Consolidation, by and large, meant the disappearance of the regional rental company. One by one, United Rentals, Rental Service Corp., Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., National Equipment Services, NationsRent and others acquired regional rental companies, the five-to-20 branch companies that were the heart and core of innovation and growth in the rental industry for years.
The consolidators bought most of them, but not all. One of the few that went to the altar but never said, “I do” was Trico where owners Joe Pustizzi Jr. and Ken Pustizzi were concerned about the future of their employees who had built the company through what they considered to be unparalleled hard work and dedication.
As a result, the Pustizzi family and Trico — which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2002 — are still going strong, continuing to grow in recent slow years. In the 2002 RER 100, covering rental volume for 2001, Trico increased its revenue by 52 percent and jumped from No. 55 to No. 36, the highest revenue and position jumps among the 100 listees. While the industry as a whole was essentially flat, this multi-state rental company and Case dealership for New Jersey expanded while others were contracting, opening new branches in Beltsville, Md. (between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), McKees Rocks (near Pittsburgh) and Northampton (near Allentown), Pa., and Cincinnati.
Trico's success has come about the old-fashioned way. It might sound like a cliché, but Trico's employees — many of whom have logged 15 to 25 years with the company — have an old-fashioned work ethic that believes that success is based on working harder and smarter than your competition and providing the best service in the area.
If the phone rings after hours, it could just as easily be one of the Pustizzi brothers as anybody else in the company that responds to the customer's situation and makes the effort to solve a problem. This willingness doesn't go unnoticed by the customers or the employees.
“When you have that type of effort from the organization, from top to bottom, it spreads out throughout the organization,” says Chris Carmolingo, Trico vice president. “When a mechanic is on call and the owner of the company calls him on Saturday to come make a service call, he doesn't say, ‘Why am I the only guy who has to leave my son's Little League game to get it done?’ It's a teamwork concept and we hear appreciation of that from our customers on a regular basis. It really makes you feel that all the time and the hours you put in are worth it.”
The Trico team believes in quick response. When they receive a call after hours, they recognize that the customer isn't calling on a weekend unless they are “between a rock and a hard place,” as Carmolingo says.
Trico's growth can be traced to a number of factors, not the least of which is its sales staff, which averages more than 10 years experience in the field. “We rely very heavily on face-to-face selling as our primary marketing direction,” says Carmolingo. “We work very closely from an executive and owner standpoint with the customers. It goes a long way when a customer has an issue, or if it's a new customer and the owner walks in and introduces himself and says, ‘We really appreciate your business and we'll do everything we can to make things work out well in this relationship.’”
Trico recently developed a central dispatch system in its new Vineland office. Customers from all the market areas call a central number — 1-800-GO-TRICO. If the dispatch gets too busy, the calls roll over into the executive or accounting groups and the prevailing attitude is that nobody is too busy to pick up the phone to attend to a customer. And if a request is made, the Trico philosophy is clear and definitive: Say yes, drop everything and figure out a way to get the job done.
“It's a can-do company,” says Ken. “And we get it done. We're very proud of that.”
Trico's ability to “get it done” extends far beyond the ability to rent and deliver well-maintained equipment on time, although those essential rental services can never be taken for granted. Included in its management team are trained engineers who have a unique ability to spec jobs, consult on site management and even design equipment solutions when required. For example, Andrew Volponi, vice president of heavy equipment rental, gets involved in all aspects of jobs including civil engineering, equipment design and site management.
“With some of our niche customers, I get involved in the bidding process because many customers maintain an engineering staff but don't have all of the practical experience they need on certain jobs,” Volponi says. “And companies suffer when engineers are not quite in synch with the project managers.”
An example of Volponi's work was a recent environmental remediation project for which he modified a unit to process and clean soil. Volponi's creation was no small project.
“They came to me looking to enclose a feeder conveyor to a processing plant,” Volponi says. “We came up with the idea of taking a bottom-feed asphalt trailer and converting it. We enclosed the trailer and fitted it with an air handling system to remove fumes. We also converted the drive system on the conveyor on the bottom of the trailer from hydraulic to electric to match the voltage and amperage requirements that they had available from the processing plant. It worked well and they ended up taking it to their next job, so it's a success story on two different projects where we got 100 percent of the rentals.”
“That process made that project one of the more profitable projects that particular customer had,” Ken says. “With that type of capability, we can add value to the customer. Because they could process more dirt more quickly, they made more money on the project. And that's where we stand out from our competitors. If there's a rate differential, the customer can look past the rate and say ‘We know they're on our side,’ because of what we did for them.”
Environmental remediation is one of Trico's major niche markets, and the company prides itself on being able to fabricate solutions in its shop. Currently the company is working on putting a manual drum handler on the end of an excavator to be able to use the machine like a telehandler. “We see ourselves as emergency response coordinators,” says Volponi. “We even have shirts that say that, so we're a brand within a brand. It gives us pride in what we can achieve.”
The Trico team looks for employees that feel the same pride in finding solutions for customers, who are willing to make that extra effort and commitment to solving customers' problems.
The company recently produced a power-point presentation to show to new employees that explains its philosophy. “What is the culture that Trico wants to portray?” says Ken. “For example, we just hired a truck driver and we sat down with him and personally went through this because we wanted him to understand that we're a roll-up-the-sleeves, get-it-done company. We're solution-conscious and we want employees to look to be a part of the solution.”
