When Cliff Chadwick started Chadwick Forklifts in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin in 2003, he was no stranger to forklifts. He'd spent almost two decades at Crown Equipment, kicking off as a salesman at the age of 20 and working his way up through major accounts, sales management and ending off as state manager for the rental department.
His 19 years at Crown had exposed Chadwick to all aspects of the forklift industry, and he saw an opportunity to apply his knowledge - especially of the second-hand market and the rental side of the operation.
It also didn't hurt that he had built a strong business network - as well as developing social contacts among people he'd dealt with. These contacts, he says, have ensured continued growth over the years.
Trading from a 450 square metre facility, Chadwick Forklifts sells all brands and models, with the trade split almost equally between LPG and electric units.
"I currently have over 150 units in stock, with a good spread of counterbalance reach trucks, walkie stackers, stock pickers and power pallet trucks," he says.
Chadwick has no illusions about the second-hand market, recognizing that it's a price-sensitive market. "The main reason people purchase used equipment is price," he explains. "Bigger businesses tend to buy new, whereas most smaller companies tend to buy used equipment."
He cites a typical 2,500kg forklift which sells new for around $28,000 "with all the bells and whistles". "A second-hand truck in good condition would be less than half that price," he points out, saying it's a big difference for a small business, "especially if they're not going to work the unit that hard, which most don't".
Of course, Chadwick doesn't have the market to himself, and faces competition from the major dealers who also sell used equipment alongside their new models. But he believes independent dealers have some advantages over "the big boys". "We don't have the big overheads, therefore we can sell our used stock for less and still make a margin. Again it comes back to price," he says.
"Some people prefer to deal with the OEMs and they are prepared to pay for that privilege. The other option is buying privately or through the auctions. These options are very much 'buyer beware' as there are no guarantees or warranties," he warns.
According to Chadwick, second-hand dealers like him "sit somewhere in the middle".
Chadwick's Moorabbin premises boasts a wide range of forklifts.
They also have the advantage of offering a broad range of products from a variety of manufacturers and are not tied to any particular brand, offering customers added choice.
Another advantage is his willingness to help customers work out which truck best suits their needs. "I'm happy to go on site and help solve the customer's problem by recommending the correct unit for their application," he says.
The Victorian industry veteran is upbeat both about the future of his business and about the market in general. "I don't see too many dark clouds on the horizon for the used forklift market in Victoria," he observes. "Some worry about the threat of the market being flooded by the auctions or the emerging range of cheap units from China but I think there will always be a place for dealers such as Chadwick Forklifts as I still believe most people like to deal with someone they trust. They want to buy a brand they know and they want the security of a warranty".
As Chadwick Forklifts prepares to celebrate its fifth birthday in November, the owner says the business is in good shape to continue to grow.
"I believe the key to survival in this industry is being honest, providing expert advice and establishing a reputation for value for money," he says.
"Every unit I sell is Worksafe-compliant and comes with a warranty," he stresses.
Chadwick says trade sales are also an important part of the business and he enjoys a good relationship with many other independent dealers. "My background is sales, so I concentrate on what I know best, which is sales and rentals," says Chadwick.