Made in Milwaukee: New CEO targets more aggressive growth for Custom Equipment

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Terry Dolan has spent three decades working in the equipment industry, primarily with larger manufacturers. When he started talking to Richfield-based Custom Equipment LLC, he saw a smaller business with great products that filled a niche in the market.

“What I saw was they needed some more strategic direction and needed just to continue to energize this business to really meet more aggressive growth targets,” Dolan said.

Dolan started on Jan. 3 as president and chief executive officer of the company, which was acquired by Michigan-based private equity firm Stratford-Cambridge Group in late 2017. Prior to joining Custom Equipment, Dolan was president of the U.S. and Latin American markets for Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers. He also previously was executive vice president at Waukesha-based Generac Power Systems Inc. and held positions with Case Corp. and Ingersoll Rand Inc.

Steve Ellis, chairman of Custom Equipment, said Dolan’s background is a perfect fit for the company.

“He has a strong proven background in construction equipment and channel development and has extensive knowledge of the rental industry both in North America and internationally,” Ellis said.

Custom Equipment makes the Hy-Brid brand of scissor lifts used primarily by trades in the construction industry for working at heights of up to 22 feet. The company sells push-around models that users move manually and two types of self-propelled lifts, a pro series and a lift with zero turning radius. Dolan said the lightweight, low ground pressure design of Hy-Brid Lifts is a key differentiator for Custom Equipment.

“When general contractors or people in the trades are looking to have more units on a platform, whether they’re refurbishing a building or designing and building a new building, they can get more of their workers working at height at the same time,” he said.

Dolan said Custom Equipment also works to promote lifts as an alternative to ladders.

“Ladders are probably the No. 1 cause of injuries on job sites,” he said, noting a ladder requires a user to hold on with one hand and work with the other, while lifts offer the safety of being connected with a lanyard. “You also have the ability to lift 500, 550, in some instances 700 pounds at full height. You can get one or two people up there working freely with their hands, maneuvering on this platform.”

Custom Equipment actually got its start making lifts that could handle heavy weights and two people on a platform for mausoleums and crematories.

“It’s a very small market, it’s very niche, but it’s kind of how the company got started,” Dolan said.

Dolan’s first few months on the job have primarily been spent meeting with key customers and understanding how end users work with the company’s lifts. Custom Equipment primarily sells to rental companies, who in turn rent the lifts to contractors or tradespeople.

“We’re doing a lot right now on strategic planning to expand our channel, our paths to market,” Dolan said.

Specifically, he said the company would like to target other industries outside construction, including manufacturing, data centers or hospitals.

The challenge in reaching those markets comes from customers being aware of the brand and its potential as an alternative to using ladders, Dolan said.

Like many manufacturers in the region, the company is also dealing with the lack of available labor in a low unemployment environment. Dolan said the company has around 50 employees currently across facilities in West Bend and Richfield, and has increased staffing by 20% to 25% already this year.

To find more help, Custom Equipment is working with GPS Education Partners to bring in high school students and partnering with a staffing firm and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections work release programs to hire people going through welding training programs.

Dolan said the company has also had to get creative, offering part-time and flexible shifts to people looking to pick up extra hours at a second job. Most of those hires have added to staffing on second shift or on the weekend, he said.

“They’re always with other people who are full-time members of the team, but it really has brought in some great talent for us,” Dolan said. “It was an interesting approach for our HR group to take a look at and for the management team, figuring out how to manage it.”

Custom Equipment LLC

2647 Highway 175, Richfield

Industry: Mobile elevating work platforms

Employees: 50 

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.