By Hillary Davis
After an experience getting a new hydraulic hose for a car he was working on, Dave Johnson knew he’d found his next business venture.
He would make hydraulic hose replacement and repair easier by bringing the technician and equipment to the customer, rather than the other way around.
Now Pirtek, an international franchise that focuses on quick-response, around-the-clock mobile repair of hydraulic hoses, has entered the Tucson market.
Johnson said he had a good experience at the hose shop he visited – but while he was there, he saw several people coming in who clearly had to peel away from a job site, not a personal project, to address their busted hoses. That meant lost time and productivity, and time is money.
Johnson had previously had a career in marketing technical yet everyday products: 10 years at Rain Bird Corporation selling irrigation equipment, and at Newell Rubbermaid before that, mostly selling kitchen cabinet hardware. He wanted to stay in business-to-business sales, in something known in its industry, and something that wasn’t “me-too.”
“Every community needs this service. What I thought was missing in Tucson and why I thought Pirtek was such a good fit is very few if any of the current suppliers in town for hydraulic hoses kind of take the service attitude,” he said. “It’s more of a product sell – if I need a hose I’ll go to your shop and I’ll buy a hose.”
And people do need hoses.
Morgan Arundel, the Florida-based president of Pirtek USA, said people usually think of construction equipment when they think of hydraulics. But they’re also in garbage truck arms, carnival rides, salon chairs and the elevating tables used in autopsies. When the Minnesota Vikings’ former Minneapolis home, the Metrodome, collapsed under snow in 2010, Pirtek had workers on-scene in case one of the trucks assisting with the re-inflation blew a hose. One year, the Florida mint that makes the Super Bowl flip coins had a press breakdown during the short window between the playoffs and the big game.
“Most people don’t understand that hydraulics covers such a broad range,” he said.
Pirtek started in Australia in 1980, and by 1989 had spread to the United Kingdom. It didn’t come to the United States until 1996, when Arundel, formerly a major cash soybean broker, decided to try something new. He said the prevailing U.S. distribution model for hydraulic hoses was like Johnson described: customers had to remove the bad hose themselves and take it to a dealer, who would make a new one for them to take back.
Pirtek technicians drive out to the downed equipment – in less than an hour, if possible – to identify the problem, remove the damaged hose and make a new one onsite, then reinstall.
Although hydraulics may be more ubiquitous than people might think, their repair is, admittedly, a highly specialized service. “We’re not like a hamburger stand, where everybody gets hungry every day and has to have a hamburger,” Arundel said.
Still, the Pirtek website shows more than 40 shops in the U.S., including one in Phoenix. It also lists locations in Canada, China, England, Belgium, Tanzania and elsewhere in Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.
Arundel said he thinks there’s enough of a need in Tucson for two centers, or even three or four if it really catches on. He said the service is so unique that there isn’t much competition, making for a potentially lucrative specialty. After a half-million dollar investment, centers can do $1 million to $3 million of business per year.
Each service van carries more than 1,800 fittings and adaptors, over 1,000 feet of hose, hydraulic oil and tools. Because of the company’s Australian and European roots, it specializes in metrics and less-common fittings.
Johnson will start out small, with a fleet of three vans that are essentially full-service hose shops on wheels. He said he hopes to add staff within a year.