It’s the kind of change urban dwellers might not notice until someone points it out to them: scaffolding, once a construction site mainstay, is gradually disappearing from city sidewalks. But it’s not news to Luc Bertrand, president of Montreal-based Accès Location+, which sells, rents and repairs aerial lift machines; in fact, he saw the change coming a long time ago. “Lift machines are safer and faster than scaffolding,” says Bertrand, who became CEO of the company in 2006.
Armed with that insight, one of his first acts as top boss was to send the company on a buying spree to purchase hundreds of new scissor lifts, boom lifts, forklifts and more. “At the time, we had 30 or so machines and eight employees,” Bertrand says. “Now we have 51 employees and 775 machines, with 125 more on order for this spring.”
Bertrand’s early decision to go shopping did more than stock Accès Location+ with state-of-the-art gadgets. Customers—primarily construction contractors—quickly took notice, creating a realization within the company that investing in top-tier gear can be a differentiator. “What sets us apart from our competitors is that our equipment is practically new,” Bertrand explains. “The average age of our machines is 36 months. The newer the equipment is, the less time contractors have to spend waiting for us to repair it, so it ends up costing them less. And customers come back.”
It’s not just about dazzling clients with shiny new machines. A well-stocked fleet allows Accès Location+ to offer an array of hard-to-find gear—something that deepens its reputation as an indispensable source for builders who need something niche—and fast. “We are the go-to company for rare equipment,” says Bertrand. “We are the first company in Canada to rent a 180-foot articulating boom lift, and one of the rare ones to offer an 80-foot hydraulic scissor lift.”
No matter how new it is, lift machinery inevitably breaks down. Since every minute of downtime on a construction site costs contractors serious money (especially in congested cities), a malfunctioning lift can speedily erode customer goodwill. Knowing that, Accès Location+ has bolstered its repair department with enough resources and expertise to fix machines quickly. And for more complex repairs, there’s a robust fleet waiting to send in a loaner. “We hire specialized mechanics for each machine so they’ll be repaired quickly and reliably,” says Bertrand. “We had a client who had been waiting 48 hours for a boom lift they had ordered from one of our competitors. When they called us, we got a new machine to them in an hour and a half.”
Bertrand also understands that appearances count in the construction business, so when Accès Location+ opened its new $6-million, 33,000-sq.-foot headquarters in Beloeil, east of Montreal, in 2017, the building included a $250,000 paint shop. “Construction workers work with machines worth $200,000 or $300,000. They don’t necessarily take good care of the equipment when they use it, but it has to look perfect when they rent it,” Bertrand explains. “We make sure our equipment always looks its best.”
These kinds of decisions don’t come from instinct or abstract notions; Bertrand and his team exert considerable effort determining exactly what clients need. How? By asking them directly. “We organize focus groups with 15 clients and ask them about their business and their needs,” he explains. “What do they need? How are they thinking at any moment? What kind of service do they want? Being so in tune with our clients gives us an advantage in this business.” Again, clients love it: In the past three years, the company has seen sales increase by 35%.