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Star Equipment Celebrates 55 Years Serving Iowa

by: Debra Wood
For more than half a century, Star Equipment has provided construction machinery to contractors throughout Iowa. While the past few years have thrown a few curve balls – including the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and supply-chain challenges – the company has thrived and grown.

“We’re still doing the same work we always have, that is to provide high-quality products at a reasonable price,” says Bruce Bowman, President of Star Equipment in Des Moines. “Despite not adding brick and mortar branches, we continue to grow every year, in spite of the economics.”

Bruce explains that companies must continue to grow and adapt to offer value to customers. Yet, manufacturers remain high priced.

The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, and inflation have all played havoc with American businesses and the economy. Star overcame those challenges and continues serving the construction industry stronger than ever.

“The way we treat people is how we stayed afloat and growing,” says Bruce, attributing the company’s success during these difficult times to his father’s wisdom to not look back, but look forward.

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Brett Bowman, Vice President of Service for all of Star Equipment’s branches, called his father a “visionary, who sometimes was a little ahead of his time. He always looked to how to save the contractor money with the right equipment.”

That’s something that remains important today, as labor shortages present new challenges to the equipment and construction industries. Yet, construction activity continues in the community.

“What allowed us to get stronger and stay stronger is the work ethic we have in the Midwest,” Bruce says. “The folks around here work hard and take care of each other as a family.”

Overcoming the Challenges
Iowa considered Star an essential business during the pandemic, which the Bowmans were grateful for, as other states shut down construction for a period of time.

During the pandemic, some employees retired, and some customers stopped coming into the Star stores in person. The company sanitized the equipment before sending it out.

“COVID was tough,” Brett says. “We had to work hard to remain strong. We did not miss a day to COVID.”

However, Brett suggests it’s harder to find people who want to come into work rather than working from home post-pandemic. The company actively participates with several training programs for young people learning trades. “We try to convince them working with their hands is not bad,” Brett says.

Supply chain issues persist, including for parts to keep existing machines running and for new equipment. Some older machines cannot be quickly repaired due to a lack of replacement parts. The company still has unfilled orders. Star stopped selling used rental fleet equipment to ensure it maintained a sufficient rental fleet, explains Brad Bowman, Manager of Star’s Cedar Rapids and Waterloo locations.

Bruce anticipates the challenges such as supply chain issues and difficulty finding and retaining dedicated employees will continue for the next few years. Those shortages are starting to work themselves out, but things will not be back to normal by late 2024, he says. Meanwhile, customers must plan ahead for their equipment needs.

Star has added mini-skid loaders, which can be used inside to remove debris during renovations, to its rental options. It also has added aluminum screeds. The company continues to look for niche products to add to its fleet.

While supply chain issues limited supplies, contractors often held onto their rentals fearful that when next needed, it might not be available.

“We are getting our rental fleet built up to where it was before the pandemic,” Bruce says. “That allows our customers to come in and get iron and to refresh their equipment.”

Setting Star Apart from Others
“What separates us from everybody else is the service we provide,” Bruce says.

Founder Max Bowman liked to say, “Success revolves around the service you give”, Bruce recalls.

“We are consistent about our pricing and how we treat people,” Bruce says, “and those things bring people back.”

Real people answer the phone at Star. However, customers can still place orders via text or email.

Star continues to embrace new technologies, such as machine control, and learns the ins and outs to train their customers on how to use the technology on their new machines.

“Manufacturers are updating and continually improving technology, and we are adapting,” Bruce says. Star sells a variety of Topcon equipment.

“Telematics has helped us,” says Brett, explaining that the machines can remotely send engine diagnostic information to the Star service team to help with troubleshooting problems, so the repair truck leaves with the correct parts. Telematics also helps the service team find the equipment needing service.

“Technology is going to continue to increase to make the machines smarter to help diagnose problems ahead of a big issue,” Brett says.

Evolving to Meet Current Needs
Max and Beverly Bowman and long-time friend Roger Bills founded Star Equipment in 1968, as a supplier of light to general construction equipment. Max had sold skid loaders for a different company during the mid-60s when he decided to start his own firm.

In 1969, Star added air compressors to its inventory, then added aerial lifts in 1972, and more pieces of equipment in 1978. During the ensuing years, the company grew to employ more than 90 employees.

“If it wasn’t for the people we employ, it would have been hard for Star to navigate and survive,” Brad says. “The good people we employ work hard. They are the backbone. If we did not have them, we would not be anywhere.”

Star operates branches in four Iowa locations that cover the entire state: the original location in Des Moines; Cedar Rapids, opened in 1987; Waterloo, opened in 1985; and Ames, opened in 2008. The company continues to look for growth opportunities, says Bruce.

“We’ve continued to expand at our original location,” Bruce says. “We have bought additional property, another 2.5 acres to alleviate congestion in the building.”

Max and Beverly’s three sons now own and manage the company, following the tenets established by their father. Brett says that he and his brothers get along well.

“The lessons he taught us through our lives are never far from our thinking,” says Brad.

Tribute to Star Equipment Founder Max Bowman
The three Bowman brothers fondly recall their father and their involvement in the company, dating back decades. Bruce Bowman recalls picking up nuts and bolts that mechanics had dropped and putting them back in the bolt bin to avoid wasting a good product.

“He loved this industry and the people in the industry,” Bruce says. “Over the years, he helped a lot of customers who are still loyal to us.”

Bruce recalls his father serving as a mentor to he and his brothers, working side by side.

“He instilled values we still work with today,” says Brad Bowman. “That includes selling quality products at reasonable prices and ensuring the customer is treated right and knows how to use the product once they get it.”

Photos courtesy of Star Equipment

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