Investing in your first crane or bucket truck may seem like a risky move, but such a decision has the potential to significantly boost your sales and revolutionize your sign shop’s capabilities.
In my previous experience with a sign shop based in Austin, Texas, we initially relied on subcontractors to handle all our sign installations. Subcontracting can result in smaller profit margins for the installation part of your sign projects, but if you can find reliable partners who are loyal to your business and customers, it can be a great way to get started. It can help your young company reduce overhead costs, allowing you to invest in other areas of your business.
However, subcontracting sign installations comes with its own set of challenges. As a customer of the installer, you have no control over the subcontractor’s priorities. If they are running behind on a large installation project for another sign shop, your project may be delayed. Consequently, you will be forced to reschedule with your clients, often with limited control over the next available installation date. Such delays can lead to unhappy clients, and you run the risk of losing future projects to shops that have their own cranes.
With that in mind, it might be time to consider purchasing your first service or crane truck or expanding your existing fleet. But before doing so, there are four critical factors to consider:
- Assess Your Future Workload: It’s essential to think about future work prospects when considering a crane truck purchase. Idle trucks mean you’re still paying all the expenses of keeping them operational. To ensure a consistent workload, explore opportunities to market your services to national sign companies for installation and service work. Additionally, introduce yourself and your services to every retail property manager in your area, as they often require sign maintenance and repairs. By proactively pursuing these avenues, you can maintain a steady workload.
- Timing is Everything: Determining the ideal time to invest in a service truck largely depends on your specific circumstances. If you find yourself relying on subcontract installers for installations and encounter service jobs three to four times a week, it could be the right time to invest in a small bucket or crane truck. This will enable you to handle a broader range of tasks, such as installing smaller electric wall signs, pylon panels, and graphics. You can start small and expand from there.
As Tami Napolitano from Awesome Graphics and Freedom Sign Consulting wisely stated, “It was the right time when the rentals and subcontractors were costing more per month than what it cost to buy it!” When the costs of relying on subcontractors start to outweigh the investment in your equipment, that’s a clear sign it’s time to make the purchase.
In conclusion, the decision to invest in a crane or bucket truck for your sign shop is not without its challenges, but it can lead to increased control, higher profitability, and improved client satisfaction. By assessing your workload and timing your purchase wisely, you can make an informed decision that benefits your business in the long run.
Crane service truck photo: Joe Arenella.
Finding the right people is paramount. Locating skilled sign installers and treating them well is a necessity. They often represent the last members of your company that your customers will encounter on a project.
It is critical to assemble a competent team that can safely and efficiently operate a crane truck. If you have an experienced lead installer who can handle crane operations and lead the installation team, it further solidifies the case for investing in a crane truck.
Starting on a smaller scale is a smart move. This allows you to gain experience, refine your processes, and promote your new crane truck services within your local business community.
Ensure you understand what’s required. Dedicate time to researching all the prerequisites for owning a crane and hiring operators, including the costs of acquiring and maintaining the truck, insurance coverage, fuel expenses, and any necessary training or certifications for equipment operation. Consult with your local sign association to identify OSHA, crane certification, and safety training requirements.
Additionally, remember that with a crane truck, your employees will be working at considerable heights. Therefore, conduct due diligence to comprehend how the new truck will impact your workers’ compensation requirements and liability insurance.
In conclusion, these considerations should not dissuade you from expanding your installation and service business, but they should be carefully weighed before purchasing a crane truck.
Ultimately, you need to assess your workload, customer base, and growth potential to make an informed decision about embarking on the journey of crane truck ownership and taking your sign shop to new heights.
From my personal experience, I don’t regret my shop’s decision to own crane trucks. It allowed us to better serve our customers, and I had immense admiration for our installation crews.
And a heartfelt thanks to all you incredible installers out there. Sign shops simply cannot thrive without you.
Joe Arenella serves as the host of the Behind the Signs Facebook community and video podcast.