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 patented, portable, and OSHA compliant forklift boom attachments available on the market, to learn more about his company, perseverance, and the importance of finding your niche.
Ten minutes outside of Grand Rapids in Hudsonville, Michigan, around the end of 2009, the RigReady concept was born. Balcom, with over 45 years of experience in the rigging and manufacturing industries, was also aware that it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
Hard Work Goes a Long Way
At age 18, Balcom found a job in a General Motors foundry. He worked hard, carrying his tools as a journeyman millwright for 25 years.
Eventually, working his way up to a supervisor at Steelcase. For 14 years, he supervised the corporate crews that did installs for automatic production lines. During the last ten years, his team was doing de-installs because Steelcase was shutting down most of their plants.
“We shut down 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 to the semis. We’d shut the plants right down. Each one might take anywhere from six to eight months.”
By the time 2004 came around, Balcom had worked himself out of a job and decided to start Unique Contracting, a multi-trade company specializing in the turnkey installation, removal, and 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 and 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, and eventually, we considered shutting down.”– Dave Balcom, President of RigReady
“…when 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 would rent them directly to the rental companies because they didn’t have that type of specialized equipment available.”
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 those two years and began researching and developing the booms that we make now.”
OSHA is not going away…
Before 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 always welds a clip on the back of the boom. That’s what makes the booms non-OSHA compliant. The forklift manufacturers don’t want you to weld anything to their forklifts in any way, shape, or form. But, from what I saw, the manufacturers were all attaching the booms in this manner.”
Balcom realized that if he could make a rigging attachment that was OSHA compliant, universal, adaptable to many size forklifts, portable, and helped consumers decrease their costs, he would fill a pain point of manufacturers and riggers worldwide.
“OSHA isn’t going away, so I figured out how to make these booms OSHA compliant to fill the gap in the market. They used to make different size booms for every size forklift. Now you can use that same boom attachment for all different class trucks from 2,000 pounds up to 40,000 pounds.”
Instead of having many different models fitting to various forklift sizes and brands, 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 class 2, class 3, and class 5 forklifts. He also made an adapter with interchangeable bushings that fit on telehandlers from 6,000 pounds to 17,500 pounds.
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 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. 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.
The same boom can fit onto a telehandler, therefore, allowing the customer to utilize one boom as a crane as well as a boom on a straight mast forklift, thus making the boom both flexible and cost-effective.
“This application eliminates the headroom you need for a conventional crane set up. For example, this is very useful when working in low headroom areas. Traditionally, you would need room for the sheave, ball, and hook. In the larger cranes, this takes up six to eight feet of headroom that is not always available to lift a large gearbox or motor off the top of the press. The telehandler boom combination eliminates this headroom and allows the operator to rig the equipment in a much tighter area.”
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 tag 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 people, and they want to avoid that.”
Always Give 110 Percent
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 fortunate 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 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 booms but nothing like the one’s today.”
“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 17,500-pound trucks is rated for 51,000 pounds. And the boom that we have up to 40,000 pounds, that boom is rated at 120,000 pounds.”
“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 for designing a product that performs in the field. Managing for the last 23 years, whether it be for another company or my own companies, has been extremely rewarding and educational. As the President of RigReady, I am very proud of our line of rigging products.”