Eight years ago, René Bates, owner of René Bates Auctioneers in McKinney, Texas, casually wondered if he could use the Internet to dispose of vehicles left over from a live auction. To test the idea, he developed an easy-to-use online bidding system. It worked. Last year he conducted 475 online auctions for municipalities, utility companies and governmental agencies that were disposing of used equipment. Early this year, Bates handled an online auction for Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and at the time, he told us that visits (lookers and bidders) to the auction website were averaging an amazing 900,000 per day.
No denying that the phenomenon of online buying — and selling — via the Internet is attracting more and more attention. For some individuals and businesses, buying and selling online is a practice as natural as breathing. Others, however, are somewhat skeptical of the process — distrustful, perhaps, of the electronics involved or the unseen humans at the other end of the electronics.
No matter which camp you might be in as a buyer of construction equipment and heavy trucks, you have ample online opportunities these days — if you choose to use them — for investigating and purchasing everything from welders, air compressors and light towers, to skid-steers, pavers and gooseneck trailers. And increasingly, it seems, potential buyers are using these online sources.
For example, according to Nakkia Gray, general manager of EquipmentTraderOnline.com, a website used by both dealers and private sellers to advertise equipment, the site averages 200,000 visitors per month, and these potential buyers conduct some 760,000 product searches among the more than 40,000 items typically available. Because the sale of equipment advertised on the website is handled privately between buyers and sellers, no actual sales figures are available, but the number of traceable e-mail and phone inquiries from potential buyers to dealers is significant, says Gray.
In some instances, though, sales of equipment from online sources can be tracked, and the numbers are impressive. For instance, according to Rob Alleger, chief executive officer of IronPlanet, an online auction company specializing in construction equipment and heavy trucks, sales range from 600 to 1,200 units per month (depending on the time of year), and dollar volume on those sales may range from $12 to $20 million.
Contractors increasingly are using the Internet to research and purchase equipment, says Chester Hagen, vice president of sales for Point2 Technologies, which created on "online marketplace" (UsedIron.com) in 1996. Much of the research is done in the evenings or on weekends, says Hagen, either directly on dealer websites or via listing-aggregation sites, which collect listings from multiple websites. UsedIron.com, says Hagen, each day generates around 10,000 detailed views, each representing a potential buyer who has viewed information for a specific machine.
"Contractors are demanding rich content in the form of more photos, descriptions, conditions and details," says Hagen. "And sellers who provide this content can expect to receive more inquiries than those who use fewer photos and less information. The ease of use, speed and accessibility [of online research and buying] have changed this business forever."
So, if you're interested in buying (or just investigating) construction equipment and heavy trucks online, you can go at it in a number of ways. We contacted a selection of online buying resources (some responded, others didn't) and assembled a sample of available services. The list is not intended to be all-inclusive, nor does mention of a particular service indicate endorsement by CE.
And we'll take the liberty up front of passing on a bit of advice offered by nearly everyone we contacted: Use good judgment when buying and selling machines online. Perhaps Point2 Technologies' Hagen says it best: "Buying equipment online should be done with the same due diligence as buying offline."
If you want to do comparison-shopping and, at the same time, potentially encourage competition among possible suppliers, you might try BuyerZone.com. Owned by Construction Equipment's parent company, Reed Business Information, BuyerZone.com is a free service designed to connect the buyer with a number of qualified suppliers.
For example, by clicking the Industrial heading on BuyerZone's home page, and then on Backhoe-Loaders, you bring up a short questionnaire that helps detail the machine you're considering — for example, New or Used? Application? Dig Depth? Financing Preferences?
When you submit the questionnaire, you create a Request For Quote (RFQ) in the Buyer-Zone system, which immediately matches your information with as many as six backhoe-loader suppliers within a practical distance of your zip-code area. Since these suppliers are paying BuyerZone to receive your RFQ, and since they know they're competing with other suppliers, they typically respond quickly by phone or e-mail. From that point on, you evaluate what you hear and do business with your chosen supplier.
On the other hand, if you like the prospect of landing a deal at an auction, plenty of online action is available.
For example, Tony Quarrick, president of Quarrick Equipment & Auctioneers in Uniontown, Penn., conducts live auctions for his clients, many of whom are construction-equipment dealers. But for selling his own inventory, he relies increasingly on an electronic auction service, eBay. During the past five years, Quarrick has sold nearly 500 pieces on eBay, and he now has one employee whose full-time job is to answer questions from prospective online buyers, arrange for buyers to inspect equipment, and assist with shipping.
Quarrick sets no reserve on the items he places on eBay, that is, he doesn't require that a minimum price be met before he sells, agreeing instead to sell to the highest bidder. In fact, he sets ridiculously low opening bids, for example, $99 for a recently offered Toro Dingomini-skid loader. Low initial bids and the lack of a reserve, he says, stimulate aggressive bidding.
"I won't deny that we've lost money on a few deals," he says, "but the bottom line is that we make money."
But, if you're hesitant to buy from an auction website that sells everything from tubas to trenchers, other online auctions specialize in equipment.
IronPlanet, for example, is an online auction service that conducts "featured auctions" every other Thursday. Machines in featured auctions are offered on an unreserved basis (Iron Planet does, however, set the opening bid) and are typically "on the block" for five to 10 minutes. You're advised of the auction date and time when you preview an item. If buyers can't be online at the time of the auction, they can submit an online PriorityBid, which allows IronPlanet to bid on their behalf.
