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A Closer Look E-mail the author

Duane Webb • 800-653-6069

—Justin Swan, left, and Dan Tietema, right.

Kenco got its start in the early 80s in a garage, when owner Bill Douglas started making excavator lift attachments that could lift and move barrier walls, according to Duane Webb, the company’s director of marketing and advertising.

Douglas decided to sell the attachments, so he put one in the back of his pickup truck and drove it from his location near Pittsburgh all the way to Philadelphia where there was a lot of construction happening.

Now, Kenco has 12 employees, including engineers who design the products. A nearby shop does the fabrication. Products are delivered worldwide to construction, recycling, farming, mining, and utility companies, among others. “No one else is making similar items,” Webb said.

The lift attachment products are manufactured to standard excavating equipment made by a variety of manufacturers, so there’s no need to customize to fit to individual machines – customers can order what they need and know the attachments will work.

While the fit isn’t customized, the products are – rather than building more common buckets, the company makes uncommon attachments, like the “Barrier Lift,” a scissors-type attachment that is put on top of a barrier wall that needs to be moved. The lift grabs the wall and “won’t release until the wall is set down again,” according to Webb.

Besides the Barrier Lift, there’s also a pipe lifting attachment that works in a similar fashion, but it is designed to lift pipes rather than walls.

Besides the company’s regular products, the engineers can design custom products for specific industries and for individual customers. One specialty item is a lifter for OSB walls, which are softer that standard walls. A client asked for equipment that could lift those walls without damaging them – something that’s not an issue when demolition companies need to move walls. Kenco designed that lifter and now sells them to customers who need that feature.

Kenco has also made many custom variations of the pipe lift, using the same basic design, but customizing it to fit different sizes and shapes of pipe and similar materials.

One of the more unusual requests was a lifter that could handle smooth granite without damaging it. That lifter has been dubbed the “tombstone lifter” for obvious reasons.

Kenco once designed a 3-prong grapple for a customer who needed to remove tumbleweed from deep pits. Since that’s not a huge market, those grapples are now being sold for moving rocks and similar round or irregular objects.

Over the last few years, Webb said that new technology has changed the way the company markets and sells products. A new smart phone app lets customers figure out what type and size of lifter will fit their equipment, and lets Kenco know what the customer hopes to do, all before the first phone call is placed.

“A lot of searches are happening online,” Webb said, particularly over the past two years. He credited some of the company’s growth to that ability for people to search for, and find, the custom products they need.

But even so, Webb said that one the big challenges is “trying to get Kenco out there and seen.” Besides an online presence, the company attends trade shows, which is one of Webb’s favorite parts of his job.

He said that he uses his art background to help build trade show displays, and that designing them using Photoshop is fun – and much different than when it had to be done with cut-and-paste.

Along with Webb’s design work, the company also sends working machinery to shows, so customers can see exactly how the lifting is accomplished.

Besides selling equipment, Kenco also services what it sells, but Webb said that the company seldom needs to bring equipment in for repairs. The products are designed so that “wearable items can be replaced by the customer.” For example, gripping pads come off with bolts, and new ones are simply bolted on. Even better, parts can be purchased online, making it easy for customers to maintain their own equipment at their own location, without needing technical assistance for the purchase, and without needing to ship the products back to Kenco.

“There are few actual repairs,” Webb said, which gives the company plenty of time to work on new and unusual lift products for their customers.