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Century Equipment Company, President & General Manager Ryan May  


Founded in 1969, Century Equipment Company has had one goal in mind:  to give you not only the best equipment in the business, but also the best service-the service you need to stay on the job, whether it’s a single piece of construction equipment or an entire fleet.

Ryan May is an opportunistic President & General Manager of Century Equipment Company located in Murray, Utah.  Ryan started his career as a lumberyard salesman and he served as property manager for properties in Wyoming.  In 2002 he became the President and General Manager of Century Equipment and his focus has been on expansion and building trusting relationships with his clients.

Ryan is a selling professional by heart and that is a rare find.  There are a lot of people who are proud to call themselves a sales professional, but a true sales professional is all about selling what you love. Selling is about building trusting relationships and Ryan has succeeded in implementing those ideas within Century Equipment.

This morning I had a chance to talk with Ryan and here is what he had to say.

How does Century Equipment differentiate from its competitors?

One thing is that our contractors know they can call me as the President of the company and get an answer. Contractors first build a relationship with the salesmen, 2nd, the company and lastly the product that we are selling. In the construction equipment business, potential clients are more concerned about whom they are buying from rather than the price.  Price and quality are so close with each brand of equipment that for a company to successfully differentiate itself, it has to focus on providing excellent service and relationships.  My salesmen are trained that they differentiate themselves by the relationship they build with the contractor and clients want to buy from people they like.

How did you select your sales team?

Some people just have it. They have the personality that others remember and will connect to them the very first time they meet. These people come across as trustworthy because they are likable and they don’t have to work very hard to be successful in doing what they are doing.  I do my best to find these type of people and make them an offer to join my team. The other type of individual I’ve found to be successful are those that are willing to work harder. These people can still get the same results as the first guy but they must put forth more effort. They have to work twice as hard to get it, although they don’t have the natural gift, they are hard workers and that often makes up the difference. It is all about having the ingredients of being likable, memorable, and trustworthy. You can’t teach these ingredients.  The employee must have the gift or be willing to put forth the effort to develop that skill.

What was your primary motivation for going into business?

My first motivation was simply that the timing was right.  There were opportunities in the market in Springfield and Logan, Utah to get into the construction equipment business so I took it. We initially became a dealer for Kobelco, Kawasaki, and Takeuchi equipment and we focused our operations primarily in the mountain states, because the economic highs were not as high and the lows were not as low, we understood those markets. The economies in the mountain states were primarily stable as opposed to the east coast, California, Arizona, and Nevada. This approach was more of a conservative play on our part.

When we expanded into Albuquerque, New Mexico this was more about us saying that Albuquerque fit our business model and it provided a lot of market potential, this again was more of a conservative approach. Our target market is selling to contractors.

In other locations around the country we received an offer for an exit strategy so we took it and sold that location. The locations we sold were primarily our agricultural branches that sold to farmers.  These branches didn’t correlate as well with our targeted customer we seized the opportunity to sell the branch and we then focused on the mountain states selling to contractors.

How do you make the decision for whether you acquire or sell a part of your business?

It’s all about logistics and the politics of the deal. Some decisions I walk away from because the deal simply doesn’t fit our business model, maybe the location just isn’t right or the culture doesn’t fit. If we expanded to these locations, then we couldn’t maintain the level of relationship driven business that has allowed us to succeed in the past. Expanding too broadly, we would lose our personal touch of being local and we don’t want our executives flying all over the place. Our model entails that we’re all family and our employees are not a number. We have roughly 100 employees and that is just the right amount. Once you reach 200 employees, then they simply become a number and you no longer have that personal connection with them.  If we had an opportunity for expansion right now, I don’t think I would take it.  I fear that would cause us to lose the cohesive bond that we have created with our employees.

What are the top lessons you’ve learned in business?

The first is to trust your instinct and listen to your gut.  When you have a bad employee you can’t change them, make the change now and get rid of the employee, don’t delay the decision. I’m saying this because in the past I’ve had the tendency to want to give them a try and help them.  I end up giving them another month that ends up to be six months and the bad employee is still there and hasn’t changed a bit. Learn to let bad employees go.

Second, is to reward your good employees. I’ve had numerous employees who literally do the work of two people.  These employees just have the drive and they don’t leave when the clock hits 5:00 PM; they work until the job is done. They do the work of two people and it’s a part of who they are. When you have an employee like this you need to recognize them and pay them what they are worth. Employees should be recognized for the positive contributions they provide to the company.

Lastly, it is realizing that as the president of the company you can’t do everything. It’s all about having the right people in the right job and you have got to be able to trust all of your employees. If you can’t, then why did you hire these people? When you have the right person in the right job then pay them what they are worth so they will stay working with your team.

What are your top initiatives going forward?

One of the biggest is managing the technological changes in the environmental industry,   everything is computerized now, even a skid steer & bobcat, I mean they’re computerized! All of our sales professionals have laptops now.  This has been an expensive learning curve for us and it has been a real nightmare. We provide educational trainings for our employees and a $5,000 laptop is required for each sales professional.  We are managing issues with machines, issues with the manufacturers, trainings that need to be done and managing customer relationships all at the same time.  Every company faces these issues and it is whoever handles these issues the best and gets on top of it, is the one who stays ahead of the game, the one who makes the customers more conformable with these changes is the one who will succeed the best.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind for your company?

To maintain the family feel with our employees and the relationships we have with our customers. I don’t want to grow this company to the point where we lose touch of that. This culture is a key ingredient to the overall success and it is what keeps us different from our competitors. Contractors want to do business with a business they can trust, a business they know that has their best interest in mind. Contractors don’t care what your building looks like or your corporate environment, they care about the relationship they are able to develop and we provide that environment.