneiss and, remarkably, has been in continuous operation since that time. Today, the floor of this quarry is a half-mile long and 125-ft. deep.

In 1962, Becker acquired the Joseph J. Mottes Company, a ready-mix operation, thereby creating a steady customer for his aggregate products. It was as natural as granite in the rocks for Becker to form his own company — Ace Equipment Sales Inc.

Under this banner, he would buy and sell the equipment used in the construction and aggregates industries for nearly 36 years, beginning in 1973.

Diane Becker said her father was always an advocate of having the right machine to get the job done, and always worked with an eye to having back-up equipment in every vital operation.

“He is a typical Yankee. [Larry] spends countless hours adjusting and refining his equipment and crushing techniques to eke out the maximum productivity without loss of quality in the product,” she said. “He keeps installing more modern crushing and handling equipment for better efficiency. As such, he became an expert on the various types of equipment needed for different types of rock crushing operations.”

As a contractor, early on, Larry Becker surprised everyone by being one of the first to streamline a small job by crushing on-site. At a job site where there was a large amount of material to be removed, and replaced with a gravel base course, the company brought in a portable jaw crusher and turned the unsuitable into the usable, saving time and money.

It was a clever solution that made the general contractor envious for sure, but it was the correct, and elegant, solution.

As a user, naturally, the first activities of buying and selling equipment were to further the quarry and sand and gravel operations. Upon discovering he had a talent for finding good deals and providing good equipment for a good price for the right application, Becker expanded the equipment business to become a stand-alone activity.

Deeper, Wider Expansion

In 1995, Ace Equipment became a Telsmith representative for Connecticut and New York and now is a distributor of Telsmith products for the aggregate industry in the New England and New York areas. “Additionally, we now have factory-trained mechanics with modern service trucks and first-class equipment,” said Diane Becker. “We warehouse the most needed Telsmith parts and, also, manganese for all makes and models of crushers.”

“After many years in the business, Larry Becker settled on Telsmith crushers because they were extremely productive, built to last, has parts availability even for older crushers, and they hold their value,” said John Patton.

Ace first focused on sales and rental of portable crushing equipment. Larry Becker worked with Telsmith to develop portable machines that were practical to use and move while maintaining Telsmith’s focus on heavy-duty long-lasting equipment. He helped with the design of the Telsmith 3042 and 3055 portable crushers.

The family turned the main focus of Ace Equipment Sales from general construction equipment to specialize in aggregate equipment, notably rock crushers. In 2004, the assets and employees of W.H. Milroy Company Inc., (now named Milroy & Company, LLC) a wear parts and equipment specialty company, were brought under the umbrella of Becker’s activities as a logical enhancement to the unit sales operation.

Patton noted that as a natural evolution toward becoming a full-service equipment dealer, Ace acquired Milroy in 2004 to greatly enhance the company’s ability to work with customers and meet their needs for parts and services.

Besides Telsmith portable and stationary crushers, the company now stocks Komplet Crushers, a wide range of quality used portable equipment conveyors, equipment parts, troughing idlers, belting, manganese and other wear parts in Connecticut.

“Additionally, we now have factory-trained mechanics with modern service trucks and first class equipment,” added Patton. Pat Amidon, who heads up the inside sales office, has 35 years experience in this industry and said that, “This business has a language all its own and when customers call for help they like to speak to someone that understands their language.”

“We also refurbish and rebuild Telsmith equipment for customers,” said Patton. He added that being in the aggregate business is such a great asset because, “Any new employees can be immersed in this world quickly and we have them operate and help repair the equipment to help them better understand the business.”

Record Keeping, Philosophy

Ace Equipment and Milroy now provide design-assemble-build services to assist customers in assembling crushing suites to suit a variety of applications. It also provides both on-site and in-house repair service for crushing equipment, the on-site work being generally limited to the New England/New York area.

One of Ace Equipment’s special services is its commitment to record keeping.

“We maintain files on our customer’s machines for decades,” said Patton. “It is critical to help with identifying and procuring parts to keep their equipment running, especially on older machines. Some of our records go back over 100 years and we still make parts for crushers that are that old.”

“We have grown in staff from two to six. Our affiliated companies afford us five additional service people with vehicles as our needs dictate. We have 45 employees in all of our companies,” said Patton.

As times change, the Becker philosophy has adjusted as well. It goes something like this:

“Our industry is a traditional one; rock crushing and aggregate production is not new or cutting edge. However, more and more systems are being computerized and modernized to take advantage of technical advances. But the work is still that of crushing stone, and that takes tough, durable equipment.

“As owner-operators, we are facing the same challenges that our customers face. We have a unique ability to know how to best help them, and dedicate our staff to solving our customers’ problems. We try to provide the unique service of knowing our customers’ equipment as well as they do, so when they need a part that they bought 18 years ago, we know what that was and we can get it for them with a minimum of worry on their part.

“We have also started to use the Internet to seek equipment and advertise equipment for sale. This helps us to provide the right equipment for the right applications. We also find that we can serve part of the overseas demand for heavy iron.

“The equipment in our industry has a long useful life, so we are constantly seeking ways to bring our products to new market. We hope that the current troubling times will be short and mild, and that government regulation does not further stifle the manufacture and use of earth products. We are always seeking new applications for our products. We think there are opportunities in the recycling area.

“We also recognize that there is a market for well-built ’mini’ crushers to handle quick smaller jobs and are a dealer for an Italian manufacturer called Komplet Crushers. These are well-built, rugged stone/building material crushers and small enough to easily transport and perfect for tight lots.”

Customer Stories

The family added that certain customers do stand out over the years:

• The buyer in Cypress who wired money based on the company’s reputation and photos alone.

• The man from Singapore who literally had a gold mine and came here for a demonstration of the company’s track plant in operation.

• And their favorite story: a customer from Mount Airey, N.C., who bought a Telsmith suite for a new operation opening up in Montana. They were memorable to Patton and his wife because, “We always believed that Larry was unique until we met Jim. Larry and Jim are around the same age and could have been twins. They started swapping war stories and continue to stay in touch today.”

The company’s Willington location gives them a large reach in the New England/New York area. Intersected by I-84, it is 20 miles from the Mass Pike or Interstate 91, 90 miles from downtown Boston and 120 miles from the Bronx.

Larry Becker sees the company continuing to grow in the future.

“We have brought on two more sales people. We now are a dealer for a ’mini’ crusher made by Komplet Crushers to complement the Telsmith line. We have an experienced project manager for customer installation projects. We continue to evaluate new products for inclusion into our inventory. We had our best year ever in 2008. 2009 seems to be a bit of a challenge, but we are committed.”

Ace Equipment recently celebrated its 35th anniversary and Larry hopes to be around to celebrate its 50th.

For more information, call 860/429-2793, 860/429-0460, or 860-429-0542 or e-mail [email protected]. CEG

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