Taking the Pressure Off

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

(Attributed to Lao Tzu)

You can be forgiven for thinking that what’s actually happening in the above proverb is that a fisherman is giving away his craft, his skill-set. His livelihood. Why would anyone want to teach someone else their specialist craft so they could do it themselves? Wouldn’t it be more profitable to be the sole supplier, and everyone buys from you?

One New Zealand hydraulics hose replacement company is challenging this idea.

They’re called BOA Hydraulics. Just like the constrictor in their logo. The boa constrictor, they say, is the “powerful, big, fast, yet flexible king of pressure.”

“The boa constrictor, they say, is the “powerful, big, fast, yet flexible king of pressure.”

The company has a long history spanning three generations. Started by Neville Boakes in 1963, the company originated as an auto electrical business. Several evolutions and name-changes of the business led it to become an automotive electrical parts distributor, and by 2014, the company completed its evolution to hydraulic hose and fittings. A name change to BOA Hydraulics in 2016 was the final part of the transformation. They are now located in Silverdale, north of Auckland.

A mobile truck set-up.

Both Simon and Greg Boakes have been with the business through its various incarnations.

“We’ve always been pretty progressive, in that we’ve wanted to find a way to greatly increase productivity, and put more money back into the pockets of hard-working New Zealanders,” says Simon Boakes, Director of BOA.

Since early 2000, Simon and co-Director, Greg, have had an ear out in the hydraulics industry. With over 55 years’ collective experience, they heard one common message, over and over, which was that contracting businesses, particularly in the forestry and civil industries, felt they were being penalised with downtime — that moment your digger blows a hydraulic hose and you’re sitting there in the middle of nowhere, nursing a tepid cuppa, waiting for the hose doctor to arrive. Clients were saying this could take up to four hours, depending on the location.

The losses due to downtime in these industries can be huge. Four hours of non-productivity is massive in terms of lost income. The contractor still needs to pay their staff for that time. BOA have calculated that the forestry industry is bleeding in excess of $130m annually in lost productivity. This equates to 800 + forestry crews losing 10 to 15 hours per month at an average cost of $1200 per hour.

“A common thing we’d hear from the business owners is that they felt they were being ripped off, in that they couldn’t see the value in outsourcing their hydraulic repair and maintenance work, and then receiving a bill for $700 to $1500, especially when this work was being done, over and over again,” says Simon.

Replacing a hose onsite.

Over time, BOA’s vision was to offer a hydraulic repair and maintenance solution, giving life to the slogan ‘hydraulic uptime’.

“The idea of ‘hydraulic uptime’ came about as a way of trying to get clients to think of managing their own hydraulic repairs as ‘uptime’ rather than focusing on the loss of time as has traditionally been experienced,” says Simon.

“So we give them the capability to fix everything themselves, with a container onsite or a setup on the back of a ute, and provide machinery, as in the crimping machine, the cut-off saw and the hoses and fittings, to suit their range of equipment. Then we provide training around it so we give them that capability to assemble their own hoses onsite,” Greg explains.

“When a machine is down it’s obviously not making money; we’re about providing a solution right at the need, when there’s a breakdown, instead of waiting maybe two hours. It also depends how remote they are. In some cases we’ve managed to reduce a repair from four hours to half an hour”, he says.

The result is that companies using this BOA model have reduced ‘downtime’ to 20 minutes, about the length of time it takes to replace a basic hydraulic hose. One of the key factors in this model is training, the passing on of BOA’s own specialist knowledge to the contractor so they can do it themselves perpetually.

“To assemble a hose is relatively simple,” Greg explains. “Not to say that the decisions around what parts and equipment is simple, but if you already have those parts and the right machinery, it’s not difficult to learn how to assemble a high-quality replacement hose. The main thing is that you use high-quality hose and fittings, such as YOKOHAMA, original supplier to Hitachi, Komatsu and Kobelco to name a few, and follow the correct process and do things right.”

A BOA on-site servicing container, of particular use to remote industries such as forestry and civil projects where hose repair “downtime” can be anywhere upwards of 3-4 hours. The crew can replace or repair their hoses themselves right away.

If we briefly return to our fish analogy, BOA are setting other companies up for self-sufficiency. There’s the initial investment in the training and gear then, once everything is set up, if a hose blows suddenly you have one of your own trained staff members onsite to repair the hose. No need for a series of callouts to a hose doctor, with significant ongoing costs.

They say one of the strategies in the early days was to get contractors to understand how to factor in the cost of downtime.

