I recently signed on to a 5 year Lease agreement for two high-end GPS receivers and software. My first purchase for GPS was way back in 1993. I started off in 1991 renting GPS equipment from a dealer, then directly from two other surveyors who weren’t using theirs every day.
I was just starting out my business out of my house and had mostly small surveys. I had bought a new $7000 total station, and used software for $2000 earlier and was just picking up some larger boundary jobs, and aerial control point surveying. So, the GPS intrigued me and looked to be a great time saver for me on the large surveys.
Starting Out With Rental Equipment
We started out renting the equipment for a couple of days a month. That involved driving to the other two surveyors offices (2-3 hours away) and picking up the equipment. Then we ran the sessions when the GPS signal was best, usually mid-day for about 2-4 hours. This system worked great for us. (Only about 3 to 4 surveyors in the state had GPS at that time. One guy had 3 units and spent $100,000 and it stayed in his closet. He needed a tax write-off. Wild.)
When I expanded my business, I decided to take the plunge and purchased two Dual-Frequency GPS receivers for about $65,000. This was “bleeding edge” in 1993. Payments were less than I was paying each month to rent the equipment from others so it was “a deal” as I told the Accountant as I was up to about 4 to 5 days a month at that time, probably around $300-400/day plus pickup and return.
Purchase Equipment after Proving the Need
Having the equipment in my office gave me many more opportunities to use it, which I have since then. At times I needed more than two units, so I went back to the fellow surveyors and once again rented their equipment. On one job I had 6 units in the field. Fun times. I still rent extra equipment today on larger jobs, even within the last 2 months.
While employees/subcontractors are still the largest expense we have, equipment costs and maintenance of that equipment are certainly among the most expensive outlays every month.
Don’t Let Expensive Equipment Stay in the Office
My advice to those just starting out today is to rent until you are spending two times what your payment would be, maybe more. Then you purchase. It is very frustrating to see that equipment in the office and not out working for you. (It’s much worse than that gym membership you buy every January and don’t go use it.)
If you have a good rental arrangement, maybe continue to do that till you have made enough to buy the equipment outright. There are some good rental opportunities out there now, as well as some Leases which allow you to get out if times change.
Don’t let ANY of your high-priced equipment sit in the closet; put it to work for you. If not in the field with your crew, maybe talk to some other surveyors and offer them a good daily rate when they need more units. Also, many of us downsized during the last few years and may have GPS, Total Stations, Robotic Total Stations, or Levels we’d like to rent for longer terms. To do that, check out KWIPPED.com. They’ve built an online equipment rental marketplace where you can list your idle equipment for rent – a sort of Uber for equipment rental with an entire category dedicated to surveying equipment.
Keep an Emergency Cash Fund
And, why buy $30,000 equipment with a $850/month payment for 4 years when you could rent once a month only when you need it. Don’t get locked into long term until you KNOW that you’ll use it every day. Business cash needs come on so quickly today, so, keep your cash reserves to cover those unexpected times.
Keith Maxwell is a Professional Land Surveyor and Civil Engineer who has been in the consulting business since 1989 in Alabama. He has been on the bleeding edge of a lot of survey technologies during that time.