Member profile: Max Lift finds right niche for Oklahoma City-based customers
by Connie Lannan
After college Max McTeer started buying and selling surplus equipment, but it wasn’t a career he saw as long-term. When he purchased some new forklifts, an idea popped into his head for a business that he thought would work perfectly for him and his customers — a forklift rental, service and repair business. That is how Max Lift began in 2001 in Oklahoma City — a niche business that has been fulfilling the needs of his diverse clientele for more than 20 years.
“I saw rental as a way to provide flexibility to our customers as forklifts are capital-intensive,” says McTeer, Max Lift president and CEO. “A lot of customers may have seasonality in their business. They may have a moment in time where they need one additional forklift. They may have a unit that went down and need a specific lift to get them going while they have another forklift on order. We found our niche, and I am proud to say that we still have our first rental client.”
Since that initial foray into rental, McTeer has expanded his unique business offering. He sought out diverse types of forklifts — electric, propane and diesel, including forklifts that fit in very narrow aisles. “Say you have a warehouse and have a 10.5-ft. aisle. If you have a forklift that breaks, you have to have something that will fit that aisle. Big rental companies don’t have those ready to go whereas we do. We found that, on average, our narrow-aisle stuff is on rent 7.5 months,” he says.
He soon realized that his clients, which range from businesses and contractors to municipalities and government agencies, also were looking for complementary equipment, including racking, pallet jacks and scissor lifts.
“We found that when our customers rent, many times they are in the process of expanding or relocating. They not only need a forklift, but they might also need a pallet jack to get things off the truck or another lift. We found that these items make us more of a one-stop shop. We have had a couple of instances in which customers rent everything — the racking, pallet jacks, forklifts and such. They might have a project that might be six months or a year. We had a company that was set up for a six-month rental. That contract lasted 10 years,” he says.
While McTeer obtains a lot of his inventory through Fortune 500 companies that are upgrading their warehouses, downsizing or moving, or through clients who are upgrading equipment, he decided to partner with Komatsu for his brand-new forklifts.
“We became a single-point distributor with Komatsu in 2017, which means we don’t carry any other new forklift brands. We found Komatsu to be a very good partner and fit for our business. We offer new introductions every quarter,” he says.
In addition to the renting, selling and leasing equipment, McTeer has created a strong service component to the business. “We supply forklift parts and service for all major brands. We service all makes and have the resources to get the parts for all makes,” he says, adding that service is a big part of his business that involves going to customer sites and even the Will Rogers World Airport to work on the forklifts there.
McTeer enhanced the company’s service offerings by investing in a mobile lube trailer. “We call it the MaxTainer. This is the biggest investment I have ever made for a tool. We had it specially made for us. We can roll it out to the customer. It has a compressor and will dispense high-quality, water-resistant grease. It can hold 100 gal. of motor oil. We can dial in the motor and hydraulic oil that is going to dispense. It is very clean and recovers waste oil,” he says.
It has been a real game-changer for the company. “It has blown us away in productivity and customer service,” he says. “We are the only ones in town who offer this, and I believe we were the first forklift dealer company that this company has made this machine for. We now have the preventive maintenance down to 30 to 48 minutes that includes a 30-point checklist. It is all digital and all transparent to the customer regarding what we identify. We just did 13 units in Guthrie, Okla., in a day and a half, which before would have taken us several days to do.”
This new service has been a hit with customers. “A lot of customers desire to have their forklifts serviced on a regular basis, but we have found that a lot of companies don’t put a focus or enough attention on this part because it is not glamorous or profitable. We have found more business coming in because of this tool. It has more than exceeded our expectations and something that differentiates us from others,” McTeer says.
For McTeer and his six employees, it is all about offering “comprehensive productivity solutions, a strong value proposition and remarkable turnkey service,” as is listed on the company website. Click here for a video about the operation.
That includes a strong focus on training for both his employees and customers. “It’s mandated that businesses have forklift drivers trained and authorized through classroom instruction, video presentation, a written test and driver evaluation. We perform that. We administer this training for the employer. You would be amazed that many companies don’t know they are responsible to do that. It’s an employer’s responsibility to ensure they have qualified drivers,” he says.
That service came in handy after a tornado event impacted the city. “FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], which is a great organization, was here after the tornado. There were a lot of volunteers working for FEMA. When we did a walkaround, we saw that someone wasn’t following proper safety measures when it came to operating forklifts. We ended up training 70 people in that operation. Throughout the time, they were accident-free. I would like to think our training helped in that effort,” McTeer says.
His customers count on his business for the variety of lifts, the training and service. It is what keeps them coming back.
“We have long-term customers. Many rent from us for months. We have one-day rentals, but we cater to the long-term rental. We are here to provide our customers total flexibility if their needs change, from rentals to leasing to buying. We are customer advocates. They know that if they call, we will take care of them,” he says.
His customers appreciated that advocacy during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was a very difficult time for us and our customers. We had customers who were also feeling the pressure from the oil industry. It was like a double-whammy. We were getting rentals coming back that we didn’t want to see come back. We had a couple of customers who were behind on their bill and, with the oil situation, said they would need to send the lifts back. We told them that we have so many years with them and worked hard to allow them to catch up on their bills while we extended their forklift rentals until we all got through this. We became partners with our customers,” McTeer says, adding that his customers really appreciated that.
For McTeer, that inadvertent move into rental was one of the best moves he ever made for the business. “Rental gives us a niche that we enjoy. It provides us tools to grow and offer unique customer flexibility. We enjoy our customers and the diverse type of customers we serve. One day we might be at a garden center. The next day we might be at the airport. We get to learn about what our customers do. They become our friends. Rental keeps us in relationships with our customers for years. That is satisfying and offers us the comfort of consistent revenue. It is a win-win for our customers and Max Lift,” he says.
ARA is a resource that keeps benefiting Oklahoma rental operator
Shortly after Max McTeer, CEO and president, Max Lift, Oklahoma City, started his business, he sought out insurance for his forklifts, a mainstay of his fleet. He heard about the American Rental Association (ARA). That chance encounter has ended up making a profound impact on him personally as well as his business.
“I remember that it was early on at the start of my business. I needed insurance for my forklifts. My insurance agent told me about ARA. I didn’t know anything about the association. I ended up signing up for the insurance and then heard about a meeting with the ARA of Oklahoma. I went and really enjoyed the diversity of the types of business that were represented at the meeting,” he says.
He kept going to the state chapter meetings and then attended The ARA Show™. “That was an amazing experience. I’ll never forget my first show,” says McTeer, who has gone every year since then.
Back in Oklahoma, he became more involved with the state chapter. “I grew in the organization into a leadership role to then serving as president. I have been able to go to Washington, D.C., for National Legislative Caucus to learn about how government works and that by being part of a group you can accomplish more. That was valuable. I attended the Leadership Conference, which gave me tools to use at my business. I have been able to grow as a person and help my company grow,” says McTeer, who serves as ARA of Oklahoma vice president.
McTeer really appreciated the help the association offered during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We took advantage of ARA’s Clean. Safe. Essential. program and the information about the Paycheck Protection Program loans. We are a small business. With ARA we have all these tools that allow us to compete with the large nationwide rental houses. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he says.
Beyond the pandemic assistance, McTeer says he has benefited from so many of the resources provided by the association. “ARA offered the trailer safety video. ‘There is a safer way to do this? That is great. Let’s start doing it that way.’ There are the Ready-to-Rent tags, the legal contract advice and more. We have benefited very much from the tools offered by ARA. They are amazing and so valuable. My association with ARA has become an inseparable partnership. I will always be a member,” he says.