A&H Equipment distributes market-leading municipal and environmental product solutions throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia. From snow removal trucks to street sweepers and sewer cleaners, the company sells, rents, and services a wide range of equipment for a variety of needs, particularly specialty items that go beyond the run-of-the-mill product lineup.
“We’re more niche,” says President Tripp Amick. “We have a lot of [items that] everybody knows exist, but nobody knows what they’re called.”
After profiling the company in 2017 and 2020, Construction in Focus sat down with A&H Equipment for the third time to hear the latest developments. As it turns out, the company had a relatively easy time overcoming the challenges brought on by the pandemic. “During COVID we were very lucky,” says Vice President and Sales Manager Jason Kelley. “2020 was definitely a down year for us, but it could have been a lot worse.”
It certainly helped to be an established force in the sector. “Being market leaders in our marketplace, our customer base stuck with us,” Kelley says. “We were able to get through it.”
Today, the challenge continues due to supply chain issues and labor shortages. “It’s in direct relation to COVID,” Kelley says, but the situation was already tenuous pre-pandemic. “It’s hard to find the workers at this stage of the game and that’s in every industry now, but it’s especially hard—and it was even that way before COVID—finding technicians and qualified mechanics, welders, fabricators. It can be a struggle. [COVID] just accelerated it.”
The team is working hard to attract and retain talent in this challenging climate. “We’re very top line in what we pay in hourly [wages],” Kelley says. “We’ve increased our benefits, our 401(k), and our health care. I think it is above and beyond for our business but I believe we have to do that.”
Even with the labor shortage affecting the company, Amick points out that the business does have a number of employees who have remained loyal to the company for years. “I think it’s important to recognize that we have a lot of employees that have been there for a long time,” he says. “We still have employees that have been there for thirty years. And you do that by being a good employer, making work fulfilling, fun.”
A&H Equipment builds on a solid history of industry firsts and growth in the face of challenges, so it’s not surprising that the team is managing to overcome current difficulties. Amick’s father, Chet, bought in to the company in 1962 with a minority share (49 percent). His partner passed away in 1967 and his shares were then bought by Amick. The business was originally formed in 1963 but had grown little since then. “We were still a small company with three salesmen, three service people, and two parts employees,” Amick recalls of those humble beginnings. “Chet’s wife, Grace, took on the role of Bookkeeper. We continued to grow and began adding additional equipment lines as we went.”
Amick joined the family company full-time in 1979 after graduating from college, starting as a Sales Representative in the Pittsburgh and Southeast PA areas. But his father, Chet, passed away suddenly in 1981, leaving his mother, Grace, at the helm. During that era, women were rarely leaders in the equipment distribution sector and the family faced an uphill battle. “My mom became the President of the company, which at that point in time was extremely unusual, particularly in our industry,” Amick remembers.
She was not deterred, despite the pushback. “Fortunately, because of Grace Amick’s experience with the company and the relationships she had with the manufacturers, most of them decided to continue working with the company during that difficult time,” Amick shares. “As a result, Grace [headed] one of the first women-owned-and-managed equipment distributors in our industry.”
She turned the reins over to her son in 1987, but remained active in the company until shortly before her death in 2008. In 2009, Amick made two key hires: Keith Davidson came on as Controller and Jason Kelley joined as Sales Manager soon after, then began buying into the company.
After years of hard work and steady growth, the business is currently enjoying the benefits of its new, larger headquarters located north of the city of Pittsburgh. Spread over three acres in Zelienople, Pennsylvania, the location is more strategic than the previous site. “It’s twice the size of our old facility,” Amick says. “Our service area is probably three or four times the size. It’s just much more suitable to our business.”
The headquarters sits close to the north/south corridor of I-79 and the east/west corridor of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, making it easy to reach customers quickly. “It gives us access to major highways and puts us a whole lot closer to all of our customers than we were before. We used to be down much farther south—about forty-five minutes farther south—than where we are right now. So it puts us closer to a lot of our customers and makes it more attractive from a logistics standpoint.”
The team boasts their A&H Bodies truck upfitting subdivision just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset, Pennsylvania and another service and parts location in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In addition, A&H Equipment continues to partner closely with TRUVAC. One of its most popular products is its TRUVAC hydro excavation equipment, which is critical for safe digging. “A hydro excavator basically uses air and water to make small holes that don’t damage things in the ground, so you don’t have a backhoe tearing up a gas pipe and blowing up a neighborhood,” Amick explains. “TRUVAC has been—not just on the sales end, but also for rental parts and service—probably one of our largest focuses over the last three to five years,” Kelley says.
There has also been an increased demand for garbage and recycling trucks recently. “We’ve seen a resurgence in the refuse [sector],” Kelley says. “Smaller contractors [are] kind of evolving back into the industry, where it was very national-centric for a long period of time.”
“There was a lot of consolidation going on during the 1980s into the ‘90s and a lot of these small guys were bought out by the big, regional and national companies,” Amick explains. “And now we’re actually seeing a resurgence. All those guys were bought out, but now we’re starting to see small contractors start back up again. It used to be, if you don’t sell to the nationals, you couldn’t sell. Well now we are starting to see them pop up. It’s becoming a bigger business force again.”
The resurgence still has a long way to go, however. “It used to be twenty-five or thirty percent of our revenue back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Amick says. Now, mom and pop businesses in the refuse sector make up between five to eight percent of A&H Equipment’s revenue, depending on the year. “We have some sales that we’re working on that will increase that number significantly,” Kelley says. “It’s slowly creeping up. Twelve, thirteen years ago we were lucky for it to be three to four percent, and that number seems to be increasing. It may be a focus in the future for A&H; [there] might be some more rental opportunities and so forth, but time will tell.”
To be sure, the team is eager to continue to grow the business in the future. “We know that we’re the market leader in our current [sector] now, so it’s really hard to grow organically when you already own your market,” Amick says. The core focus, then, will be on expanding the company’s geographical reach. “We’re always trying to expand our business territory,” he says. “We moved into Philadelphia with our product line years ago and we’re trying to continually grow that [in] Philadelphia, Delaware, maybe even Maryland. We’ve done some expansion into West Virginia.”
The rental side of the business is also a likely candidate for growth in the near future. “We’re seeing that opportunity,” Amick says. Next year, the company leaders will guide the business into its sixtieth year—and continue to take advantage of opportunities to maintain A&H Equipment’s place as a market leader.