Friday, April 12, 2024

In the construction industry, being able to identify and target a specific niche is key to your success. In equipment rental, manufacturing, and contracting many people with similar products, offerings, and skills compete for specialization in various areas. For the giants of the world this may not apply, but for the small to medium sized manufacturers and rental companies within our industry, finding your niche is very important.

Gearflow sat down with Dave Balcom, owner of RigReady, a company that manufactures the only portable OSHA compliant forklift boom attachments on the market that is patented, to learn more about his company and the importance of finding your niche.

10 minutes outside of Grand Rapids in Hudsonville, Michigan around the end of 2009, the RigReady concept was born. Balcom, with over 40 years of experience in rigging and in the manufacturing industry, was also aware that it wasn’t going to happen overnight.

45-plus Years in the Industry

Balcom started work at a job in a General Motors foundry at the age of 18 and worked hard carrying his tools as a journeyman millwright for 25 years. Eventually, he had worked his way up to a supervisor at Steelcase. For 14 years he supervised the corporate crews that did the installs for automatic production lines. During the last 10 years, his team was doing deinstalls because Steelcase was shutting down most of their plants.

“We shut down about 11 of their plants, about 500,000 square feet each. Every day we would disassemble the production lines, take them out of the factory, and load them on the semis. We’d shut the plants right down. Each one might take, anywhere from 6-8 months.”

Eventually he worked himself out of a job and in 2004 started Unique Contracting, a multi-trade company specializing in the turnkey installation, removal and the moving of high-volume automated production lines. From 2004-2010 he was the president of Unique Contracting Services, Inc.

“We hung in there, for 2008 & 2009 as Unique Contracting, but as subcontractors we were beating each other up trying to get cash flow to stay alive during the great recession. We weren’t making any money in those two years, we tried to make it work, But then we finally just shuttered out”
“…when all that happened, I had all this rigging equipment that was sitting there so I started a rental business, and we were renting our rigging booms and forklifts to try to stay alive. They weren't the same rigging booms as we're manufacturing now, but we were renting those out to the rental companies because they didn't have that type of specialized equipment to rent out”

So, in 2010, he closed Unique Contracting and spent the next year and a half doing research and development for RigReady. “I came up with this idea during that two years 2010-2012 and began researching and developing the booms that we make now.”

Find Your Niche, Research, Do the Work, Shoot Your Shot

Prior to RigReady, the only way to attach a boom to a forklift was to weld it on. Welding anything onto a forklift voids the manufacturer’s warranty and is not OSHA compliant.

“I noticed that everyone has always welded on a clip on the back of the boom. That's what makes the booms non-OSHA compliant. The manufacturers of the forklifts don't want you to weld anything to their forklifts in any way, shape or form but from what I saw the manufactures were attaching the booms in this manner.”

“OSHA isn’t going away, so I figured out how to make these booms osha compliant to fill the gap in the market. Now you can use that same boom attachment for all different class trucks from 2000 lbs. up to 40,000 lbs.

Balcom realized that if he could make a rig attachment that was OSHA compliant, universal, flexible to adapt to many size forklifts, portable, and helped to decrease costs for the consumer, he would fill a pain point of many large manufacturers and riggers alike across the globe. We are just starting to ship our products over seas and in the international market.

Instead of having various models fitting to various size and brand of forklifts, Balcom wanted to ensure that the RigReady could fit on any size or brand forklift. After he had engineered the RigReady for a class four forklift, he made an adapter to fit on class 2, 3, & 5 forklifts and one adapter with interchangeable bushings that fits on tele-handlers from 6 thousand lbs. to 17,500 lbs. The booms also have been engineered with a quick release pin to make it easy to switch from boom back to the forks for efficiency. Setting the boom in the stand and pulling the quick release pin allows the operator to easily switch back to the forks. Making that same boom fit onto a tele-handler so the customer can utilize that one boom as a crane as well as a boom on straight mast forklift also makes the booms very flexible and cost effective. This application eliminates the headroom you need for a conventional crane set up. Very useful when working in low headroom areas like tight up under a roof on top of a press in a manufacturing plant is just one example. Trying to use a crane in this application might not be feasible because of the headroom you would need for the sheave, ball and hook. In the larger cranes this takes up 6 to 8 ft. of headroom that is not available to lift a large gearbox or motor off the top of the press. The tele-handler boom combination eliminates this headroom and allows the operator to rig the equipment in a much tighter area. This combination also cuts down on the window of opportunity needed if you are comparing using a crane and have to take the roof off the building to rig the equipment off the top of a press.

