DDH decided to get someone to dissect aspects of the emerging equipment business: the prospects, problems, the disappointments, hurts, highs, lows, the good, bad and ugly of the Nigerian equipment marketplace…and the advisable remedies. Jeff Gibbs delivered on this promise and his answers are a breathe of fresh air in a community where a few have cried out loudly against unfair dealing. There is thus hope on the horizon…and lots of advice for all who would find themselves shopping in this market. Excerpts:
DDH: What is your observation of the equipment market in Nigeria today?
Jeff: Well, it’s a growing market and there is a lot of industry interest. In the past few years I have been here, it seems more and more people are getting into it. Starting from a few players before, now there is a lot of equipment entering Nigeria. I can see every time I enter the ports there are more and more equipment entering the country. Which is good, because that can reflect growth in infrastructure and road work in the country, which of course requires equipment. The country needs more of that.
DDH: How did PTS Equipment enter the Nigerian market?
Jeff: PTS is a representative for four equipment dealers in the US. We have been involved in overseas operations, sales and supply of heavy equipment for the past 20 years. We have been involved in different markets, South East Asia, Middle East, Europe. For Africa, in the last few years, we had been getting a few more requests. And in making trips over here to meet customers and in supplying equipment, we saw that the market would soon require us to open up our own branch here. That’s what brought us here.
DDH: When you say four equipment dealers, would you want to mention these…?
Jeff: Sure, our parent company is Pacific Tri-star in Utah (USA) and we also have partner dealers in Massachusetts – Hillview Equipment, Good Equipment out of Ohio, BTM Machinery out of South Carolina. So, we’re spread out a bit in the US and we’ve worked together for a lot of years. PTS Utah would send machines in partner with Good Equipment, etc. The four dealerships are working together for West Africa. We have branches also in Ghana and Togo. We are looking to expand a little bit and Nigeria would be our largest branch so far in West Africa.
DDH: Are you going to have yards, workshops or things like that?
Jeff: Yes, we are just getting started. We only officially started last year and obviously we are looking to become more established…I mean what is an equipment company without a good workshop, after-sales service and even spare parts distribution and supply. Our customers require it (spare parts), they demand it. Anyone in machine operations, they know if you are having problems with spare parts, you don’t want to sit and wait for 3 or 4 weeks before your parts come from overseas. The better we can establish ourselves, the more service we will be to our customers. The most expensive part of equipment operation is the downtime. If you are sitting there waiting for an injector pump, you are losing a lot of money in the meantime. Of course we want to help with that.
DDH: Having seen the Nigerian market, what is your long range plan for the Nigerian market?
Jeff: Just as I said, we are looking to become a little more established. We are not going to be too aggressive or over-extend ourselves. We will take one step at a time. Obviously, one advantage that we bring is not just bringing the right model of equipment, but having been around equipment for a lot of years, both in the US and here, we want to ensure that we are supplying and bringing only the highest quality and condition of equipment. We see no sense in bringing junk equipment that has been patched together for sale because it does us no good to sell a machine to a customer today and tomorrow have the machine break down…we just lost our customer! So, the key for us is to bring quality reliable equipment and standing behind it. That alone, taking small steps like that, will bring customers back.
DDH: That is obviously commendable in view of complaints by many people about their equipment purchases, etc…?
Jeff: Well, people are in the business obviously to make money. Anyone can find the cheapest machine, spray it – put a shiny paint job on it and try to make the maximum profit. I mean, it’s good for one sale but if you are looking to stick around, you’ve got to bring value. You’ve got to bring more value than the next guy and if that requires taking less profit and bringing a better machine, that will help you tomorrow when your customer needs more equipment.
DDH: How do you advise Nigerian equipment users on how to go about getting their equipment?
Jeff: Obviously, if you are an equipment guy and you’ve been around equipment a lot you have an advantage – you know what a good machine is versus a bad one. If you are a new user or a new contractor or someone that doesn’t have a lot of experience around equipment, you need to be careful, because lowest price and shiniest paint doesn’t always equate into best value. Because, yes, you may pay less initially for a cheaper machine, but you could be paying much more in the long run with maintenance and problems. The advantage of buying in Nigeria obviously is the time factor; with shipping and transit times being in months…you have to wait for months for your machines to arrive from abroad. It can be costly to wait; especially, if you are having to hire a machine while you are waiting for your machines to arrive, in that case you are not saving much. Because the money you would have saved, you are losing it by hiring everyday. However, if you have time to wait and are willing to pay in advance, you can get good values abroad – we are always happy to quote our local customers any machines from our US inventories. I guess the main point to your question is that you have to go with people that know machines and would stand behind their equipment. I think that’s the most important one. You don’t want to just buy from someone that would take your money today and if you call him with an issue tomorrow, he is not going to answer your call.
DDH: So that includes buying a plane ticket and landing in the US and buying some equipment that looks good without any way to gauge its service history?
Jeff: Yeah, it depends on your experience. If you are just a new guy and you go to the US to buy a machine, you can’t trust that every machine in the US is also a perfect machine. I mean there’s old machines there, good machines and bad machines there. It depends on who you are buying from and what the history of the machine is. You can demand third party inspections from reputable dealers. Things such as that will help ensure that you are getting a better machine. But certainly a machine sitting in Nigeria is going to be more expensive than a machine sitting in the US, in most cases. Sending a machine to Nigeria requires taking cash out of your pocket, waiting on that investment for months and months to arrive, expensive freight bills, clearing and handling charges, and all the risk that goes along with it – no one would expect someone to do that for free. Therefore prices in Nigeria are slightly higher than to buy abroad. But you can also look at the advantages as well – you are saving a lot of time and you have someone you can meet face-to-face on a daily basis if necessary; that means something. It should mean something. If someone comes to me today in Lagos and says my contract is in four months, I need this machine and this machine. If I have them in Lagos, of course, I would love to sell the ones in Lagos but if the contractor has time to wait, I would be happy to take him directly to our US branches.
DDH: If someone just wants plain advise how to proceed?
Jeff: I guess, be careful, do your research, paint doesn’t always equal quality. It’s the biggest thing I see in Nigeria, everyone comes and they say, Oh, this is a good machine because it is very properly painted. But good paint does not always equal a good machine. Educate yourself on the different components of a machine. Make sure that you know what you are buying. If you don’t know what you are buying, seek advice of someone else that does. And anyone that’s trying to do honest business in equipment supply has to give honest advice. We do that on a daily basis in the US. A contractor will come and say I have this job, which machine would be the best for the application? I expect the job to last six months – which machine would you say I should buy? Of course, that type of help is part of our job. In Nigeria, I haven’t experienced that so much. Mainly people will come and say I need this and this and am buying this and this. They don’t really ask so many questions. (But) that’s part of our job: to advise and to consult, what machine is needed for what job. That’s free, that doesn’t cost anything