Trico is looking for that type of proactive employee consciousness, and lately it hasn't had to look as far as it had to in the past. The recent round of consolidation and industry downsizing has given Trico executives opportunities to find outstanding people.
“We woke up one day and found that many of our competitors had been acquired and we started getting phone calls from great people who needed jobs,” Ken says. “We also heard from customers we had not been doing business with who had been very loyal to their companies. It's not that the acquirers, who are fine competitors, couldn't handle the business, but rather that once their provider changed hands, the customers became more open to considering alternatives. It made us realize that not only customers might be looking for a new choice, but a lot of key individuals who like to work for a privately run business might want to work for us. The phone started ringing and we brought in folks who had been in the industry for 10 or 20 years.”
An honest guy
Trico got its start 50 years ago when Joe Pustizzi, father of co-owners Joe Jr. and Ken, started selling Case farm tractors in Southern New Jersey.
“He started with nothing,” Joe Jr. says. “He answered an ad in the paper from Case looking for dealers to sell farm tractors. He drove down to the Case branch in Baltimore. The branch manager asked him, ‘How much capital do you have?’ He said, ‘I'll be honest with you, I have nothing.’ The guy took a chance. He said, ‘You look like an honest guy so I'll give you some stuff on consignment.’ I wish the world could go back to that.”
The Pustizzis know the world has changed profoundly since then, but it incorporates similar values in its willingness to listen to, understand and partner with its customers.
“We have that trust in our customers,” Joe Jr. says. “We extend credit. Sometimes you look a guy in the eye and you make a decision to work with him or not work with him based on the character of the individual. We're hands on, we know a lot of our customers personally, and we're not afraid to take a risk.”
Gradually, Pustizzi Sr. made the transition into construction equipment. Case started making backhoe loaders during the 1960s and evolved into various construction products. In 1976, the Pustizzi family acquired Coastline Equipment in Freehold as its second dealership location and added a dealership startup in South Plainfield in 1993 and purchased the Totowa, N.J., dealership in 1997.
But the Pustizzis discovered the real engine that would drive the company's growth in the late 1970s.
“That's when the casino boom started in Atlantic City,” Joe Jr. says. “We weren't getting any business there, so we went there and saw all these aerial platforms running around the casinos while they were building. We decided to get into the aerial platform rental business.
“By 1982, there was little construction and prime was 20-some percent and we had all these machines sitting and we wondered what we were going to do with them. By then Ken was in the business and we said, ‘Let's look at Philadelphia, there's got to be a bigger market than in Atlantic City,’ so even though there was a major recession going on, we moved equipment into Philadelphia and started renting it. That's really how we grew into the rental business and from there we kept expanding it.”
From baseball to rental
While the father and son team of Joe and Joe Jr. had grown the dealership business for many years, it was younger brother Ken who took the ball and ran with it to grow the rental business. “I went to college for a couple of years and hadn't thought much about working in the family business,” says Ken. “Up until I was 18, I thought I was going to play baseball. Once I started working, I wasn't sure because I didn't want to be a leech on the family business, I wanted to make sure I could contribute to it. But during the summer months in the early '80s, I worked at our rental branch in Atlantic City. It was Joe's foresight that got us into the aerial rental business, and I just fell in love with that business. It was a new industry with no established rules and I did everything, taking phone calls, checking out and servicing machines, jumping into a truck and doing deliveries.”
Joe, recognizing Ken's enthusiasm for the aerial rental business invited him to take over and develop the rental side of the company and soon Trico became a major rental player in the region.
In 1986, Trico acquired a company in Marcus Hook, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, in the middle of the oil refineries and established a major presence in the industrial rental market. The branch was located literally next door to an oil refinery, which was, at that time its principal customer. Although the refinery still does significant business with Trico, the Marcus Hook staff has grown the business to include a wide variety of customers in industrial and construction applications throughout the spread-out Philadelphia metropolitan area.
Joe Pustizzi Sr. retired in 1986 but still visits the main branch daily, walking over from his home next door. Joe Jr. oversees the overall business while Ken concentrates his efforts on the rental business, which is Trico's major portion. The Pustizzis estimate that the aerial business, which is strictly rental, comprises about 75 percent of Trico's rental revenue, with the other 25 percent coming from its dirt rental business. The New Jersey Case dealership business represents about 45 percent of its total business.
With a strong work ethic and willingness to find and even manufacture solutions to customers' problems, Trico is creative and proactive in its approach to earning customers' business. And it never loses sight of what's most important to customers of a rental business — uptime.
“Uptime is our primary focus,” says Cincinnati sales manager and former UpRight product safety manager Pat Schmetzer. “Trico gets very close to customers, focusing on partnering and providing complete service. We are very focused on customer safety, making sure they understand the equipment from a safety standpoint, making sure they are trained and that all decals are in place. But customer satisfaction is measured by uptime and we have the fastest response time if there's a call. We pride ourselves on that.” In fact, Schmetzer says, at one job site, a competitor has a service technician on site and they still get quicker response when they call Trico.
If service is fast and service calls are fewer, customers will call. If a rental company is willing to solve a problem on a weekend and even manufacture a special piece of equipment to make a job work, customers will call.
And it doesn't hurt that they can remember the phone number.