IronPlanet has achieved a measure of distinction in the online marketplace with its inspection reports, which detail the condition of machines for sale. The reports, available well in advance of the auction date, are compiled, says the company, by a team of more than 350 experienced inspectors who use standard evaluation forms to assess machine condition at the seller's location.
If buyers find machine condition to be other than represented in the inspection report, the company's IronClad Assurance program provides recourse. IronPlanet also handles the transfer of funds and machine title between buyer and seller.
While some online auctions are electronic only, those conducted by Ritchie Bros. are adjuncts to selected live auctions, meaning that online bidders are competing with bidders at the live auction. Items are offered on an unreserved basis ("as is, where is, on sale day"), and all potential buyers are welcome to inspect items at the live-auction site prior to sale day.
The company's rbauctionBid-Live system allows online participants "to see an image of the machine on the block, to hear the auctioneer call out bids and to place bids." When online bidders have activated the "Bid" button on their computer screen, the dollar amount displayed is the current asking price for the selected item, and clicking the button submits the bid. If the bid is the first to reach the central servers, it is forwarded to the auctioneer. By submitting an online "proxy bid" prior to the auction, buyers allow Ritchie Bros. to bid on their behalf. Winning bidders must abide by the company's terms and conditions regarding payment.
Although we couldn't find a North American contact for AssetLine.com, an online auction service, we include the company here, because it seems to have a significant international presence. If you're a contractor needing to secure and place equipment in various parts of the world, this website and its online bidding system might be worth investigating. Registered bidders have access to detailed machine-condition reports.
Among the listing-aggregation websites, which bring buyers and sellers together to transact business on their own, is Point2 Technologies' UsedIron.com. According to vice president of sales, Chester Hagen, machine listings on UsedIron.com originate from a number of sources, including dealers using the company's Point2 MANAGER inventory-management system; contractors (who may advertise up to five machines free of charge on the site); and syndication partners, such as online auction services and other listing-aggregation sites looking for additional exposure.
"UsedIron employs a proprietary monitoring system for all Free UsedIron Premium Ads [those placed by end-users] to eliminate fraudulent sellers," says Hagen, "and to keep data accurate and reputable for buyers on the site."
MachineMart presents an inventory of used machines available in the inventories of North American equipment dealers who are members of the Associated Equipment Dealers (AED). The website's home page presents a list of the top 10 machine categories (by frequency of search), and clicking on a category brings up a complete list of machines available, noting make, model, price, year of manufacture and state location. Subsequently clicking on Details presents a general description of the machine's condition (often with photos) and contact information.
Or, the site visitor can browse by manufacturer and, again, the home page presents a list of the top 10 manufacturers by frequency of search. Statistics recently presented on the site advertised that 97 AED distributors, doing business in 350 locations, were offering nearly 8,300 machines for sale.
EquipmentTraderOnline.com lists items in such categories as earthmoving, lifting, concrete, attachments and trailers. Visitors to the site can search by machine type, manufacturer, state or zip code/specified distance criteria, and an advanced-search feature narrows selections by such categories as specific model and price range. Once the potential buyer pulls up the listing for a specific machine, complete seller contact information is available.
According to general manager, Nakkia Gray, the company uses an advertisement-verification process to help protect both buyers and sellers from fraudulent activity, plus it maintains a security center (www.traderonlinesecurity.com) to address potential seller (and buyer) scams.
The inventory on the CatUsed.com website is primarily used equipment, parts and attachments available from Caterpillar dealers. The prospective buyer can search generally by product type or manufacturer, but can potentially narrow the search by specifying exact models and geographical locations, as well as selecting a range for year of manufacture, hour-meter reading and price.
The listing provides a summary that details the unit's features and notes its price, general location, hour-meter reading, and a rating of its overall condition. If potential buyers want to further investigate a machine, they are encouraged to first select a Caterpillar dealer close to their location. Cat's logic is apparently to help the buyer establish a relationship with a nearby dealer, who can work with the machine-owning dealer to arrange the sale and who can provide product support after the sale. Caterpillar promotes the integrity of the Cat Used.com system by saying it is based on the stellar reputation of Cat Dealers.
According to MachineryTrader.com, its website features a continuously updated database of equipment, parts and attachments for sale directly from dealer inventories. The site also allows investigating rental sources and auction results. Machine listings typically include serial number, hour-meter reading, price, name and location of the selling dealer and a general description of the machine and its condition.
MachineryTrader.com is international in scope, but according to the company's Chuck Lewis, North America is its core market. The company's website listings are extensive, having, for example, more than 40,000 units in just seven major earthmoving categories. Activity on the site continues to increase, says Lewis, but he cautions (as do most online services bringing buyers and sellers together) that buyers must do their homework, including, if the situation warrants, traveling to inspect the machine.
Crane Network was created in 1998 and specializes in online crane sales, in which buyers deal directly with sellers. The number of units listed typically is around 2,000, ranging from small truck-mounted units to rough terrains to towers. According to the company, the site has an estimated 30,000 visitors per month. Listings typically include photos, basic machine information, and seller contact information.