The Baden family name is synonymous with the crane and earthmoving equipment sectors. They’ve been selling, servicing and repairing machines for over three decades. Cranes and Lifting finds out more from Ben Baden about where the business is at today.
“Ben Baden Services was formed by me in March 2009. Prior to that, my father ran GM Baden which he started in 1987. He had come from Blackwood Hodge, which back then, was the TADANO crane dealer but mainly focussed on earthmoving equipment with brands such as TEREX and Euclid. My father was the service manager there,” said Baden.
“He left Blackwood Hodge to start his own business, which was predominantly focussed on earthmoving equipment. In the early 90s, he picked up the Liebherr earthmoving equipment dealership, in 1995, he picked up the mobile crane dealership, the all terrain product and in 2005, the Liebherr crawler division as well.”
In 2007, Liebherr started its own “factory direct” company in Australia and the Baden family business was sold. Four years later, it was purchased back as Ben Baden Services. In 2010, Ben Baden Services picked up the Link Belt dealership and the TIDD dealership five years ago.
There are two main areas to the business. The workshop facility focusses on repairs, maintenance, insurance work for underwriters such as UAA, and major inspections. The crane sales business is split into two areas, new and used equipment, which Ben Baden runs in partnership with his brother-in-law, Anthony Davis, another well known crane identity.
“We have the nationwide dealership for Link Belt cranes as well as the TIDD dealership for NSW. The Crane Connection business focusses on used equipment, which we can source either locally or from overseas, predominantly Europe,” said Baden.
“Saying that, we have bought machines from South America and we currently have two on the way from Hong Kong. We bring in various brands including Liebherr, Demag and Manitowoc Grove.
“Link Belt has been a very good company to deal with, they are open and easy to deal with. As an example, they recently put a 125t telescopic crawler in our yard on consignment. We sold one of these to Melrose Cranes last year.”
“It’s by far the best performing model in its class and that’s why we said to Link Belt if we’re going to bring something in on consignment, that’s the machine. We think it will work really well, particularly for the up coming Western Sydney Airport project where telescopic crawlers are going to be very popular,” he said.
There’s currently a population of 45 Link Belts in the Australian market including a mixture of rough terrain cranes, telescopic truck cranes and hydraulic crawler cranes.
“We had initial success in the piling market with piling companies like telescopic crawlers as assist cranes. Since then, Link Belt has moved the telescopic crawler range into general hire so the cranes now have much longer booms.
“We’ve also had quite a bit of success with the TIDD range. We must have at least a dozen of the Mark 1 model in NSW,” said Baden.
“We have four units of the new model (Mark 2) due later this year and they all have tentative names against them. In early March, my business partner took customers on a trip to the TIDD factory in New Zealand which was very successful.
“We deal with all brands of cranes and find TIDD to be a well built product. The manufacturer, TRT, paid attention to detail and the finish of the product is to a very high standard,” he said. “And customers that have purchased them see this. As we increase the TIDD population and people see them around, we can hopefully increase our market share in that space as well.”
According to Baden, the success of The Crane Connection and used crane business is based on a good crane network, particularly out of Europe.
“We will use our network and hunt for popular models. Sometimes, we purchase and bring models in for our stock, other times customers will request a particular model crane and year of manufacture and we’ll source that crane for them,” he said.
“If everyone is happy, the customer will put a deposit on that crane and we purchase it, bring it in and do all that is required to that machine for that customer.
“Other times, the customer will find the machine but with the difficulties involved in purchasing a machine from overseas, they have us do the legwork and bring it into the country for them,” said Baden.
By any standards, the Ben Baden repair and fabrication facility is impressive.
“It didn’t start out this size,” said Baden. “When my father built the first premises everything was under one roof. We didn’t have a paint shop and the fabrication and mechanical side was combined in the 1,500sqm original workshop.
“He always had the ability to do a lot of work in-house working on engines, transmissions, gear boxes and hydraulic work, that’s how it started.”
