Maine Trails, Feb - Mar '07
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Cover Story: Crumbling bridges in the spotlight
A thing for ‘yellow iron’

A thing for ‘yellow iron’
Equipment dealer Chadwick-BaRoss completes $1.1 million renovation of its Westbrook dealership

by Kathryn Buxton

 

The official hours posted at the new entrance of Chadwick-BaRoss’s dealership in Westbrook, Maine, say work begins at 7:30 a.m. More often than not, work begins well before that hour, but anyone familiar with the company’s 78-year history will not be surprised. The equipment dealer that has served Maine’s construction industry nearly eight decades has a reputation for going the extra mile – and putting in the extra time – if that’s what it takes to get a job done.

“We understand down time and what that costs our customers. We spend a lot of our efforts providing the support to make sure they experience as little down time as possible,” said newly appointed president and CEO Stuart Welch. Welch assumed leadership of Chadwick-BaRoss’s day-to-day operations in early February. He took over reins from George Corey who is now chairman of the board. That commitment to customer service is evident at all five of the company’s branch operations. In addition to operations in Westbrook that also houses the headquarters for the company, Chadwick-BaRoss has dealerships in Caribou and Bangor, Maine, as well as in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and Concord, New Hampshire. The company is perhaps best known as a Volvo heavy equipment dealer in Maine and New Hampshire, but in Massachusetts, the company also carries equipment lines by CEC, Link-Belt, Timberjack, Ponsse, La Bounty, Takeuchi, Wimmer and Bombardier.

One door, many options
Outside, an army of signature yellow Volvo construction equipment – towering excavators, loaders and haulers and other earthmoving equipment – stand quiet guard in the snow, ready for the start of the 2007 construction season. Inside, as the day gets underway, the Chadwick-Baross parts and service departments are anything but quiet. A parts specialist works at the parts counter with a customer to identify a needed part and track it down among the firm’s five branches. Another prepares parts for shipping to customers across southern Maine. In the service department, mechanics are at work repairing several pieces of heavy equipment.

“We’ve had lots of changes here, and they are all good for the customer and for our efficiency,” said Gary Thebarge, vice president and general manager of the Westbrook site. After eight months of construction, the staff moved into its newly reconfigured space late in 2006. The move is fresh enough that Thebarge and his staff still appreciate how much easier work is in the new space.

For customers, the biggest visible change, according to Thebarge, is how easy it is to find the person they came to see. Before the renovation, the branch had three different entrances: one each for sales, service and parts. Customers frequently ended up in the wrong department. “The work flow and communications are so much easier. Before if you had a question about a part or you were looking for someone, you had to do a lot of walking,” said Thebarge.

Today, all of Chadwick-BaRoss’s customers enter through a double glass door into a bright reception area that is configured somewhat like a wheel and its spokes. A shining compact excavator is parked on display at the center and management offices for all three divisions of the business are off the center reception. Just beyond the reception desk and behind another set of doors is the newly expanded parts warehouse space.

The Portland Tractor Co.
Frank Mileson and Lawrence Murray founded the Portland Tractor Company – the forerunner of Chadwick-BaRoss, Inc. – in 1929. Their headquarters were in Portland, and they sold crawlers and wheel tractors manufactured by the Oliver Corporation. The majority of their business came from the region’s municipal maintenance departments, though some of their business came from the timber industry. In 1959, Robert P. BaRoss and Richard Chadwick bought the business. BaRoss was a manager for Caterpillar, and Chadwick had his own Oldsmobile dealership. They moved their headquarters to Westbrook and ran the business together until Chadwick retired in 1973. BaRoss stayed on with the company until 1990, bringing in an Austrian firm, the Strobl Group, as a voting partner in the company in the late 1970s. In 1985, Chadwick- BaRoss bought Timberland Machines, Inc., a wholesale distributor of outdoor power equipment and dealers of logging, industrial and municipal equipment in New England.

Part of that acquisition included locations in Chelmsford, Bangor and Caribou, and those locations took on the Chadwick-BaRoss name. Today the dealer supplies some of the biggest names in Maine’s construction industry supplying the equipment that, in a sense, powers Maine’s and New England’s economy.

A multitude of dumpsters
Chadwick-BaRoss’s pre-renovation offices in Westbrook reflected, in a way, the many stages of growth the company had seen during nearly eight decades in business. Inside was a maze of hallways, offices, storage areas and maintenance garages – a maze that had been reconfigured many times since the company moved to Westbrook in the early 1960s. To lead the renovation, the company worked with architects Arcadia Designworks, LLC, and RGB Construction. The architect interviewed staff and analyzed how work flowed between departments and how customers interacted with staff. The wheel-and-spoke design emerged from that process. To build the new offices, they had to completely member news gut the old building. Chadwick-BaRoss began the renovation in April 2006. To make way for the construction, staff moved to temporary quarters in trailers at the rear and side of the property. That caused some minor inconveniences, and Thebarge expressed his gratitude for their customers’ patience throughout the reconstruction process.

As crews began demolition on the 40-year-old plus building, it became clear that the initial stages of construction were going to be more complicated than the firm had anticipated. Originally, Thebarge said they estimated that it would require no more than a dozen dumpsters to clear away the innards of the old offices. In the end, 45 dumpsters were needed. “You wouldn’t believe the tangle of wires and old walls that they uncovered. Some of the walls were this thick,” said Thebarge measuring out a good foot or more with his hands.

