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General Equipment & Supplies Safeguards its Future by Investing in its People

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General Equipment & Supplies has a presence in four U.S. states and two locations in Canada.

A supplier of heavy construction and aggregate equipment, General Equipment & Supplies was established in 1984 with one location and 22 employees. Now, in 2020, the company has a presence in four states, two locations in Canada and a workforce more than 10 times its original size. Like everything General Equipment does, it has been a careful, methodical program of expansion spearheaded by a drive to recruit and work with people who share its core values. 

“Do the right thing, have passion, be innovative and work hard — these are our core values and we make sure that our customers and everyone that works for us feels the same way about them as we do,” President and CEO Jon Shilling says. “Geographically, our customers come from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and beyond. Demographically, we deal with various sectors including construction, aggregate, mining, agriculture and scrap. Our customers might have revenues of $1 or $100 million, they might have one employee or 300, but typically, what unites us all is that we share the same core values.”

Put into practice, this shared vision is manifested in the flexible, transparent service that General Equipment says it offers its clients, and the long-term partnerships it has developed with companies such as Komatsu, JCB, Superior Industries, KPI-JCI and Terex Finlay. “We are committed to our customers’ long-term success,” Shilling states. “If, for example, a customer comes in looking for a WA320 loader, we don’t automatically assume that’s what they need. We ask questions, we try to listen and understand their business needs, and in some cases, we maybe can provide them with something more suitable, or even a different solution at a lesser cost.”

Though customers are the lifeblood of any firm, General Equipment has long understood that the success of the business ultimately lies in the hands of its team. For a company with a strong ethos and identity, it is not easy to engender the same spirit among a workforce scattered across two countries and several states. 

Yet, as General Equipment continues to expand – a new location is currently in development in Duluth, Minn. – culture building and workforce development remain areas of intensive focus for the company. 

Shilling explains: “We primarily use our first core value, ‘do the right thing,’ to help our employees understand that, if they believe they are doing the right thing for this company, if they believe they are doing the right thing for the customer and they believe in their mind that they’re doing the right thing for themselves and the community they’re in, then we won’t question the decisions they make. We are trying to empower our people.”

General Equipment’s focus on personnel began more than 20 years ago when Jon’s father, Don, now the company’s chairman, predicted a workforce shortage of technicians and took action to mitigate the potential negative impact this might have on the organization’s future. Today, Don sits on the North Dakota Governor’s Council for Workforce Development and is responsible for General Equipment’s technician training program. 

In partnership with Komatsu, General Equipment offer a program designed to develop the next generation of technically competent professional service technicians. Not only does it secure a constant flow of talent for the business, but also the rigorous nature of the program ensures that new staff understand the company’s ethos and are compatible with its core values. 

“When we start working with candidates, they probably go through anywhere from three to five interactions, a number of site visits, then, prior to beginning, they spend the summer interning with us to ensure they like the job and appreciate our culture,” Shilling adds. “When they start at North Dakota State College of Science, they do a year of basic training and then, in the second year, a repeating pattern of eight weeks of school and eight weeks of internship at one of our locations. 

“The success of this program means that we really have no shortage of technicians and we have a consistent stream of young, very highly qualified guys coming out of the technical school. Ann Pollert is our director of workforce development and she not only helps us to recruit the right people, but it is also her job to retain them and to work with our existing employees – whether they are technicians or not – to make sure that they are a good fit for this company and, equally, that we are a good fit for them.”

With new locations in discussion for future growth, including the western side of South Dakota and the eastern region of Nebraska, General Equipment will continue to expand its service in the years ahead. The onus will be on the company’s workforce to make these new branches a success, and this is, perhaps, where the organization reaps the most benefits from its commitment to workforce development and the resulting mutual respect it encourages between its management team and staff. 

“We hold people accountable and work hard to empower them,” Shilling declares. “It’s a game-changer for us and that’s why our employees are our best promoters. When we’re looking to fill a position, you can play all the advertisements you want, but there is nothing more effective than when your employees talk honestly and positively about the company and its culture to people they know.” 

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