Some companies are a flash in the pan. For several reasons, they struggle to gain traction and close down shortly after their founding. Others manage to last. They have staying power, and get it right, over and over, and over, again.
Mitchell Crane has been in business for over 60 years. The family-owned business is the world’s leading manufacturer of aftermarket new crane parts. The company is the complete crane source, offering machinery rebuilds and mobile field servicing, and is dedicated to providing the aftermarket crane part you need.
The company operates out of two facilities – its service facility in Houston, Texas, and its manufacturing facility in Bryan, Texas. The firm’s staying power is evident in its focus on quality products, stellar customer service, competitive pricing, and ability to adapt since its founding in 1957.
When Beryl Mitchell founded Mitchell Crane, the focus was on crane rentals. Shortly thereafter, Beryl’s son, Don Mitchell bought the company and has been the owner since 1980. Over the course of the next few decades, the company underwent several shifts, the first being in the 60s.
The young business moved into the used parts side of the industry – a good move, as there was a demand for good used parts. With increased profitability and focus on used parts, the rental crane division was phased out.
The company spent the 80s focusing on selling used crane parts. This period was also characterized by scrap handlers for conventional cranes. Scrap handlers proliferated in the 80s and 90s, and the Mitchell Crane team, never failing to seize an opportunity, also became a dealer for scrap handlers.
Another notable evolution occurred at Mitchell Crane toward the end of the 80s. In their dealings with customers, the team realized that there’s always a dire need for parts. For example, customers bought crane parts only to call the next day for the same part that Mitchell Crane didn’t have. Mitchell Crane would contact the original equipment manufacturer, but the problem was that they either didn’t have the part or the part was too expensive. Seeing a gap in the market, Mitchell Crane created its own manufacturing facility in Bryan. The biggest advantage of having a manufacturing facility was that the team was able to keep costs down while feeding their rebuild facility in Houston – not to mention the cost savings passed along to the customer.
While it started as a small machine shop with a few machine tools, the business grew, becoming a machine shop with a multitude of capabilities. With additions in gear capacity, it has grown to occupy a 30,000 square foot facility Don’s daughter and her husband currently operate the business from the Bryan location where they specialize in manufacturing and stocking aftermarket parts new, for most crane models; they continue to maintain a used parts department as well.
The Houston branch still operates from a service capacity, running a mobile service department and providing machine resales and complete machine rebuilds. Complete machine rebuilds involve building a crane to 90 percent of new when complete, using the parts manufactured in Bryan. At the manufacturer’s facility in Bryan, the team deals with parts for both later model and early model machines. “Along with servicing the later model machines on a daily basis, I’m still servicing fleets of cranes that date back to the 50s,” remarks Travis.
As a full-service machine shop, Mitchell Crane is able to custom manufacture to meet all clients’ needs and deliver unparalleled service. “If you call us with an issue, we’re going to see the issue the entire way through,” says Travis. The fact that the business is still operating 60 years later in an industry that demands high-quality customer service, and has built relationships with clients lasting 30 years and more, is a testament to the team’s ability to get things done right.
The ability to deliver is thanks in large part to a company ethos of quality and customer service – something instilled in all employees. All newly manufactured parts go through a stringent quality inspection process. With a current staff of 50 and a combined experience of over 150 years between the sales personnel, each person in the company is trained to offer technical help to clients. Indeed, all staff understand exactly how the product works. With in-depth product knowledge, staff are able to provide this help to all clients – who may call two to three times a day. Finally, the focus on quality is epitomized by the fact that all new hires gain in-house experience from trained mechanics before going into the field. No stone is left unturned.
It’s the staff’s technical expertise and the insistence on quality that helps them deal with the current industry challenges, relating largely to obsolete parts and the overseas market. Though dealing with obsolete parts is one of the company’s specialties, it’s also one of its biggest challenges. With original manufacturers moving away from providing support for older conventional cranes, fewer parts are available, and those that are tend to be expensive. Mitchell Crane overcomes this by using its technical expertise to reverse engineer replacement parts based on the old. While overseas markets like China are able to offer parts at competitive prices, Mitchell Crane continues to find a niche; instead of engaging in a price war, the team focuses on what it does best – manufacturing high-quality aftermarket crane parts and providing the best after-sales support.
While quality products, technical expertise and customer service are some of the features that make the company unique, its real competitive advantage is its ability to offer all this while keeping costs low. While the manufacturing facility plays a crucial part in the low cost, unique relationships with vendors are also important and stand the business in good stead as it continues to grow.
Pivotal to Mitchell Crane’s growth strategy is the manufacturing facility in Bryan. It has opened Mitchell Crane to industries beyond the crane sector. “Once you’ve got a machine shop, especially in Texas, you’ve got a natural inclination to make oil field parts,” explains Travis. “And we had just that. So, we also began to make parts for the oil fields; we picked up several oil field contracts.” What followed was diversification into several other industries and big-name clients in the small arms sector, university research, the shipping industry, and even aerospace (to name a few).
The company consistently uses this diversification for expansion. After all, “If you’re not expanding, you’re stagnant, and if you’re stagnant in business, you’re losing. We have to expand to meet our customers’ expanding needs. That’s our only philosophy,” says Travis. To this end, the team is presently eyeing the grain processing industry and is moving into hydraulics. In fact, the company currently has hydraulic cranes and is open to any offers for work on hydraulic rigs. With the changing crane market, hydraulics are the future, and Mitchell is ahead of the curve and neatly poised for success in this market.
Aside from its diversification strategy, the company also uses several marketing strategies. And, through its recent attendance at CONEXPO – the second largest trade show in the construction industry – the firm also captured many valuable leads.
With an aggressive diversification strategy and in-touch marketing, Mitchell Crane is set for continued success. Indeed, it has achieved a great deal in its tenure, and there are a few projects of which the team is particularly proud. Just this year the company completed a 9310 crane rebuild, and a 118 Link-Belt – not to mention other notable crane rebuild projects such as the 418, 500, 518, 108, and 700 series.
Large-scale projects like these are only set to increase for Mitchell Crane. The team has the track record for getting it right for over 60 years, in an industry that demands the highest levels of service and safety. With a strong foundation built on customer service, technical expertise, quality, and competitive pricing, combined with a focus on expansion, Mitchell Crane is perfectly positioned for another 60 years and beyond.