Americana's Alive in Texas
Doggett Heavy Machinery Services: a billion-dollar winner
It was a sweltering summer day in Houston, Texas, when I spoke with Michael (Mike) Ortiz, the Executive Vice President for the John Deere Division at Doggett Heavy Machinery Services (Doggett).
He answered the phone with a polite, steady, Texas drawl. “Hey, how you doing?” I could tell he was sincere. There’s something about a Texan that exudes sincerity. I liked him immediately.
Mike is responsible for nearly $500 million of Doggett’s over $1 billion annual revenue—and although this keeps him constantly busy, he doesn’t seem rushed. “I’m not afraid of long hours and hard work,” he says. “But I also think people should get the personal attention they deserve. We have a balance here, I think, but we always want more time with customers.”
Heavy machinery all around Mike was born in Central Texas with heavy machinery all around him. There were combines combing cornfields and dump trucks and cranes on job sites where his father worked in commercial concrete.
“I remember being a kid and watching the bulldozers and thinking ‘man, I want to run one of those,’ ” Mike says. “I was fascinated. I loved to watch these big machines move dirt. I think it was the power and the noise. I was hooked.”
Mike grew up and eventually studied agricultural engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. “My goal was to design tractors and create solutions to problems,” he says.
After graduation he landed the gig that would change his life: working for John Deere itself. “It was the most formative six years of my life,” Mike says. He did design tractors but came away with something better—an understanding of the heavy machinery industry and its clients. His childhood goal accomplished, he left this job to accept a position at a different John Deere dealer. He spent 12 years there before finding his next home: Doggett.
You (probably) know Doggett
If Doggett sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard about the name. The heavy equipment company is one of the largest companies in Texas. Its headquarters is a 120,000-square-foot office in north Houston.
Overall, Doggett has thirty six full-service heavy equipment dealerships including seven Freightliner on-highway and vocational truck dealerships (dump, waste, mixer and trash bodied trucks), 17 John Deere Construction and Forestry Equipment dealerships, four Link Belt Crane dealerships, seven Toyota Industrial Equipment dealerships (forklifts), and a full-service Ford dealership.
The firm employs over 1,300 people in addition to 500 technicians across its locations in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The company is so lucrative that, according to the Houston Business Journal, “its only real competition in town is the Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT).”
But it didn’t start big. Doggett Heavy Construction was founded by Leslie Doggett and Brady Carruth in 1993, when the business partners purchased Toyota Lift of Houston, a forklift dealer that employed 18 people. Leslie now solely owns the company.
“He is a driven and visionary leader,” says Mike. “That’s why I wanted to work here. He is the best, and I wanted to work for the best. And when I joined in 2007, John Deere was on the horizon.”
Today, the John Deere service line is among the jewels in the crown of Doggett Heavy Machinery. The relationship between the All-American tractor business and Doggett started in 2005. For years, Leslie had his heart set on acquiring a John Deere dealership in Houston. When he made the move, John Deere turned him down. “Instead, they asked that he buy a couple of smaller dealerships in South Texas, which he did.” Today, Doggett owns multiple John Deere dealerships.
Mike’s speech sped up when I started asking about the machinery. “Our best seller is the 350G LC Excavator. It’s great for the oil and gas guys. Yes, John Deere makes excavators.”
Aside from the 350G LC Excavator, Doggett’s best sellers are the hydraulic excavators, dozers, articulated dump trucks and skids steers. “If we see that our customers’ jobs can be made easier with a certain piece of equipment, we’ll stock it. We are here for the clients,” Mike adds.
A man obsessed
One thing that I noticed when I spoke with Mike was that every conversation, no matter about technology or servicing or parts or equipment, made its way back to the client. It was so ubiquitous that I counted: 52. He mentioned clients 52 times in our 30-minute interview.
This is a man obsessed.
He was gracious when I mentioned it to him. “That’s really great to hear,” said Mike. “I bring it up so much because I care. It is important to me that I get to know our clients and their needs directly. I want them to call me personally when they have a problem.”
The obsession with providing excellent customer service is obvious when you examine one of their market differentiators, which is the Doggett product support structure. Minimizing downtime and maximizing productivity are key to equipment service and repairs and plans. Doggett knows that the key to maximizing uptime is a streamlined and educated technical service department with expert equipment upkeep capabilities. Its technicians are service experts that continually improve upon their skills by completing courses on the most current equipment technology.
“We are so proud of the educational support our techs get,” says Mike. “I mean, these guys train around the clock, and we invest heavily in education. Almost above anything else. It’s that important to us.”
Aside from education, Doggett has created a proprietary product support system.
“We know that a piece of machinery can stop a job and cost our clients time, money and reputation,” says Mike. “Because we understand our clients, we created a product support plan that takes a proactive, not reactive, approach.”
The product support system centers on a standardized periodic maintenance schedule and an issue classification system. “When a client calls in to his or her service representative, they are asked a series of standard questions,” says Mike. “Based on the answers, the incident is assigned a level of severity.”
The severity levels are tiered based on the issue. “Once our techs identify the issue and classify the severity, we deploy our field technicians. Our techs get hundreds of hours of training both in-house and by brands, so there is rarely a problem they can’t fix. We have some techs that have done miracles for a client.”
No end in sight
“I like providing solutions,” says Mike in his Texas drawl. “That’s why I’m here, and why I want to stay here.”
In the next five years, Mike expects the John Deere service line to thrive. “I see us growing into new areas, expanding our offerings and expanding our market share. The future is bright.”
Mike’s not exaggerating. In May 2018, Doggett Industries acquired one of Houston’s oldest and largest Ford dealerships, Lone Star Ford from North Carolina-based Sonic Automotive Inc. (NYSE: SAH) for an undisclosed amount, making it Houston’s nineth largest private company according to the Houston Chronicle in 2018. And if history proves correct, more acquisitions are in the hopper.
“We’re going to keep going until we get there,” quips Mike. “And when we get there, we’ll get going again.”
The future is bright, indeed.