Seasoned, Savvy, and
Celebrating 79 Years
The winning team of construction rentals and Drobach Equipment Rental Co.
It’s rare today when a firm can proudly say they’re independent, strong and been that way for 78 years. Construction rental specialist Drobach Equipment Rental Co. in Union, N.J. is one of those firms.
“We’ve attracted a formidable customer base who has over the years remained loyal to our company for their needs in construction equipment,” offers third-generation owner John Drobach and the grandson of Founder Peter A. Drobach. “My grandfather was a six-day bicycle racer. As one of a team of five guys on one bike, he would race for six days at a time around a wooden track. Races often took place in the old Newark Velodrome, the old Madison Square Garden, up in Boston, and over in Europe.”
“He had good staying power, and thighs like you wouldn’t believe,” says John. “But it was a tough sport. When he fell off the bike he’d get splinters that were 10-14 inches long. He also broke his collarbone.”
With the rise of motorcycle races and stock car races, so fell the popularity of the six-day racers. Yet racer Peter had managed to garner a few fans over the years.
“A number of successful New York contractors were fans of my grandfather,” relates John. “When he finally got off the bicycle, he worked with them sharpening drill bits.”
Then with the start of Holland tunnel construction and son Joseph working for Worthington pump, a customer suggested Peter add compressor rentals to his service offerings. So with second son William F., the firm bearing his name was born.
“My father worked with my grandfather from ’38 until he was called into World War 2. After he got out in ’45, he rejoined my grandfather.” Two years later founder Peter A. passed and the two sons joined to become a team.
The first Drobach shop was located on Route 29 and Bloy St. in Hillside, N.J. Then in March 1951, the brothers purchased property on Rt. 22 in Union, N.J. and built the building that still stands today as the firm’s location.
At first the front office was the showroom, but office personnel, including owner John, have expanded into that space. “We also purchased a second piece of property right next to us, so we now have 200 feet of frontage.”
A Growing Fleet
John relates the oldest rental sheets list the firm’s inventory mostly as air compressors and air tools. “My grandfather was into the rock drilling and drill bit resharpening business. He would also sell blasting mats and other varied accessories that go with drilling and blasting.”
After Peter’s passing, the firm expanded to masonry equipment, with mortar mixers and concrete mixers, troweling machines, floor machines, and floor-grinding equipment. “It wasn’t a particular revelation by management to get into one particular product. It was customer driven.” Also driving that demand was the increase in bridge deck and road work by its customers, including the construction of the Garden State Parkway.
Decades later, after Bill’s passing in ’77 and Joe’s passing in ’86, current owner John expanded the aerial equipment offerings of the firm. Most recently that expansion has included battery-operated electric scissorlifts, rough terrain scissorlifts, skid-steer loaders, Mini Excavators, Concrete Saws up to 65 HP, a new Diamond Blade Showroom,and light towers. “Every generation, we’ve put in a new product line. But it’s been based on customer requests more than anything.”
Today Drobach Equipment Rental is a state-of-the-art rental firm. “We’re bringing technically state-of-the-art pieces of equipment to our established customer base,” says John. “Take rough-terrain lifts. In the last three years we’ve grown to almost 40 rough-terrain scissor lifts and we’ve enjoyed tremendous success. Our state-of-the-art Lulls and SkyTraks have also been well-received.”
Genie scissorlifts is one of the firm’s strongest offerings. “You get a sense of reliance on the product when it’s demonstrated. The fact that they have the guardrails in place, and that they have different jib assemblies make it that much easier for the customer to use. It’s faster, safer and more efficient. “That’s why we selected them,” says John.
Service over the years
Drobach easily services the tri-state area from Union. Located on Route 22 East just outside of Newark Airport, it serves its customer base from one central location. Should a concern arise about when a piece of equipment is arriving, “we’ll deliver a day or two ahead of time if needed,” offers John.
Timeliness is something the firm has always offered. “Right from the beginning it was 24-hour service, especially to our better customers,” says John. “My father and I would open up and deliver whatever equipment was necessary at the time. That remains today.” A recent example which John recalls is a customer needing just one light tower after 5:00 PM for an oil spill.
“We certainly accommodated him,” offers John. “When you treat the customer with that kind of respect and response, you gain a friend, and the name Drobach commands just a little more respect.”
Another strong aspect of being in business for 78 years that has worked well for Drobach customers is what he calls “the staying power to be flexible. We can package rental equipment to the needs of our customers, both from a financial standpoint and a logistics standpoint.”
And with the influx of big chains, Drobach customers learned how actual value came with the firm. “There was a time when a certain section of our customer base would shop a product just based on price. Then they recognized that there’s more to a rental transaction than just price. There’s serviceability/problems in the field, and response time.”
Since the initial foray, those customers have come back to get what the firm has built its reputation on: service.
“Our customers know they’re not going to get hurt with Drobach. If there’s a problem with the equipment, we’ll either send out a serviceman or we’ll make an exchange. We want to eliminate customer downtime at all costs.”
John says that younger, up-and-coming contractors often come in with a certain sense of eagerness, a sense of urgency, and their own list of questions. So the firm’s approach is to educate from the standpoint of its experience.
“We’ll emphasize simple things, like an air tool would certainly have more penetrating power on concrete than an electric tool. Then, especially with a newer individual, safety aspects of equipment use, such as how to hook up the air hose, making sure there are safety wires between the links, and the use of safety goggles and face shields. And we use our experience to suggest the products that have been most successful with our customers over the years.”
And there’s a sense of trust with a 78-year-old established organization that has talented, experienced people behind it who are willing to go the extra mile and help out a customer. “We don’t expect the customer to just come here with a laundry list and just punch in his selection,” says John. “We have a dialog of his needs. Based on the job and the scope of what he’s involved in, we try to target him with the right tools to do the job most efficiently and safely. We’re much more than just order takers.”
One thing the firm is also able to do is to pass on the business savvy that some of its older customers have to other younger customers that may still be in the learning mode.
“I’ll get a guy come in,” says John, “and say “wow, here’s this job for $1.2 million, and I’m glad I’m not bidding on it. I’ve three other jobs going for about $350,000 and I know I’ll make money on them.’”
“Then I’ll get another, younger excited contractor come in and say ‘wow, I’m bidding on the big $1.2 million job.’
“To him I’ll say: ‘that’s great, but maybe you might want to consider instead bidding on a few smaller jobs and not put all your eggs in one basket. Some jobs you have to walk away from, and it’s important you keep your eyes wide open before you jump in with both feet.”
Sense of humor
And while both rental and construction are two businesses that in some sense have become tougher than ever, Drobach hasn’t lost the humility and humanity often lacking in its ‘big box’ competitors.
“It’s not just a numbers business,” says John. “It’s a personal approach, being close to your customers, and a sense of humor. It’s necessary in this business and it certainly has helped us along over the years.”
One of the firm’s favorite jokes which can disarm some customers--especially those that temporarily forget they’re in a single-story building--roughly goes like this:
“If we change a procedure or eliminate a piece of paperwork that we’ve been using for years, we say it’s from the ‘old regime’ on the seventh floor.”
The history, service and selection of Drobach Equipment Rental has made it an institution in the construction business.
“We have sustained and survived a number of business downturns,” says John. “And we will remain strong financially.” We’re an independent, family-owned dealer. Always looking on the horizon for the most technologically advanced tool that would make our customers have an easier go of it.”
“And,” he concludes, “we’ll continue to have fun. There’s a lot of tension and stress in the world today, and the last thing I need to do is add more to it. Our customers will always get the friendly approach at Drobach. They can count on us to do business with a sense of humor and a handshake.”