Quality Matters

Words: Dan Kamys


Mixers are no longer disposable as mason contractors demand more from manufacturers.

You have heard of disposable cups, forks, plates, diapers and even razors. But, contractors can’t afford to throw away mortar mixers every time they finish a job, nor can they afford the breakdowns or repairs that come with the purchase of a low-quality mixer.

Most contractors realize it is more costly to repair a mortar mixer than it is to pay a little more for a well-built mixer at the time of the purchase. You have heard the saying, “Pay me now, or pay me later.” It works that way with equipment, too. Consider the cost of an equipment breakdown or the expense of transporting a mixer to a mechanic for repair. Simple math tells us the money saved upon purchase is much less than the long-term expense of owning a low-quality piece of equipment. Because of this, during the last few years, contractors have changed the way they purchase equipment. Buying decisions now are based less on how low the price is, and more on what the mixer will do for the crew, how long it’ll last, and what the cost of repairs will be during the life of the mixer. For this reason, manufacturers have been forced to improve the way they build mixers. It is much like what Honda has done with the motors that go on your equipment. If contractors see value in the product they are using, they notice and pay for that value. This change in thinking is harder on the parts business for manufacturers, but easier on the mason contractor who needs a dependable mixer to maximize profit.

Just what does it cost if a breakdown occurs?

If a contractor has five bricklayers on the job and his mixer breaks down, the cost to repair the mixer is a fraction of what it costs to have those bricklayers standing around waiting on mortar. In fact, nothing happens on most projects until the mortar is mixed. For that reason, some mixer companies have gone to electric start. Every time a laborer pulls on a cord to start the mixer, he is one step closer to pulling it in half, and shutting the job down. With electric start, the only time he has to pull to start the mixer is to recharge the battery after the key was left on the night before. Therefore, with electric start, the pull cord can actually last for several years.

Equipment quality or breakdowns aren’t always as big a factor. For instance, if you are a residential contractor who only uses a mixer once every couple of weeks, buying a cheaper mixer may be the way for you to go. However, it may serve you better to just rent when you need a mixer if you aren’t using it that often. Advantages of renting equipment:
  • You’re not responsible for normal breakdowns or most maintenance

  • You have no storage costs

  • Payments stop when you take the machine back

However, renting small pieces of equipment, like mixers, verses large pieces of equipment means you’re dealing with two different animals.

Regarding renting verses buying mixers, a contractor can afford to rent small equipment or tools, such as a mixer, only so many times per year before it becomes cheaper to own. In fact, one rental company owner explained to me that, if you rent a small piece of equipment more than 24 times per year, it is much cheaper to buy it, since much of the cost of that small piece of equipment is incurred when you pay a laborer to pick it up and take it back. The costs depend on the distance your project is from the rental store and whether the rental company can provide it to you quickly once you arrive to pick it up or drop it off. Our company figures one hour for pick up and one hour to take the piece of equipment back. This includes drive time, counter time and load time. At $40 per hour it costs us $80 (upfront) each time we rent. This cost can be reduced somewhat by calling the rental company ahead of time to insure they have the equipment ready, but the expense still has to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to rent or purchase. Photo courtesy of  EZ Grout Corp.

Regarding large equipment, the purchase price is much more than the delivery charge so the delivery cost is less important. Plus, if the rental store is closer to the jobsite than your office, it may be cheaper to have the rental company deliver the equipment to the jobsite than it is to pay your driver to pick it up.

Lately, rental rates for large equipment have dropped so low that it is difficult to justify a large equipment purchase. The rental amount is often much less than your monthly payment would be from a purchase. In the past, the monthly payment on a piece of purchased equipment was less than a monthly rental rate. Today, you can often rent for one-third to one-half of the payment on a piece of new equipment. The golden rule we use is this: If the large piece of equipment will be used more than 75 percent of the time, it is cheaper to purchase than rent. However, in today’s market, another variable must be added to this dollar cost calculation. You must have a back log of work for the machine for at least one-half the time it will take to pay it off or a minimum of one year if you are paying cash. Convenience can be a major advantage of owning your equipment. Once you pay the machine off (if the machine outlasts the payment) you get to use it for free. That brings me back to the point: The machine must still be durable enough that it is not breaking down all the time. Times have changed. We have to look at things differently than we did even a few years ago. Manufacturers have to pay closer attention to what the customer needs. The customer has to pay closer attention to what actual costs are in choosing a disposable versus a high-quality piece of equipment. And, when deciding to buy or rent a piece of equipment, a contractor must do his homework upfront and consider what is most economical for his company. If he decides to purchase, he must consider that only 30 percent of the cost of a piece of equipment is incurred the day it is purchased, while 70 percent is incurred everyday during use. If the right equipment decisions are made upfront, a contractor can save a lot of headaches and money in the end.
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