Haaker Equipment Company
Making a clean sweep
Business View Magazine interviews Matt Woods, VP of Sales & Marketing at Haaker Equipment Company, for our focus on the Infrastructure Construction Sector
Tucked away in La Verne, California, is a 49-year-old equipment company with grand ambitions. Haaker Equipment Company is a family-owned firm that supplies a range of industrial sewer cleaners, sweepers, floor scrubbers, and other equipment, parts, and customer service to the municipal, industrial, and contractor industries.
The company, which prides itself in providing total service, has come a long way since its humble beginnings as an equipment dealership. Today, Haaker Equipment Company employs a sizeable staff of factory-trained professionals serving diligently as a vanguard for its total supply, maintenance, and repair services. From its headquarters, Haaker Equipment Company operates satellite offices in Las Vegas, Nevada and Phoenix, Arizona, which act as maintenance and repair service hubs. “We go all the way to Fresno and San Luis Obispo, California and all the way south to the San Diego border,” says Matt Woods, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Haaker Equipment Company. “We also cover southern Nevada, mostly Las Vegas, and the whole state of Arizona.”
Haaker Equipment Company supplies, maintains, and rents industrial equipment from brands like Vactor, Elgin, TRUVAC, Envirosight, and Powerboss. The company has worked as a supply partner for Vactor Manufacturing and the Elgin Sweeper Company, both owned by the Federal Signal Corporation, for decades, creating a tightly integrated partnership that today makes them a preferred partner in the markets they serve.
“They’re part of our business,” says Woods. “We don’t look at them as people that we just buy equipment from for resale. It’s a long-term relationship that’s going on almost 50 years.” From these relationships, Haaker Equipment Company benefits from having understanding partners attuned to what is happening within the company. “These strong partnerships mean our suppliers are involved in our business,” he adds. “They know what’s going on in our business, the challenges we have, and we work together to solve those challenges and deliver a better product to our customers.”
Haaker Equipment Company’s story begins in 1972, when John A. Haaker began a Vactor dealership in Santa Fe Springs, moving to El Monte, and finally settling in Pomona, California. His son, Bill, also joined the company at the time as a general manager and mechanic. In 1982, the company took on the Elgin Street Sweeper product line, continuing to grow its business into the late ‘80s with the two product lines. By 1990, the company had grown significantly, adding a new division selling fire equipment.
In 1991, John retired, leaving Bill to run the company as president and CEO. Around the same time, a new owner joined the company, Randy Blackman, who shortly after joining was appointed president, while Bill took on the more hands-on role of CEO and Sales Manager. In 2010, following Bill’s tragic death, the company shifted leadership to his children, Robin and Jake, with Robin serving as President and Jake taking on the mantle of Vice President, Operations. That same year saw the formation of a new company founded by Matt Woods, Total Clean Equipment, selling industrial sweepers and floor scrubbers.
Haaker Equipment Company currently employs a team of 87 talented individuals, 19 of whom are in sales, 15 in administration, and the rest in the parts and service departments. Like most North American companies that rely on skilled tradespeople, Haaker Equipment Company also struggles to find qualified workers. “Our biggest challenge is finding skilled technicians with equipment and diagnostic experience,” says Woods. “Meanwhile, the auto shop in high school is nowhere to be found anymore.” Haaker Equipment Company is solving this problem by tapping into trade schools and hiring skilled workers trained elsewhere. However, this is not enough, and the company has a mentorship program that inducts unskilled mechanics into the company through an in-house training program.
While getting new workers is difficult, Haaker Equipment Company seems to be doing a great job retaining the ones already hired. “Our most important resource is our employees,” says Woods. “Our company culture is to empower our people to make decisions that solve our customers’ problems.” With the company managing to retain the average employee for over seven years, this strategy has paid off, which in an industry that typically has a high mechanic turnover points to a positive culture. The company is also proud to have several retirements due to low staff turnover, especially in the sales and administration departments.
All of Haaker Equipment Company’s office locations have similar operational capabilities to serve their respective markets. “From our three facilities, we stock new and used equipment and house our parts and service technicians,” explains Woods. “Of these technicians, some are in-house, and others are mobile. When equipment breaks down, a mechanic will drive out to the customer site and repair the equipment and or do the preventative maintenance.”
About 60 percent of the firm’s business is municipal. Besides supplying, renting, and maintaining equipment, Haaker Equipment Company also supplies and installs OEM parts for a wide range of brands, including Elgin Street Sweepers, Vactor Sewer Trucks, GapVax Vacuum Trucks, Aquatech Water Purification, Camel Sewer Cleaning Trucks, and others. Since the late 2010s, the company has also focused on providing hydro-excavation services through a dedicated division. “Hydro-excavation in North America has been growing,” Woods notes. “We’ve been chasing that marketplace now for about ten years, and aggressively over the last three or four.” The focus on hydro-excavation prepared the company for the surge of work from the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. This paradoxical situation has left some of the firm’s employees pleasantly puzzled.
“The hydro excavation industry has gone bananas!” exclaims Todd Farrell, an underground specialist at Haaker Equipment Company. “2020 was one of the busiest and most profitable years Haaker Equipment Company has had, and that’s despite some job sites closing down and stricter health protocols.” Farrell does not see the industry slowing down, either. With significant infrastructure projects underway, 2021 could well be another record-breaking year for the company. “Business related to highways and other big infrastructure projects has taken off due to low traffic, while our residential utility upgrades business has slowed down because everyone is at home,” chimes in Woods. “So, while that business is down because that type of work is delayed, we are working on larger infrastructure projects like federal and state roads and highways.”
While COVID-19 is accelerating Haaker Equipment Company’s business, technology and legislative changes also play a pivotal role in how its hydro-excavation business is growing. “Technology advances in our industry are mostly geared towards safe diggings,” avers Woods. Safe digging is a primary concern for city municipalities because most excavation work occurs where many old lines are located underground, including gas, electrical, and fiber-optic cables. Based on new regulations that cater to these considerations, safer digging has become a critical requirement for digging projects.
“Some projects require air excavation, others water,” adds Woods, “yet regardless of which is in use, several restrictions apply to avoid cut lines.” These restrictions come from enacted safety measures that have changed the industry to consider significantly safe digging and avoid explosions while digging underground.
Despite more business, the pandemic has forced Haaker Equipment Company to adapt to a more digitized world, a reality that Farrell is all too familiar with. He has had to turn to less traditional sales channels like LinkedIn to find leads, something he feels has made his work significantly more straightforward. “On LinkedIn, prospect information is visible, easing conversation because you already know what they do,” he says. “You see what they do, they see what you do, and it’s almost like a tradeshow because everybody’s right there.” He feels such websites are a great marketing channel because it is easy to show prospects what the company does without investing in tradeshows and similar trade events.
Peering into the future, Haaker Equipment Company is banking on sustainability as a viable path towards greater growth. “We currently have a water recycling green initiative,” says Woods, “which builds on the environmental cleaning products that we sell. We are also closely monitoring the electric vehicle (EV) market, with an expectation that all the equipment we sell will run on renewable energy in the next six to ten years.”
As the company outgrows its current markets, it is pursuing expansion into new markets like San Diego and Fresno. Woods emphasizes, “With a lot of new technology emerging from partner manufacturers like Elgin and Vactor, we see these new markets as an opportunity to sell better products to a broader market through our total service solutions.”
AT A GLANCE
Haaker Equipment Company
What: Family-owned, total service industrial equipment supplier
Where: Headquarters in La Verne, California
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