Top Lift Enterprises of Stoney Creek, Ontario specializes in heavy equipment sales and distribution. It works within several industries, and this diversification can be beneficial during economic downturns. This one-stop-shop includes a full parts and service department. We spoke with newly hired Ken Smith, general manager at Toplift North America, Top Lift Enterprises’ parent company.
Top Lift Enterprises was incorporated in 1992 and was initially a service-based company that did not carry any of the lines it does now, but in 1994, the company branched out to become an equipment dealer when it began to carry Fantuzzi reach stackers. These vehicles are used by terminal services companies to handle intermodal containers and can move them short distances and pile them in cargo storage areas and ports. The business grew and diversified its products for the next twenty years.
“Sometime after the recession, we picked up the construction lines and diversified offerings to customers and ventured into new segments. We joined with Link-Belt, an excavator company, Takeuchi and Ammann, which covers the construction half of the division,” says Ken.
Top Lift also uses some other suppliers for the equipment attachments. AMI Attachments is the main supplier for all its buckets and attachments for its excavator line. Ammann provides its soil and asphalt compaction equipment.
“With the other half of the business, we do material handling and construction. We are looking at metal scrap dealers and demolition companies all the way into the construction side of things where we target road builders, general contractors and landscapers. If it is on the construction side, we dabble in it,” says Ken.
Top Lift also carries Takeuchi’s compact equipment and Sennebogen’s material handling solutions for moving pipes, logging, construction, demolition and for waste, scrap and recycling management.
Top Lift’s largest business sector, and a specialty area that none of its competitors seem to deal with, is in supplying equipment and services for intermodal cargo handling at rail yards. “We have a product offering that nobody else has with the business that we conduct,” says Ken. The equipment dealer also has many service contracts, some of which are quite large and complicated.
Top Lift has continued to look forward by finding new products and serving new clients as it expands. “With a lot of construction sales, you get into it to sell one unit, but you really get involved because you want to continue the relationship with the customer on the service end of it and ensure that they are well looked after,” says Ken. This relationship building is where a lot of the company’s success lies, and this philosophy was present at its inception.
On the intermodal side of its products is the exclusive Toplift Ferrari range, a partnership between CVS Ferrari and Top Lift to come up with products that would work in the North American market. “It’s been a great success for us, and we continue to benefit with that line, with the rail industry and on the inter-modal side of things. There is nothing but good growth on the horizon. We have great support from Ferrari, out of Italy, and we have a good working relation,” says Ken.
Working with the Top Lift sales team has been positive for Ken and the company. “We implement new training and take part in the social media aspect of the world as well. We continue to look for new ways to advertise and develop that particular part of our business,” says Ken. The sales force is growing, and new representatives have been hired.
The newest challenge for Ken and the team is the protectionist state that exists in the world presently and has no sign of ending. It has affected prices, but Top Lift has a goal to minimize the impact to its customers, while continuing to offer great products and services. Keeping prices down will be difficult in this economic arena, as many are dealing with financial pressures.
“I’m only one facet of another company’s business. If we are dealing with one excavator, I am only one portion of that business. There will be a variety of costs they need to be aware of and look at. When it comes down to it, they may need to cut down or put things off, and I may be that guy that is dropped,” says Ken.
There is much worry within the economy due to this, and Top Lift needs to be capable of weathering the storm by going after different strategic markets. If a new NAFTA agreement happens in the next six months, that would help immeasurably because the agreement would be in place for the long term which reduces turmoil. The tariffs are not hurting Top Lift directly, but the pricing of products on the market is. “There is a tariff on steel, but the fluctuation of the price of steel is what is going up and down, and that is affecting us. If the price goes up, plus the tariff, that is prohibitive for some of our customers and for our suppliers,” says Ken.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board had established a series of emission standards that would apply to new off-road equipment or remanufactured equipment like that supplied by Top Lift. The standards, known as Tier-4, went into effect as of the first of January 2014. There are no longer any Tier-3 engines that can be imported, so that marks the end of the Tier-3 for Top Lift.
“It equates to an increase in unit price, but it also means that the industry is continuing to look forward to being as environmentally friendly as possible. The Tier-4 engine works to do two things. It reduces particulate matter, and it reduces oxides of nitrogen, which is a smog-producing particle,” says Ken.
Top Lift is working on a new sales platform, which is a more strategic approach to working with its current suppliers and vendors. The aim is to make sure that it is targeting the appropriate people in the relevant markets and ensuring that it has the right price in place, but, it is also very much about relationships.
“It’s about what we can do and what we can offer to a customer that sets us aside from competitors. When looking at all our products, what becomes evident is that they are all top-of-the-line,” says Ken. Takeuchi is a premier line, as is Ammann. Link-Belt is an extremely well-made machine that outperforms its competitors at a price that is lower than or equal to other big names.
For its efforts to do work that sets it apart from the rest, Top Lift achieved Triple Crown Award from Link-Belt in 2018, for work performed in 2017. “It shows that we have continued to push with that facet of our business. We have grown it, supported it, and Link-Belt has supported us. We are looking to do it again in 2018 and into the future,” says Ken. Top-Lift Enterprises is not afraid to take risks and is always trying to achieve something. It has the right people to take on that risk and succeed.