Same footprint, same faces
While the renovation did not add square footage to the dealership’s footprint, construction crews literally raised the roof on part of the building. This enabled the company to add a second floor and nearly double its warehouse capacity for parts. (President Welch said that while the Westbrook location now stocks a wider selection of parts on site, should a customer need a part that is not stocked there, the staff usually can source it within 24 hours using the company shuttle that runs between all five Chadwick-BaRoss locations). They also added a new sealed loading dock where staff can load and unload delivery trucks – rain or shine – without having to go outside.

Chadwick-BaRoss has invested $1.1 million in the renovation that is already paying off in improved efficiency company wide. The construction is part of the firm’s long-term reinvestment plan that included updates to all five of its dealerships. The first was the addition of 4,500 square feet and upgrades to the facilities in Chelmsford; then came renovations to Bangor and additions to Caribou. Two years ago, the company completed improvements in Concord, including a 10,000- square-foot addition of the service department and renovation of the parts division. While the company consistently reinvests in its physical plants, it also invests in its employees through an extensive corporate wellness program and ongoing training. That is one reason why it enjoys such strong employee loyalty. Many of the staff have been with the firm for a decade or longer and are among the most skilled and knowledgeable in their fields. Chadwick-BaRoss has 14 certified Volvo Master Mechanics on staff – that is the highest level of training available within the Volvo heavy equipment line.

‘Yellow iron’
“You could say we have a thing for yellow iron,” said Welch referring to the Volvo’s signature yellow enamel paint when talking about the extraordinary commitment and training of the company’s employees. Chadwick-BaRoss Chairman George Corey, who until February served as president and chief executive officer, concurred. “We’ve always offered good equipment and good service, but it’s really all about having the right people – and we have a lot of the right people,” said Corey. He plans to remain active in the formation of the company’s strategic direction. He also hopes to spend more time with the company’s top customers and with his family.

Corey, Welch and Thebarge demonstrate their clear enthusiasm for “yellow iron” when they start talking animatedly about the significant innovations customers can expect from Volvo Equipment later this year. That is when Volvo plans to unveil its remote diagnostic system. When equipment breaks down in the field, the new technology will enable a service technician at Chadwick-BaRoss to accurately diagnose the problem via satellite and order needed parts almost instantly. While the company has no plans to mothball its fleet of 20-plus service vehicles anytime soon, remote diagnostics promise to reduce the customers’ down time considerably. “We sell and service equipment that operates in extremely hostile environments,” said Welch. “The manufacturer’s quality and reliability play a big role in keeping our customers’ operations profitable. We back that up with a great team that really knows the customers’ businesses and understands how important it is to keep that equipment working.”

Tending the roots
Beyond the world of heavy equipment, Chadwick- BaRoss has a long history of extraordinary generosity and service to the community. In the mid-1960s, co-founder Dick Chadwick served a term as president of Maine Good Roads Association, the forerunner of the Maine Better Transportation Association. Robert BaRoss, one of the two former owners for whom the company was named, established deep roots in the community, serving on the board of the Associated General Contractors of Maine (forerunner of the Associated Constructors of Maine) and giving of his time to many other industry and community organizations. BaRoss and David Costanzo, former vice president of sales and now retired, have both been recipients of the MBTA’s Transportation Achievement Award. Costanzo, who also served a term as MBTA president, was a tireless volunteer, bringing his infectious enthusiasm and goodwill to every project and activity he worked on, from membership and the educational foundation to the annual golf tournament, as well as fundraising for bond campaigns.

The Chadwick-BaRoss legacy for community service has continued with the company’s current leadership. George Corey has been an active supporter of the industry since he became president of the company in 1998. He has served on the MBTA board for several years, and both he and newly appointed president Welch have been strong supporters of the organization’s advocacy efforts, its infrastructure fund and the educational foundation. The company is one of two grand sponsors for the annual convention and are among the first to step up to the plate when resources are needed.

Costanzo said that Chadwick-BaRoss’s support of MBTA and its mission comes from an appreciation for the role transportation plays in a strong regional economy. “Maine’s not in the middle of the country, we’re stuck up on one end, and a good transportation system is central to our ability to do business. It’s vital for tourism, and if we’re going to hold on to what manufacturing business the state still has.” He also admitted his involvement in MBTA has not been entirely altruistic and spoke fondly of the friendships and sense of community he enjoyed during his work with the organization. “It’s important to have fun, too.”

Future forecast
With five locations and a large number of models to manage, the Chadwick-BaRoss management team needs to be adept at reading the economy and planning. “You have to think pretty far into the future,” said Corey. He said the recent lack of highway funding has definitely been felt at their end of the industry, but much of the slack was picked up in the past two years with the boom in the residential housing and commercial markets. That has meant stocking more of the smaller loaders and excavators. They expect the residential market to cool somewhat in the coming year, but the commercial market to remain strong. They are hopeful that Maine will get its highway maintenance program back on track soon, as well.

Uncertainty in the construction industry makes reliable equipment all the more important, said Welch. He said that when a construction firm is shuttling manpower and equipment between more, often smaller jobs, “reliability and service really matter.” Providing New England customers with top of the line equipment and outstanding customer service – that is precisely the niche in the market Chadwick-BaRoss intends to continue filling in the years to come.

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