Changing Perceptions in Crushing & Screening
Frontline’s team finds that putting customers in contact with the equipment on a working job site is the best way to share the features of Keestrack and other product offerings
The aggregates and recycling industries are not the easiest to break into as a dealer. To many, becoming a dealer in those industries would be a non-starter: capital intensive, too difficult to get established, too wide an area to cover, too many options for equipment. To the Todd family – father Steve and sons Daryl, Royden and Loren – it was an opportunity that could not be passed up.
Making a transition from working in the composting and recycling sector to sales and rental of crushing, grinding, scanning and screening equipment across western Canada and into Ontario was certainly a big leap, but a successful one. Today, the Todds own and operate Frontline Machinery, with a head office based in Chilliwack, B.C., and are the Canadian source for a wide range of products that are proving their worth in the North American aggregate and recycling industries.
The family operation has built a stellar reputation for service, quality and machines that handle the many challenges faced when screening, grinding and crushing. Not bad for a business that essentially started out when the economy fell apart in 2009.
“Our background was in soil and mulch, composting and recycling. We were around heavy equipment, screening, grinding and crushing machinery for years, but in 2009, when the financial crisis hit, a lot of the development in the Vancouver region got put on hold. Our composting and recycling business dropped 50 percent in a couple of months,” Frontline President Daryl Todd recalled. “It seemed devastating, but we started looking at what we could do to survive. We had a number of surplus screeners, excavators and loaders, so thought ‘why don’t we start renting these out, to get some revenue in?’”
The Todds took advice from friends well established in the equipment rental business to help them get into that market in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, and they slowly started to buy additional earthmoving equipment to supplement the existing fleet. However, Daryl said they quickly realized the challenge they faced.
“It seemed a bit crazy being a private earthmoving equipment rental company and not a proper equipment dealership, not being able to buy direct from the OEM. We would go buy an excavator from, say, SMS, but SMS also rents excavators, dozers, loaders, and so on – so you’re competing with your supplier, and they have better buying power than you,” he said. “In business, you have to ask yourself if you can really be the best at what you’re doing in your industry – we couldn’t if we were simply renting earthmoving equipment.”
When the family made that realization, they looked around at the rental sector and realized that they needed to do something that would help them stand out among the crowd, and add value. While excavators, wheel loaders and other equipment are always in demand, they are also everywhere.
“Loaders and excavators are a commodity – the market is flooded with them. We knew we needed to go to something that was a little more of a niche,” he explained. That led the Todds to look back onto their previous operations in the organics and recycling industry – and specifically on the crushing, screening and grinding sector. “We knew from dealing with other crushing and screening guys, especially in this region, the service tended to be quite low. You’d phone, wanting something done, and they might get back to you in a couple of days. So, we said ‘we can do a better job,’” Daryl explained.
New equipment sparks new start
The family started hunting for the necessary niche within the screening and crushing market – and were surprised when it finally came to them in the form of an equipment operator who hailed from the U.S. East Coast. They had imported some machines that had little exposure in North America, and suggested they might be a good fit for the new Frontline Machinery business.
“He said ‘You guys should really have a look at Keestrack,’ and I said ‘What’s Keestrack?’” Daryl recalled. “He told us about it, and so we started to extensively research the company, including taking trips to jobsites where the equipment could be seen in operation, and to the factories to observe the quality control process, and ensure that parts and service support was available.”
What they discovered was a type of company, machine and service that Daryl described as a “night and day difference” to the big brands commonly found in North America they were familiar with, done by a company very similar to their own – a family-run operation that remains in family hands today.
“They’re a family business. Kees Hoogendoorn is the owner, his wife Annette is the treasurer, and he has two boys, one who runs one factory and one who runs another company division. That’s where the decisions get made…it doesn’t have to go through a bunch of red tape,” Daryl said. “Kees is always looking at his machines critically, and saying ‘What can we improve, and do better?’”
Keestrack is constantly updating its machine design and is setting the bar for performance. While machines could be modified through use of a slightly less expensive component or other cost-cutting measure, the Hoogendoorn family has steadfastly refused to compromise.
The quality and performance of the Keestrack equipment led Frontline to establish a dealer relationship with the company, one that has continued as Frontline has expanded and added more equipment lines. In the first few years, Frontline imported just a handful of machines from Keestrack, while in 2017 Frontline projects to sell over 35 Keestrack crushers, screeners and conveyors, massive growth during the relatively short time they’ve been in business.
