William B. Beard, Sr., started Beard Equipment Company in 1970 as a John Deere Construction and Forestry equipment dealer. Today, the company has also become a preeminent construction technology dealer, thanks to the unexpected benefit of an acquisition back in 2015.
While the company’s first John Deere dealership was in Pensacola, Fla., Beard Equipment has grown its reach across the Southeast to include 10 locations from Mobile, Ala., to Ocala, Fla.
The company’s foundation of success had been selling John Deere heavy equipment and, in recent years, customers asked more and more questions about machine control technology.
“We noticed that our customers were exploring ways that construction technology could impact their businesses,” said Jake Walker, vice president of operations at Beard Equipment. “We realized that they needed a trusted partner to help them navigate the often-crowded construction technology space.”
To meet this need, in 2015 Beard acquired the John Deere Construction and Forestry dealership in Ocala, Fla. Theis deal included a bonus: the Leica Geosystems contract for the State of Florida.
At the time, the Beard team was unfamiliar with the full line of Leica Geosystems products, prompting them to explore the benefits of maintaining the contract. After due diligence, they realized that Leica was the perfect partner to help expand their construction technology business. This resulted in the launch of a new division: Beard Technology Solutions.
“Once we understood the breadth and depth of the Leica product offering — coupled with the Leica team’s expertise in the survey and construction technology business — we knew that we’d chosen the right partner,” Walker said.
“What really impressed us early on in our technology journey was Leica’s commitment to providing cutting-edge, easy-to-use software that we were able to integrate throughout the entire construction process. We now had a partner that allowed us to provide a solution to our customers at every step — from the bidding and pre-planning stages of the project, all the way through to the documentation and final delivery — utilizing solutions such as AGTEK and CONEX. We ultimately learned that we could connect customers in their offices to their jobsites by using these software platforms. We could also use the same connectivity to enhance our services to customers through better troubleshooting and support.”
Since making the change, the Beard team hasn’t looked back.
Why Construction Technology and Why Now?
The Beard team continues to see growing interest in the use of technology on the jobsite for both cost and efficiency reasons. They anticipate this interest will only continue to increase as more projects require contractors to use machine control, notably all Federally funded Department of Transportation projects.
As the Beard team often tells customers, machine control is a way of controlling cost. It allows less-experienced operators to complete the job on-time without the levels of extensive and time-consuming traditional jobsite training. It also allows operators and superintendents to avoid expensive rework.
Given that the technology investment can cost up to 20% of the piece of equipment, one of the predominant economic concerns — and a common question from customers — is about recouping the cost.
The Beard team answers this by discussing the greater efficiencies that can be gained with the proper use of the technology. They then work with the customer to outline how a higher system utilization rate leads to a faster ROI. If an end-user utilizes the technology, it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when.”
“When our team has the opportunity to visit a customer’s office and share our vision for their job site, our customers realize that these efficiency gains outweigh the initial cost of the technology,” says Paul Cunningham, territory manager, Northern Florida, for Beard Equipment.
To further justify the investment, Cunningham suggests that companies calculate how much they normally spend on surveys. Often, a contractor has already spent more on surveying and rework than he would have spent on an entry-level grade control system. Construction technology and machine control eliminate the need for grade stakes and the reliance on a surveyor’s schedule/availability. That time- and material-savings quickly translates into real dollars.
“In many cases, those gains pay for the equipment on the very first job,” commented Cunningham.
In Walker’s experience, the technology sells itself once customers crunch the numbers.
“We’ve had examples of an entire GPS package paying for itself by the end of a demo,” Walker said.
Consider this example: a customer with a $140,000 budget for surveying. If the customer spends $120,000 for a dozer system, tilt rover base station, and tablet, the customer is now performing its surveying and as-builts while saving $20,000 in the process.
“They can now eliminate most of the survey costs for all jobs going forward,” Walker said. “This system will continue to pay for itself over and over again for several years.
Partnerships & Staying Current
The Beard team quickly learned from these customer discussions and found that justifying the purchase of machine control technology grew easier with each bid that they won. Once a company deploys the technology, the key is to stay current with the latest developments and upgrade as needed.
“We encourage customers to build a relationship with our Leica technology sales and support specialists, so that they stay aware of all current construction technologies,” Walker said.
“Request a demonstration of new gear that is suitable for your team. At the minimum, schedule a quick meeting or webinar to stay informed; this allows customers to plan properly for the future as well as staying ahead of the curve as new products are introduced into the market.”
Despite the proliferation of technology, the Beard team continues to encounter those who are reluctant to adopt new technology. Beard has found that once a customer tries the technology, they quickly see for themselves how it can revolutionize their operations. End users frequently accomplish in one week what would have taken them one month without construction technology. In fact, given today’s competitive landscape, companies that are not using machine control are essentially giving their competitors an advantage.
Building for the Future
From their vantage point, Beard has seen how construction technology comes to the forefront when their customers’ businesses slow. Amid ongoing concerns during the pandemic and labor shortage, more companies are turning to technology because it allows them to control more aspects of the job and be more efficient with their existing machines, employees, and time.
The addition of construction technology hasn’t just benefited Beard’s customers; it’s profoundly changed Beard’s business. Since creating the Beard Technology Solutions channel, Beard has seen its construction technology business grow by 20% year over year for the past five years, and the team credits its Leica partnership as a significant factor in making this growth possible.
“We’re proud of the relationship we have with Leica Geosystems,” says Walker.
“We consider them a valuable partner in our continued success in the construction technology business. We take the same approach with our customers: provide the products, services, and expertise to help them succeed. Our goal is to develop a relationship that allows us the opportunity to be their preferred construction technology partner.”