If you can do the project from the inside and not taking the roof off above the press it will cut down on the window of opportunity for the project to complete which will save both time and money to complete the project.

Now RigReady booms are interchangeable between all class trucks. Now they’re not only OSHA compliant, they're also flexible. They used to make different size booms for every size forklift. RigReady has two models of booms that fit on all forklift from 2000 lbs. all the way up to 40,000 lbs. Now you can interchange the booms between different sizes and different brands overall making them pretty universal and pretty flexible utilizing your working capital.

Balcom also wanted to make sure they would be portable and save his customers money. I asked Balcom how he could do this, and he presented me with an example:
“Say you need to move machinery from Michigan all the way down to Alabama approx. 1000 miles. If you had your two rigging forklifts in Michigan you would need to hire a class A semi driver and bring those forklifts down. If you're charging your customer $5 per loaded mile, that's $5000 down there and $5000 back. Just to get your equipment (the forklifts with the welded-on-booms) down there. So you could do that, but, your foreman's got to go down there anyhow. If you put him and two guys in a truck which make a rigging crew, they can shoot down there with two of our booms in a landscape trailer and rent two forklifts in Alabama close by the project site for $500 - $1000 / day and you just saved yourself nine-grand.”

By no means is that the only use case for the RigReady, in fact he had another seven based on his eight different target customers, all specific solutions to problems that could only have been experienced firsthand by Balcom.

With RigReady, you can go to the equipment dealer and request a new data tag. “For example, you could go right to a Hyster dealer and they'll issue you a new data tag with RigReady right on the tag to put on your forklift. After that, you're good to go,” Balcom tells me. This is what the onsite safety personnel are looking for before they will risk your company working in their plant.

“The data tags are the biggest thing. OSHA is not going to go away. The larger companies like General Motors and Chrysler are looking for OSHA compliant solutions. A lot of times they won't let anything non-OSHA compliant in their plant. It presents a lot of liability to their own people, and they want to avoid that.”

Jack of all trades
As many entrepreneurs in our industry do, Balcom wears multiple hats in the RigReady operation.

The engineering, operations, marketing, and sales are all done solely by Balcom. “In 10 years. I've never had a complaint. No returns, nothing. When previous customers call back, it is to order more or looking for one of our new innovative products to make their daily job easier ” Balcom isn’t just extremely lucky that his product is bulletproof. That is the way the products are engineered.

“I have owned a couple of businesses and I've done a lot of things in my life. This is just another chapter. By no means am I saying that I know everything. I’ve experienced different things in different environments. But I’ve learned by actually putting in the work, it pays off in the end.”

I asked Balcom how this was possible. “I took some extra time when I developed it because I didn't want to hear any complaints and I did not want our products to be the weak link in the operation of any of the projects. The rig we're making now is the third-generation version. Before that, we made our own booms but nothing like these are today. Then I made the first RigReady booms, and before I released it, I came up with a different idea how we were going to do them, and that's what we settled on.”

“We used to do all the manufacturing from start to finish here in Michigan. When we had all those guys in the fab shop before, it was easier to do here. Now, I contract it out to two guys in Kansas. I am 66 now, so with managing everything else, it is easier to contract it out.”

“We’ve also put a 3 to 1 safety factor, in them. The boom that we're making up to 17,500lb trucks, is actually rated for 51,000lbs. And the boom that we have up to 40,000lbs, that boom is rated at 120,000 lbs.”

“I carried my tools for 25 years actually doing the work. Facing many of the situations that riggers run into personally is probably the best asset I could possess to designing a product that actually performs in the field. Managing for the last 23 years whether it be for another company or managing my own companies or developing these booms has been extremely rewarding. As the president of RigReady I am very proud of our line of rigging products.”—Sincerely, Dave Balcom