With products such as Keestrack and the other lines that Frontline represents – such as GIPO, Diamond Z and others – Frontline’s team has found that its biggest role when working with the crushing and screening industry across Canada has been to change perceptions surrounding tracked, mobile crushers.
Daryl said: “I’ve spoken to guys who say ‘Well, all that track-mounted stuff is low production and we’ve had nothing but problems with it.’ I ask when they last used it, and they say they rented one eight years ago, or used a mass produced lower quality machine. Technology’s come a long way with track mounted equipment now being offered with capabilities up to 1100 TPH. Someone may have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous experience, and they’ve gone back to what they always had and are just running with it. We encourage people to have an open mind and come have a fresh look at what we can offer.”
That has meant taking some hands-on approaches to promoting their equipment, including regular demos that bring clients to the machines or take the machines to the client. Frontline’s team finds that putting customers in contact with the equipment on a working job site is the best way to share the features of the Keestrack and other product offerings.
Technology growing in crushing and screening business
Advances in crushing and screening equipment are not the only technological leaps being made in the industry, and Frontline has taken a lead role in promoting other products that are helping customers move forward. Again, a history in the organics and recycling industry helped the Todds recognize the benefits of technologies that are making it easier for producers to get paid for the precise amount of product they sell – and ensuring customers get what they paid for, as well as gain complete insight into their operations, to drive their productivity.
“We have two scanning technologies – one for conveyor belts, and one is a truck load scanner. The truck load scanners intrigued me because of my background in bulk products, because there are always volume discrepancies,” Daryl said. “We understood in our industry in many cases, the product is being bought and sold based on volume, not by weight, so truck scales didn’t really work. Instead, it was a case of ‘I have a Cat 950, it has a five-yard bucket, I put ten buckets in, so you have 50 yards.’”
When Daryl was looking over Keestracks at a site in Toronto during Frontline’s initial research on the machines, he spotted a system scanning trucks leaving the site. That piqued his interest and led to discussions with LoadScan. Today, the LoadScan Load Volume Scanner is part of Frontline’s offerings to its customers, along with the Sensortechnik Optical Belt Scale – another innovative product that boosts profit and allows customers to manage their material sales more effectively.
The scanning technologies can log data depending on the needs of the user and provide operators with the ability to review performance and ensure crews are getting the best productivity possible.
They’ve found that many operators are finding it a good investment. For a small portion of the purchase price of a new crusher, they get a tool that can increase the return on investment significantly. When a customer can look at their smartphone and see exactly how the performance of the machine is benefiting them financially, that’s a big step.
“You can see what happens if there are a few tweaks made to the machine – if you turn up the infeed from 65 to 75 percent, or use different screening media, or a different type of tooth,” Daryl explained. “If you can see that it’s not just a little slower or a little faster, it’s 23.5 percent faster, you can drill down and really know what’s going on. Once the lightbulb goes off in someone’s head they get it – they don’t even look at the initial investment for the scanner, as it can pay for itself within a few weeks.”
For example, a customer in the wood grinding business might adjust the operation of a machine – and choose to bill by the cubic yard or metre as opposed to using an hourly rate, thanks to the data provided by a scale and see profitability improve significantly.
“We have customers that have told me ‘I’m getting $1,200 or $1,400 an hour revenue, whereas before we were capped by the industry hourly rate,’” Daryl described. “It allows a contractor who has good equipment and good crews, and who is really productive, to make way more than the industry hourly rate.”
Customer service comes first, and growth will follow
Since its foundation four years ago, Frontline has grown steadily and currently has customers across much of western Canada. While the head office and main parts distribution warehouse in Chilliwack, they have developed a solid parts and highly mobile service network across Western Canada. The company prides itself on the level of service it offers – which means long hours and plenty of mileage for service technicians and staff. If a service call is needed, the company sends a service technician out– no matter where.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve had service techs in Hay River, Yellowknife, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Prince George, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Winnipeg and Calgary,” Daryl said.
As Frontline continues to grow its reputation and its business in the crushing and screening market, they recognize there will be a time when they will add other locations.
“In time, we’ll have bricks and mortar in strategic areas in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and we’ll have a location in Ontario within 24 months,” Daryl said.
For the moment, the Todds and Frontline are focused on providing Canadian customers the best and newest equipment they can – accompanied by unrelenting commitment to the highest level of service in the industry.
The company’s mission statement sums it all up: “Our mission is to provide only products, services and technologies which pull towards one common goal: to increase the productivity, efficiency and profitability of our clients.”