It was five years before Baden senior expanded the facility to include a spare parts department and a large spray shop. Five years later, there was a second expansion, which included the fabrication shop. Then five years ago, Baden junior purchased the land on the eastern side and increased the hard stand area for testing and put in a big wash facility for quarantine approval.
“As far as mechanical and fabricating repairs, and prior to us building these facilities, insurance companies really only had one choice and that was to go direct to the manufacturers,” said Baden.
“Insurance companies were less than happy with what was happening, not only from a cost perspective, but also in terms of time frame. Manufacturers were replacing a lot of components and while cost was a factor, parts weren’t in stock locally, because manufacturers tend not to hold major structural components.
“Parts had to come from Europe or Japan and often manufacturers themselves wouldn’t be holding these components in stock and would have to fabricate the parts and ship them out. It could take six months for the parts to arrive,” he said.
“Back in the 90s, UAA was privately owned and run by Phil Duncan. He made contact with my father and asked him to look at a particular crane insurance job. He quoted on it, Phil gave him the job and that’s where it started and the business grew from there.”
It was a hard slog at first with some customers not wanting their machines repaired by a third party.
“But 25 years later, we’re a well-known repair business, and a large part of the crane industry has confidence that if they damage a machine it can come here and be repaired correctly,” said Baden.
“We have a proven track record, which has helped grow the business, not only from an insurance perspective but also with work for private crane companies.
“Both insurance companies and private crane operators benefit from our philosophy of trying to conduct as much work in-house as possible. That way, we can control time and costs a lot better than if we had to ship things around and rely on other people’s quotes and time frames,” he said.
Subcontracting or outsourcing is kept to a minimum and Baden thinks that’s gone a long way to the industry having a lot of confidence in the repairs.
“We’ve proved ourselves over a long period of time,” he said. “If we were no good at it, our legacy and ongoing expansion projects would have never come to fruition.
Staff has been a major reason for the success of the business. It has been employing apprentices and bringing them through the workshop for the past 30 years.
“I have five apprentices in the workshop now across all the trades. Of course, not all of them stay but those that do can turn out to be some of your best employees. They learn how we do things here and train,” said Baden, “and the experience from the older staff gets passed down to the new trainees, which is so important particularly in this day and age.”
It includes a 1,500sqm mechanics’ work shop with a 15t overhead crane, sub-assembly sections for the machine shop, a transmission and gearbox section, an engine section and a 900 horse power engine test stand or dynamometer. There’s 300sqm of mezzanine where crane parts and rare used crane parts are stored.We have a 1200sqm fabrication shop with a 25t over head crane where all the welding, cutting, grinding, prepping and bending is done.
“We have three full-time boilermakers and in the workshop we have eight mechanics and four apprentices. We have two paint shop facilities with three fulltime painters and an apprentice,” said Baden.
“We also have a quarantine-approved wash facility that’s 20m long and 10m wide, which can comfortably fit a 500t all terrain crane. This features a wash bay pit, so used machines are delivered from the wharf directly to here and we have quarantine-approved people authorised to wash that equipment. Australian Quarantine Inspection Services (AQIS) will then come to the facility, inspect the machine and pass it.”
According to Baden, the gradual evolution of the business is the key to its success.
“The various elements of the business are very symbiotic. We have good control over the various issues especially timing, which is one of the biggest issues in the crane industry,” he said.
“Down time, particularly in insurance claims, can be far worse than the cost of the actual repair. The loss of earnings is probably 50 per cent more than the cost of the repair. We try to help our customers and insurers by making available a pool of cranes that we own. If a machine is going to be off the road for two weeks, or four months due to a major repair, we can rent a machine to the insured so they are not without a crane and they can continue to support their customer base without having to cross hire from their opposition,” he said.
“As I’ve said, we didn’t build this facility over night it’s been an evolving business that’s grown, expanded and consolidated. Today, we have a crane repair facility with the right people to get machines fixed and back to the customers in as short a time period as possible, for the most cost effective price. That’s how we’ve always looked at it and that’s why we have a very good working relationship with a lot of the underwriters, in particular UAA, the biggest underwriter in Australia of mobile cranes.”