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Tar Heel Machinery Survives Tornado, Tough Economy

Fri August 05, 2011 - National Edition
Cindy Riley


Penn McMichael, co-owner of Tar Heel Machinery.
Penn McMichael, co-owner of Tar Heel Machinery.
Penn McMichael, co-owner of Tar Heel Machinery. Not even a powerful tornado last April could keep the company down for long, although that’s something neither owner will ever forget. Tar Heel Machinery’s shop was totally destroyed by the tornado. They had some loss in the shop with parts and supplies, damage to the service truck, water inside one machine, but it appears they were spared the worst of it. In the oddly random way tornados hit, some parts of Tar Heel’s building ended up two blocks down the road while some equipment in the yard stood, virtually undisturbed. In the oddly random way tornados hit, some parts of Tar Heel’s building ended up two blocks down the road while some equipment in the yard stood, virtually undisturbed. McMichael was looking for a strong Christian partner to help build a heavy equipment company. Scott Woody, a former general equipment manager of Rifenburg Construction’s Park East Sales seemed the right fit.

For Penn McMichael and Scott Woody, running a successful heavy equipment rental business centers around these principles —respect, fairness, integrity, all focused around a strong ethical core.

“Our operating philosophy is based on the principles of Christ,” said Penn McMichael, co-owner of Tar Heel Machinery. “We do all things through Him as His representative — the Lord is our ’Boss.’ So we strive to be honest, fair, disclosing all information (good or bad) about the machines we are representing or whatever the case may be.”

“Customers keep coming back for our way of doing business,” explained McMichael. “In tough times, they want to deal with someone they trust.”

“It’s what we love,” added Woody. “Equipment is something you take pride in working with. There’s a sense of accomplishment in helping to build, tear down and change the world with what we do, especially with our rental fleet. We like to ride to jobs, during and upon completion, to watch the progress. To think our equipment had something to do with building that new hospital, stadium, landfill, stream restoration, environmental cleanup, etc. means a great deal to us.”

Not even a powerful tornado last April could keep the company down for long, although that’s something neither owner will ever forget.

“The industrial area where our office and shop was located looked like a bomb had gone off for a couple of miles,” Woody recalled. “You could see the tornado’s path cut clearly from one side of Raleigh to the other. Some parts of our building ended up two blocks down the road. Sadly, the tornadoes in North Carolina claimed 30 lives in a matter of a couple of hours. It was one of the worst in our state’s history. Tragically, many lives and businesses were affected and rebuilding is still going on to this day.

“Our shop was totally destroyed. We had some loss in the shop with parts and supplies, damage to the service truck, water inside one machine, but it appears we were spared the worst of it. Many businesses on both sides of I-440 had showrooms, warehouses, and retail centers that got demolished. Ironically, we were already looking to start moving to a new facility. In the grand scheme of things, we were sad to have lost our shop, but so fortunate to have found an even better place, where we were meant to be.”

Tar Heel Machinery, which buys, sells, rents and repairs excavators, dozers, track trucks, rollers, motorgraders and water trucks, was established in 2005. Four years prior, McMichael had been selling for Trax Inc., a large heavy equipment company based in Atlanta. Then McMichael left the business and teamed with his brother to form Trax North Carolina.

In 2005, Trax North Carolina was divided into two separate companies. McMichael was looking for a strong Christian partner to help build a heavy equipment company. Scott Woody, a former general equipment manager for Rifenburg Construction’s Park East Sales seemed the right fit.

The company team also includes Randy Barrett and David Vendemia, multi-state rentals and worldwide sales; Don White, service manager; Michael Pope, field service; and Amy Pope, office manager and safety coordinator. Tar Heel Machinery maintains a satellite office in Reidsville, just north of Greensboro.

The company deals exclusively in used equipment, the owners point out, although they have turned down offers to become manufacturer reps.

“We have looked seriously at it,” Woody explained, “but as we say, it’s nice to offer the customer exactly what they want, no matter what make or model — Case or Cat, Deere or Daewoo. There are lots of limitations when you get locked into one or two lines, and lots of rules that go along with that.”

The company’s main challenges right now are based on the unpredictable economy, according to McMichael.

“We can’t make predictions. Equipment sales worldwide fluctuate like the stock market. We can project but we cannot guarantee which types of machines are up, which are down in value from quarter to quarter. If we could see two to three months into the future, we’d all become rich very quickly.”

Both Woody and McMichael believe their business’s honest reputation has been a key factor that has helped during tough financial times that have brought down countless other companies.

“Ironically, we had our best three years, with increases in revenue and profit each year consecutively, here in the financial downturn from 2008 until 2010. We can only attest that to our fellow employees and families who support us daily and allow us to do what we love. We also credit our great customers, and friends in the business — fellow owners, salesmen and partners in other companies — and simply staying the course. We don’t question why some doors open and some close, or why some deals happen and some don’t.”

Tar Heel Machinery LLC, which serves clients worldwide , has shipped equipment to virtually every continent.

“We concentrate on our local contractors by serving them first, but total we have around 6,000 contacts worldwide,” said McMichael.

“Beyond our wonderful domestic partners in the business, we have very special clients and friends in Canada, Mexico, Peru, Australia, Yugoslavia, Germany and Taiwan,” added Woody.

With their current rental fleet, Tar Heel Machinery is meeting the rental needs for dozers, compactors, trucks, wheel loaders, graders and excavators. Tar Heel Machinery’s reputation for its character, integrity and customer service has quickly propelled it forward as a market leader. McMichael and Woody believe it’s their core values that will continue to guide them as they look to the future.

“As for our goals, said Woody, “We want to continue to grow our business throughout each year, in order to have a legacy to leave our fellow employees and, possibly, our children. We give the Lord the glory for our accomplishments and achievements. We also hope to serve our fellow man and develop lifelong relationships with customers and fellow dealers, while being good stewards of what we are given by sharing our fortunes and giving to good causes. And leaving here with our integrity and reputation intact, always knowing we did the right thing every day, year in and year out.”