There’s currently no formal certification to be able to assemble and replace hydraulic hoses. Each company has its own process for training and quality control. BOA prides itself on detailed training and systems, making sure companies are confident in the whole process and assisting with on-going training where required.

“We’ve developed a downtime calculator, that anyone can access on the www.boa.co.nz website. A lot of guys, they look at the price of a hose, which can be frightening enough, but they hadn’t really stopped to calculate the cost of downtime,” says Greg.

“Contractors thought there wasn’t much of an alternative for them, so that’s probably why they hadn’t calculated it, and everyone just gets the hose doctor onto it,” Simon explains.

He says that the early adopters of the model were clients that had felt most impacted by downtime and were looking for an alternative. They began to understand ‘machine uptime’ was central to their ongoing success.

“They didn’t want to be beholden to someone else. Their whole operation might stop. As we show our clients the BOA model, and give them case stories of what our adopters are doing and the possible opportunity, the light bulbs start to turn on.”

Greg explains that out of the model, other interesting changes have occurred within the businesses. One example is that health and safety policies have become more robust for some businesses. Since they are now their own hose repairers, they don’t have the worry of contractors attending their site, risking health and safety.

“The other advantage of self-sufficiency is if the hoses on a machine look a bit raggy, there is a preventative aspect to it. The guys are more likely to maintain the machines with the equipment onsite increasing machine uptime.

“The autonomy thing is a bit bigger than even we initially thought of. We are learning all the time,” says Greg.

“We’re not a franchise. We never say ‘you MUST buy our products’. But we want there to be no reason for our customers to move on to other suppliers for their hoses and fittings,” Greg explains. We show our customers love; they always come first, hence the reason our offer is so different.

“We’re selling them a concept and through that whole process they become quite attached to us.”

The other challenge BOA have encountered is that some contractors have had to ‘sell’ the idea of assembling their own hoses to their staff, who might see it as another task they have to take on, on top of their normal day job. However, once they experience the simplicity and speed of the fix, it’s actually an empowering thing to acquire that new skill.

A set-up for forestry work, typically in hard to get to or remote areas.

Simon explains that there are a number of considerations to support customers’ staff. A merit system could be rolled out in future, rewarding the staff member who replaces X amount of hoses with product, or a reward system.

It’s apparent that Simon and Greg are interested in side-stepping the usual route to business rules..

While forestry is the main target for this business model — since the remote nature of that industry leaves it vulnerable to downtime — BOA are moving more into civil work. Although not quite as remote, civil contractors might work across multiple sites.

“Forestry has absolutely been our growth area. We’ve just started getting civil on board last year. This year we’ve got a huge amount of forestry work to do,” Simon explains.

“Civil is very different, it’s often very close to town, so their downtime may be two hours, not four.

“They can have a number of sites, hence a mobile facility is in the pipeline. We designed and produced an interim model last year, and we are thinking of offering that as a rental product. That will be a nice entry-point for some of our clients. They will own the inventory. The set-up could be towed to the site, and then they are ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”

And just when you think you’ve come to the end of the innovation, there’s more.

BOA has developed an app to help with all of the issues around self-sufficient hose construction.

“This is a seriously exciting release for us. We have trialled version one and we named it the BOAhub, giving clients a hub of information for ordering, inventory management and asset control.”

“It will do the basic ordering and reordering of inventory, but you can actually digitally make a hose on it with the right fittings. It will create a little image and do all the auditing and quality control, and locate the hose and fittings on the piece of equipment being fixed. When a hose has a life expectancy of 5000 hours, the app will flag that the hose is due to be changed.

It’s nearly ready to hit the market and will give us the opportunity to capture smaller guys too.”

The BOA guys are full of energy. The enthusiasm for their model is palpable. In order to make all of this work, they’ve assembled a hell of a team. Marketing has been a huge part of getting the ideas to the client, and they’ve brought in Simon Leitch, formerly of Icebreaker, to manage how to communicate and broaden the BOA brand.

That strategy will oversee a global approach in 2019, with Australia, in particular, in their sights.

A large container set-up onsite in a civil contractors yard.

The Boakes muse about the changes they have seen take place in the businesses that have taken on the BOA solution. Some of the changes are an unexpected by-product of self-sufficiency. Businesses report immediate improvement, even, in the morale of contractors who are no longer sitting around with that tepid cuppa.

It seems that to teach a man to fish is a great business model after all

CAM Magazne, February 2019