Southeastern Equipment Company is celebrating a milestone: 60 years as a successful family-owned company. Looking back on the past six decades, hard work, quality product, and a dedicated team of skilled and well-trained professionals have taken it to great levels of success.
Southeastern Equipment Company has come from very humble beginnings to become one of the largest family-owned, multi-state equipment suppliers in the market. It operates out of 18 locations in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky. Southeastern offers equipment sales and rentals along with an extensive inventory of parts and world-class service and support.
“With our locations and coverage, we have between 40 and 50 service trucks on the road all of the time, running out of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan,” explains Mickey Gourley, Vice President. “We’re in all the major metropolises and have satellite locations within a half hour of basically all major locations.”
Southeastern Equipment Company operates three divisions: Environmental, Road Building, and Southeastern Rents. The Environmental Division was founded in 2012, while the Road Building Division and Southeastern Rents were founded in 2014.
The company has more than 200 employees who are experts in the field — ready to assist customers with all of their equipment needs from brands like Case, Gradall, Kobelco, and Bomag to name a few. The company carries over 30 lines of equipment and offers 24/7 support from each of its locations.
Southeastern supports 9,500 customers each year including residential and commercial construction companies, road builders, earthmovers and contractors, landscapers, oil and gas companies, utility and waste management organizations, government agencies and municipalities, small businesses, and homeowners.
“What really allowed Southeastern to grow is its ability to do business for a very broad scope of customer,” said Heath Watton, Vice President. “Whether it’s an owner-operator or a very large road and bridge contractor with our three distinct divisions, we’re equipped to take care of them.”
The company was established by William (Bill) Baker in 1957. After making the decision to pursue a career in sales over one in education (he held a degree in mathematics but had a knack for making sales) he set out selling motor grader blades for Shunk Equipment Company. Having previously worked for his father, a dirt contractor, he had years of industry and equipment operation experience and had established many relationships with industry players in the region.
Mr. Baker’s first batch of inventory was given to him on loan with the promise that he would sell to the townships and counties to later cover the cost. He did so with his wife Nancy at his side. She left a career at the hospital to serve as the company’s first bookkeeper, making it a true family affair from the outset.
It took less than a year for Southeastern Equipment Company to grow. It acquired Adam Motor Grader Company and in no time, Mr. Baker was signing a franchise agreement with J.I. Case Company to serve the southeastern Ohio region which, at the time, had a gap in the market that needed to be filled.
D. Thor Hess, grandson of Mr. Baker and the company’s Executive Vice President, shared, “He got a call from the Case company and I guess there was a Case dealership here in Cambridge, Ohio that had just closed and they were looking for somebody to take over the franchise. He was 21 years old, signed the papers, and started selling.”
In 1957 the company was born, but it wasn’t until the following year that it would establish its first physical location in a Quonset hut. By the 1960s, Southeastern Equipment Company outgrew that space and in 1964 its Cambridge, Ohio headquarters were built. This location remains the headquarters today.
The company strategically expanded, opening a second location in Gallipolis in addition to five more branches over the next decade. Southeastern Equipment Company went on to acquire King Equipment in 1980, doubling the company’s footprint. Its operations continued outward in the state of Ohio and across state lines into Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky. In 1985 the Kobelco brand was brought on board and expanded the company’s excavator selection greatly. Since that time, Southeastern Equipment Company has grown its product catalog, footprint, and reputation.
Southeastern has become the largest privately-owned Case dealer in the world, the largest Kobelco dealer in the U.S. as well as one of the largest Eager Beaver Trailer dealerships. As Gourley stated, “If we have iron, we sell it and we’re typically pretty good at it.”
The level of success the company has enjoyed is possible thanks to the outstanding performance of its equipment, team of well-trained service technicians, sales and parts personnel and leadership, family-oriented culture which resonates through the ranks as the employees are a component part of the Southeastern family, and robust training opportunities.
“Most large rental companies only offer older pieces. At Southeastern, we really take pride in the fact that our offering is good quality and new equipment. It helps us showcase what we have available for purchase should they want to buy instead.”
Watton added, “We’re there to rent equipment that we can sell. Customers know that when they get into one of our pieces, it will be in good condition because we maintain our assets so well.”
Good hiring practices have enabled Southeastern Equipment Company to assemble a team of loyal, long-tenured employees who exhibit unparalleled industry expertise. Employees are empowered to make decisions in order to facilitate the best possible customer experience.
Hess paid credit to the employees at Southeastern Equipment Company by saying, “That’s really what makes the company. We’re in the service industry; we don’t make products. We have some of the best salesmen holding the customers’ hands and working them through any issues and really just being a friend and a confidante in the industry, and I think that’s where this company is foundationally very sound.”
In 2012, to further develop talent and offer greater customer support, an 8,000 square foot training center was established in Cambridge. The facility is complete with a 200+ person capacity classroom, a boardroom and large shop bays. Leadership training is another area of focus for the company looking ahead as it has recently undergone a transition in leadership.
Southeastern Equipment Company has also undertaken rebranding efforts, bringing its multi-state operations together as one company, with one culture, one logo and a unified vision for the future. Indeed, the company’s logo has evolved throughout the years and symbolizes the various stages of growth Southeastern Equipment Company has undergone. The new logo embodies the company’s past while representing its journey forward, complete with the iconic script first introduced in 1958 by Mr. Baker’s friend, Mr. Johnson.
The logo pays homage to the past and shows promise for the future. It is the goal of Southeastern Equipment Company and its leadership team to continue to be a premier equipment dealer in its market, bringing the utmost in performance, quality and service to its valued customers.
Another focus of the company and its leadership team is to step up its community outreach initiatives. While its various branches are already committed to a number of causes in the local communities it serves, as the company continues to grow, there is a belief that more can be done in this capacity.
An example of this outreach in action is the wellness challenge that is currently underway. For every 10,000 steps taken by teams across Southeastern Equipment Company’s operations, the company will make a donation to the children’s charity of the winning team’s choice. There is also support for 4H clubs and various other charities.
In 2016, Southeastern Equipment Company purchased a new property in Dublin, Ohio, in proximity to its existing operations. It has also invested greatly in process improvements in the interest of greater efficiency and operational performance. For example, a comprehensive CRM (Customer relationship management) program has been integrated into its business system.
“Our CRM program allows salesmen to see the inventory, get information, and be a lot more connected to the back end of Southeastern. And it helps the customer on the front end to keep up with what’s going on. It also allows managers to be more involved with their salesmen and better manage them,” explained Hess.
Through these many efforts, Southeastern Equipment Company is laying the foundation for another 60 successful years and more! Included below is an excerpt from a commemorative 60th anniversary booklet that offers insight for the future.
I know we’re headed towards a strong and ground-breaking future – together. It’s not a matter of creating a new business strategy or process. It’s about doing the right thing.
Like my grandfather said when Southeastern began 60 years ago, “Our goal is to take care of our customers and employees like they’re our own. To help them succeed so they can care for their families and grow right alongside us.”
That’s the torch we’ll continue to carry for the next 60 years and beyond: To help one another, care for our customers and be a family. We’re one team with one goal.
– D. Thor Hess