Business Brief: The people behind KATO STRONG

Compact Excavator Sales’ old-school, family-style approach matches the relationship-based culture in rental operations.

Kicking the tires (or tracks) is just one factor in the buying equation for acquiring additional rental units. Savvy rental houses also look at the service before, during and especially after the sale and put numbers to that to arrive at a likely ROI.

Kato excavator

“There are certain aspects that have aided in us keeping ahead. The greatest of which is our people.’’

-- Mike Smith, company founder

Time and again, Compact Excavator Sales (CES) easily fulfills the demanding equipment, parts and service performance requirements of rental centers throughout North America.

CES sells Kato (formerly IHI) compact equipment such as crawler carriers for the oil and gas industry, mini excavators with digging forces ranging from 2,360 to 14,730 pounds, skid steer loaders with operating weights of 2,965 or 7,710 pounds, track loaders with operating weights of 7,826 or 10,100 pounds and concrete buggies with 1,000 or 1,665 pounds payload capacities. Through the 2016 acquisition of IHI by KATO, CES customers also have access to larger equipment, including hydraulic excavators ranging from 22,000 to 101,000 pounds, rough- and all-terrain cranes, boring trucks, street sweepers and wheeled cranes.

Supportive staff
The CES culture dates back to 1989 when Mike Smith, the company founder, started in business, with an unwavering commitment to customer success and its ability to evolve,
“Consolidation of rental stores has changed the entire industry. We diversified our product line to match the industry’s landscape. We went from pioneering a concept to selling a commodity. As with any business, we had to keep evolving, which has led to growth over the past, nearly 25 years,” says Smith.

“There are certain aspects that have aided in us keeping ahead. The greatest of which is our people. We have great people. More than half of our staff has been here for at least 10 years. It’s the same with our customers. We have had a loyal customer base that has stuck with us and we continue to meet and work with new customers every day,” Smith adds.

Throughout the organization, customer-facing employees share their views on the company’s secret of success – excellent service to end users. Mike Aubrey, national sales representative at CES, who has been with the company for more than 12 years, says he understands the customers’ appreciation for service and support. “They trust us. We have a solid reputation in the industry. Everyone knows that if they are in critical need of a part, we are going to take care of them. That is why we have such great relationships with them.”

Another seasoned veteran of the team, Bart DeHaven, national sales representative, has more than a decade of sales experience with the company. He believes the combination of a diverse product line backed up by employees committed to customer satisfaction is hard to find. “It is easy to trust a certain machine or trust a certain person who may sell you that machine. We have the luxury of being able to offer both: a very solid machine with a strong sales, service and support team behind it. We have been successful over the years and we continue to grow. It is a testament to the company that we have all built and the original vision of Mike Smith, our founder.”

Brandon Jones, director of business development at the company, says continuity and consistent commitment to company values sets it apart from the others. “The unique thing about Compact Excavator Sales is the fact that we have such great continuity. It is the only place that I have ever worked at where everyone has bought in to the model for customer commitment. The hardest thing for any company to understand is who they really are. We understand who we are and what we need to do. We also understand who our customers are and what they need. It sets this business apart from the others. Our tagline is ‘Strong’. It certainly fits our equipment but it also fits our parts and service departments and our employees. Because we are strong in these respects, we can build stronger relationships with our customers moving forward.”

The company commitment to customers isn’t transactional, says Doug Hacker, the company’s newest national sales representative. “Since starting here, I have been most impressed with the ability that we have to build relationships with our clients.  Everyone here has great passion for going above and beyond to meet and exceed the expectations of customers. When a customer calls and needs a part for a machine, not only is that customer a priority for the team member working with that person, the need becomes everyone’s number one priority. Before starting with this company, I had known the Smith family for years. Since starting with the company, I feel like I am now part of the family. It really is a unique experience.”

Learn more about this Elizabethtown, Kentucky-based company at

This article originally appeared in the May-June 2018 issue of Pro Contractor Rentals magazine, © 2018 Direct Business Media