Lift Your Profits

If you’re a print service provider working in wide formats, your business may be dependent on your ability to install high off the ground the banners, signs or outdoor advertising you produce. Access to equipment allowing you to perform those tasks, is key to profitability.

A telescoping remote control crane truck, often called a bucket truck, offers service and installation versatility, as well as lifting capabilities.

In addition, the telescoping feature provides the ability to reach over obstacles to access specific areas, says Bryan Wilkerson, vice president of Wilkie Manufacturing, LLC. Renting or buying a crane or bucket truck can save print service providers a great deal of time, effort, and hassle. But whether you should buy or rent one will depend a great deal on your size and priorities.

Advantages of Buying

Purchasing a crane or bucket truck offers a number of upsides. It is a wise move from the standpoint of taxation, in that you own a piece of equipment that provides a tax write-off in the form of depreciation, Wilkerson says. It can also be a promotional tool, he adds. “If your truck is properly lettered, it will have your company name, phone number, and website, as well as services you offer. So it acts as a mobile billboard for your company whenever you take it out. It provides advertising both on the job site and as you take it to and from the site.”

As well, there’s the advantage of flexibility. If you own the equipment, you can set your own schedule of appointments without concern for availability of rentals. You will also be able to assign one of your employees to regularly work on that equipment. He will be well-trained on and familiar with the apparatus, and won’t have to surmount a learning curve every time a rental truck is used.

Because you now own the equipment, you can also subcontract it out to other shops lacking their own, and generate still more revenue, Wilkerson says.

Also, if you are the owner of your own machinery, you are more likely to offer not just the original installation, but service after the sale, which will spur additional sales and profit. In addition, owning the equipment enables you to ensure the crane or bucket truck has benefited from regular maintenance. In general, owning the equipment means greater credibility for your company.

Many good-size sign shops own their own bucket trucks. Very small counterparts, on the other hand, tend to rent, Wilkerson says.

Customization is another advantage of owning. Elliott Equipment Company manufactures telescopic aerial work platforms and sells to banner and outdoor advertising producers and electrical sign installers. Its customers are able to select the trucks, levels of horsepower, cabin configuration, and seating formats best fitting their needs. Crane or aerial work platforms are then customized by Elliott to meet the customers’ precise needs.

Observes David Phillips, Elliott Equipment Company’s international sales manager and spokesman: “It’s truly a turnkey solution for these guys.” He adds that Elliott can customize their aerial work platforms to meet a wide array of needs, building baskets from as large as 16 feet wide to as tight as 40 inches wide, with telescopic booms that will extend vertically from 30 to 203 feet.

Elliott Equipment Company president Jim Glazer, who notes the company offers 40 different models, says “each model can be configured to meet the customers’ needs. There are thousands of permutations.”

Another consideration that favors purchasing the equipment is resale value. “It’s a multi-functional machine, particularly when you’re talking about Elliott, and tends to hold its value,” Phillips says. “Even after 10 years, we’ve seen plenty of machines that are sold and resold again at good resale values.”

Positives of Renting

A number of considerations may motivate print providers to rent instead of own. One of the biggest is freedom from maintenance. With a rented bucket truck, the maintenance chores are left for the rental company, Wilkerson says.

“You can also rent specific pieces of equipment for specific jobs,” he says, noting you may have a once-a-year job calling for very high reach that requires a certain truck. But that job may not be repeated for the next 364 days.

In some geographic locations, renting rather than owning a bucket truck is preferable simply because you don’t have to find a place to store the unit, nor pay to store it. Newness is another factor. Rental companies will typically rent late-model equipment, so you are insured of having the latest bells and whistles.

Those renting crane and bucket trucks can readily ensure the cost of the equipment is absorbed into the price of the job they’re undertaking with the truck.

A final consideration is that, whether owning or renting, you will be exposed to liability given there are personnel working high in the air.

“Some of that liability may be taken on by the company renting out the equipment,” Wilkerson says. “But many do not offer that liability protection.”

Generally speaking, if you’re renting less than three or four times a month, don’t envision expanding your business in the next year, and your customers are not asking for additional services when you’re on the job site, renting costs will likely set you back less than purchasing the equipment, Wilkerson says.


What You Don’t Know

Those new to crane and bucket trucks often fail to seriously weigh several key considerations, Wilkerson says. The specifications of the truck itself is one. An ‘underspec-ed’ truck, one that’s not big and heavy enough for the equipment upon it, will have shorter life and poorer fuel economy,” Wilkerson says. “And you’ll have increased maintenance costs on the truck.”

It’s also important to consider the height at which the work will be done, and what type of work it is. There are thousands of ways the bucket truck might be used in the sign business, for example. “These are huge factors in determining what kind of truck you will need,” Wilkerson says.

“If someone was only going to hang banners or work on parking lot lights as a side business, they would not need as heavy a piece of equipment as they would if they were doing message-type billboards or heavy-lift installations.”

Elliott Equipment Company’s Phillips is just as adamant that it’s important to understand one’s work parameters before specifying a machine. For instance, if you need to reach something 30 feet high, but you can’t get within 20 feet of it horizontally, you’re going to need 50 or 60 feet of reach, not 30 feet, he says.

“Also consider what particular jobs you are going to do,” Phillips advises.

“In a banner installation where you need an extra pair of hands, a device like a jib winch or crane arm may be the perfect solution, allowing you to install heavy items with just one worker up in the basket. If you wanted more than one person up in the air, many of our baskets measure 40 by 60 inches or larger, allowing more tools and two or more people in the basket. We can install circuitry for them to use air tools, hydraulic tools, pressure washers, and electrical tools within the basket. That will let them do more jobs from that basket and increase their efficiency. You don’t have to go up and down to retrieve tools. Having all their tools in one place allows them to get to more sites in the course of a day.”

Another consideration for those who determine they want to own, rather than rent, the equipment is whether they should buy new or used. Many of those who utilize the equipment start with a used machine, Glazer says. Others may contact an Elliott dealer to purchase several brand new machines at one time.

The bottom line is there’s a certain element of positive brand awareness that is derived from having newer, shinier custom equipment.

“One of our clients ordered a half dozen aerial work platforms custom branded with their color scheme as they entered new work markets,” Phillips relates. “Their market share expanded and they were able to attract new customers.”


Finding a Supplier

Word-of-mouth advertising and the reputation of the supplier is very important in this industry. It’s essential to heed both when choosing a supplier of cranes and bucket trucks, Wilkerson says.

“The other places for companies to source equipment include trade shows, industry magazines, and the Internet,” he adds. “At a show, you can get your hands on the equipment, and if it’s outdoors you can give it a try.”