Excavators are the New Skid Steers

Nov. 1, 2015
To be successful in the excavator attachments business, you must first familiarize yourself with excavator attachments and their intended uses, be prepared for service and support, and use your imagination.

The skid-steer loader has often been referred to as the Swiss army knife of construction equipment — switch out the attachment and you can have a street sweeper, a compact backhoe, an auger boring machine, a snowplow or a pallet mover in no time. This kind of versatility in one machine has broad appeal to a diverse set of potential renters. The seemingly limitless possibilities were largely driven by the industry’s push to standardize interfaces between attachments and equipment across all manufacturers. Now, the industry is seeing a similar push for the same standardization of excavator attachments and interfaces, which creates new opportunities for rental centers.

But to be successful in the excavator attachments business, you must first familiarize yourself with excavator attachments and their intended uses, be prepared for service and support, and use your imagination.

“An attachment can make the machine,” says John Comrie, utility product manager at Volvo Construction Equipment. “A customer may have interest in renting your excavator, but if you don’t stock the attachment that customer needs to complete their job, they’ll likely turn to your competitor — for both the attachment and the excavator.”

Comrie adds that there are some core excavator attachments that all rental centers should stock — chief among them are buckets and hammers.

Make a bucket list

A bucket isn’t simply a bucket — there are a wide range of sizes and styles, each suited to a particular application or task.

“Buckets range from narrow, 6-inch styles used in light irrigation work such as installing small water lines, all the way up to 60-inch buckets for fine grading and finish work,” says Comrie. “And stocking the full range of styles and sizes ensure your excavators appeal to a wide array of renters working in different applications.”

  • General-purpose buckets – Offered in a full size range for diverse earthmoving work. 
  • Tilt buckets – Offered in a range of sizes and are used for landscaping finish work, such as finishing sand traps on golf courses.
  • Grapple buckets – Used to pick up loose materials such as scrap, waste and brush.
  • Thumbs – Designed to pick up objects and are often used in landscaping for building retaining walls or placing large rocks.

Hammer it home

Hammers — and the associated tools — are equally important members of the rental center’s core offering of attachments, as Comrie explains.

“Hydraulic hammers and breakers can be a significant investment for a contractor — depending on size they can cost anything from $5,000 to $15,000 — so it’s very common for those contractors who only need a hammer several times per year to rent instead of buy,” says Comrie. “It’s essential for rental houses to stock not only hammers, but also the full range of tools for those hammers.”

  • Moil-style tool – Used for breaking nonabrasive materials, such as soft rock, and light demo work such as clay brick, wood or drywall.
  • Chisel-style tool – Used for hard rock excavation, as well as breaking of asphalt and concrete demolition.
  • Blunt tool – Used for breaking blasted rock in crusher applications.

While buckets and hammers remain the core family of excavator attachments for rental houses, there are a variety of specialty attachments that can drastically increase versatility for an excavator, opening up possibilities of new renters. To take advantage of the full range, however, the rental center must ensure the interfaces are matched to the attachments.

Make the connection

An attachment that is not compatible with the renter’s machine is about as useful as a 500-pound paperweight. Many renters turn to rental centers specifically for an attachment to use on their owned machine, or on the other hand, look for a rental machine that works with their owned attachment. In either scenario, the rental center needs to offer a universal solution in order to gain the renter’s business.

“Most equipment manufacturers offer attachment brackets for their excavators, not all of which are compatible with other manufacturers’ attachments,” says Comrie. “One of the best options for rental houses is to go with a pin grabber-style quick coupler, because it works across a variety of attachments.

The pin grabber-style ensures a tight fit between the attachment bracket and the interface, whether mechanical or hydraulic, allowing it to grab just about any attachment, as long as the interface between the hook-on points and pin size match up.

“Not only does an attachment carrier offer compatibility, but it is easier for renters and rental houses to maintain versus using pin-on attachments,” says Comrie. “You don’t have to worry about the renter knocking out the pins, not shimming properly or not adequately greasing.”

Get hydraulically equipped

Compatibility isn’t all in the interface, however. The excavator must be adequately equipped.

“Make sure to stock machines that have, at minimum, single-acting and double-acting hydraulics to ensure most attachments are compatible. Depending on your customers’ applications, it may be an advantage to have a few excavators equipped with a third, additional auxiliary circuit for specialty attachments, such as a rotating grapple,” says Comrie.

Being successful in the attachments business isn’t just about stocking the right products and interfaces, however. Just as with equipment, the rental center must be prepared for service and operator training.

Be prepared for service and training

The saying, “drive it like a rental” doesn’t just apply to consumer vehicles. As the component of the equipment making the most direct contact with abrasive materials, attachments have a tendency to get abused.

“A rental house should keep a good stock of replacement hoses, fittings, couplers, wear plates, bucket teeth, hammer tools and pins to ensure an attachment never needs to be taken out of service for too long,” says Comrie. “Both preventive maintenance and operator training can help avoid many of the most common problems before they occur.”

If a renter intends to switch out attachments on their own, Comrie strongly recommends that the rental center trains the renter to consistently double check that the attachment is properly locked prior to use. This can be accomplished by simply applying pressure to the attachment on the ground.

Equally important is training on the attachment’s intended use — the rental center should ask the right questions prior to renting out an attachment.

“A hammer tool or a bucket that is being used in the wrong type of application can drastically impact its lifespan,” says Comrie. “It’s important that the rental house asks the right questions to ensure renters aren’t intending to use a bucket to crush rock or a moil-style hammer tool to excavate.”

Get creative and find a niche

Outside of the core group of buckets and hammers, there’s limitless potential for customization of excavators with specialty attachments — whether that be tampers, vibratory compactors, augers or otherwise. The excavator can be equally as versatile as a skid-steer loader.

“The rental houses that see great success with excavator attachments are those that get creative and find a niche that nobody else can fill,” says Comrie. “Excavators have a benefit over skid steers and compact tractors in that they have higher reach, greater visibility at heights and a 360-degree swing radius, therefore, if a rental house can turn an excavator into a machine that can effectively replace a skid steer or a compact tractor in niche applications, they have found a new line of business that is hard for others to compete with.”

Bottom line, an excavator that is adequately equipped with hydraulics and a universal attachment carrier is only limited by the imagination of those at the rental center. By stocking the core group of attachments and interfaces, being prepared for service, and having a willingness to think outside the box, a rental house can undoubtedly attract new renters with excavator attachments.

John Krantz is a writer for Two Rivers Marketing.