Accessing the Heights
Elevator, LLC delivers swing stages and safe access at all elevations
Joe Aujay, Partner and President of Elevator, LLC (Elevator), recalls the first time he went up on swing-stage scaffolding at a commercial construction site. He was 19 years old. “The people were great and the opportunity for growth was great,” he says. Once he went up, he was “in.” Joe has been a part of the industry’s evolution and growth ever since that first bird’s-eye view from a high-rise structure.
Elevator rents swing stages, also known as suspended platforms or suspended access. “The service we provide is a critical path for construction of a high-rise building. It’s all we do, and we do it really well,” Joe says. The company’s partners manage equipment installation for nearly all of its customers’ jobs and also relocates and dismantles the equipment. “We’re as excited to provide equipment for a three-story building as we are for 60 stories,” Joe says.
All jobs are dispatched out of the company’s three branches: its South San Francisco headquarters, Santa Fe Springs, California, in Los Angeles County, and Kent, Washington, in the Seattle area. These full-service facilities provide rental inventory, equipment storage, maintenance, testing and repair. Platform hoists are maintained and tested for each rental.
While swing stages may bring to mind an image of window cleaners toiling away midair, that service is a small part of the business. The biggest users of Elevator’s equipment are curtain wall glaziers, painting contractors, masons working on historic buildings, and waterproofing and caulking contractors.
Elevator is a small company in a niche industry. The majority of the company’s new construction jobs are with large, sophisticated general contractors for major projects, with many of those in California—“the most litigious state, by a factor of six,” Joe says. The company supports commercial, industrial and residential projects throughout California and the West: Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and eastern Washington.
Designed for Success from the Start
Elevator was started in 2000 by Joe, Tony Acedo, Mike Ayala and Jay Balibrea. All had worked for large national scaffold companies or suspended equipment manufacturers. Joe says a shared stubbornness for perfection was the driver for starting their own company, as the team is committed to project safety and reliability.
The company opened its doors with 100 rental platforms. “Each of us had a following of existing clients,” Joe says. “We were committed to open with the equipment we needed to meet demand from Day One.” Today, the company maintains 270 platforms, as well as supporting rigging equipment.
Joe and Mike opened the South San Francisco operation while Tony and Jay simultaneously opened the operation in Santa Fe Springs. Project Manager Vince Ladino, who has been with Elevator for 18 years, stepped into Mike’s position when Mike retired in 2015.
Joe also manages the Kent branch, which opened during the Great Recession. “The Seattle area was not experiencing the same downturn that much of the rest of our markets were,” Joe recalls. “We moved some of our excess rental inventory there and greenfield-started a local operation.”
As an independent operator, Elevator provides a customized service. “We do not provide a centralized package of equipment,” Joe says. “Instead, we carry several brands to ensure we are providing clients with the best choice for their markets. We select the best hoist, the best platform and best rigging accessories for a given project and market, and we apply the appropriate methodology for installation and takedown, and most importantly, safe access to the work.”
Equipment choices also reflect the focus on the safety and well-being of employees. “For example, our hoists can weigh up to 100 pounds. That’s still heavy, but manageable. There are hoists that weigh 130 to 140 pounds. We don’t use those. We’ve all worked in the field, and these heavier weights are just too hard on crews,” Joe says.
Elevator has a project manager-driven business model, similar to that of its customers. “Tony, Jay, Vince and I work directly with our clients on projects. We answer our own phones, from the first call to the last call,” Joe says. The partners walk job sites, quote and dispatch rigging and placement, and take care of billing advice. “There is accountability,” he adds. “The buck stops here!”
The company includes 14 riggers, who move and place the equipment, and two office employees. “We’re lean and mean,” Joe says.
The company typically handles seven to 10 jobs every day, and the partners are in the field most of the time. “It’s cliché, but we would never ask our people to do anything we haven’t done through the years,” Joe says. “We know the safest and most efficient ways to accomplish the work. If there’s a problem, our customers are one call away from an answer.”
Contributing to Growth and Safety
The team at Elevator is committed to creating a safe work environment, according to Joe. “There aren’t a lot of employees, experienced or otherwise, working in this niche,” he says.
The company’s founders have participated in crafting some of California’s safety regulations for the scaffold industry, sitting on industry panels to vet ideas and recommend changes to state laws based on their field experience.
They also had early input and insight into the growth of the national Scaffold & Access Industry Association (SAIA), which has roots in Los Angeles. The organization now has members worldwide.
Elevator is approved by SAIA University as an Accredited Training Institute to deliver its training and safety education courses to clients. The rigorous training includes moving rigs at the job site. “I tell my students in class that in addition to the course criteria, they’ll probably learn 30 to 40 more things based on commonsense and our experience,” Joe says.
Projects of Note
Elevator’s team is proud of its historic renovation projects such as the 450 Sutter Building in San Francisco. Built in 1929, the 26-floor skyscraper is known for its stunning art deco design.
“The attention to detail on this project was unbelievable,” Joe recalls. It was a massive, three-year, multicontractor job, including window replacement, repair of its terracotta facades and waterproofing, according to Joe.
The space was fully occupied by medical and dental practices. To minimize disruption, the entire perimeter of the building was encompassed by platforms and work was performed on a single floor at a time. Floor by floor, tenants vacated and relocated to temporary spaces while the renovation work took place.
“We moved 16 tons of counterweighted rigging equipment to the roof and suspended 18 platforms surrounding the entire building. It took six technicians and a lot of equipment, trucks and dollies,” Joe says.
New construction projects include the 13-story Stockton Courthouse, the tallest building in Stockton, California. Elevator was chosen as the lead contractor to provide access for the large soffits at the roof—metal panels enclosing electrical, mechanical, drywall, waterproofing and cladding. The project required precise coordination with the panel supplier/installer.
“One corner of the building had to be buttressed to support our rigging and accept the loads. To avoid drilling holes through the panels and marring their appearance, we used 5/16-inch wire rope that ran between the joints to suspend our platforms,” Joe says.
He estimates that using Elevator’s suspended platform method (instead of traditional built-up scaffolding) and careful coordination and installation saved the construction schedule four to six months of time and half a million dollars.
Elevator worked with a curtain wall contractor on the construction of a new glass curtain wall for the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California. The structure, incorporating a series of pointed roofs, required unique rigging and platform placement for completion of the curtain wall. “We draw from a well of imagination and experience to determine the best approach to a complicated structure like this,” Joe says. “We sculpt the suspended access to the job at hand.”
For general structure maintenance projects like painting and caulking, Elevator’s team often works in and around expensive residences. “We have to access the roof for nearly every job, especially in San Francisco, sometimes through a $20 million condominium unit that may have millions of dollars of art on the walls. We are trusted to conduct ourselves accordingly.”
The team remains eager to go to work each day. “This business is compelling,” Joe says. “It gets under your skin and drives your passion.”