After arriving from Cuba, Osvaldo Gonzalez used the skills he had learned in his home country to repair trucks at Palmetto Ford.
By 1979, Gonzalez decided to open his own garage in Hialeah.
His sons, Jose “Corky” Gonzalez and Ubaldo Gonzalez, began helping out when they were youngsters. “We were always around here, fixing our own bikes and other things, and helping out our father,” Jose said.
As Jose and Ubaldo grew older, they spent more time at the repair shop. After classes ended in high school, both boys would give their father a hand, along the way learning to be mechanics and understanding how the business worked.
“When we started, we’d repair trucks, cars, motorcycles, anything,” Jose said. “But we had a very small lot, and two trucks filled up most of our space. We also realized that truck mechanics around here were a dime a dozen, and saw the opportunity to repair forklifts, which were more profitable,” he said.
In 1985, the elder Gonzalez bought the land they currently occupy on NW 62nd St., and began specializing in forklifts. Over time, Jose and Ubaldo took over the duties of running OJL as their father grew older and became ill.
Today Jose and brother Ubaldo own and run OJL Forklifts & Equipment in Hialeah, the family-owned company that grew from their father’s truck repair shop. The firm now specializes in selling, leasing and renting refurbished forklifts, complex hydraulic machines that are essential for moving cargo in commerce, industry and international trade. It also provides parts and repairs for forklifts throughout South Florida.
“We have a balanced business, buying used forklifts, refurbishing them and meeting an important need in the market,” Jose said. “We also repair forklifts and equipment for other companies, and sell pallet jacks and parts. When the recession struck and rentals went down, repairs and parts sales went up.” The company does not sell new forklifts.
The name OJL came from the first letter of Osvaldo and those of the first names of two former business associates who left the company.
Both sons were born and raised in Miami, attended Monsignor Edward Pace High School, and studied business administration at Miami Dade College and Florida International University. After college, both worked full time at the company.
On recent visit to OJL, the storage yard was chockablock with forklifts in a variety of brands and colors, completely surrounding the repair bays and office. Announcing the company’s presence was a large OJL sign perched about 20 feet in the air on the fully extended fork of a Hyster forklift. OJL has 11 employees, including the two owner-managers.
Forklifts come in different sizes and capacities, from about 3,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds, for lifting cargo containers.
“We have over 60 forklifts in the yard and about 87 are out as rentals or on lease,” Jose said. OJL also has three service vans for sales and rental equipment and for servicing other companies, plus a rollback truck for transporting forklifts.
“We deal in different brands and sizes, but the standard forklift has the capacity for lifting 5,000 pounds,” Jose said. “A new forklift of this type sells for about $26,000. Our refurbished forklifts — which have a one-year warranty — sell for about $14,000. There is a big price advantage for our customers, and the warranty is an important selling point.”
New forklifts can cost between about $20,000 and go up to $100,000 or more. At OJL, its refurbished forklifts can sell from between $6,000 or less to $30,000. “We work with all brands, but the most popular are Toyota, Caterpillar and Nissan,” Jose said.
Currently, the largest share or OJL revenues comes from rentals and repair work (for OJL equipment and other companies), followed by parts and sales.
For use in warehouses, forklifts must be powered by natural gas or batteries, according to government regulations. There are other types that use diesel for outside work, but OJL sells and refurbishes only gas-powered units.
To maintain its stock of forklifts, OJL buys from companies in Florida and all over the country. “We’ve learned not to buy forklifts from fertilizer or pickling companies, since the fertilizer granules and picking chemicals damage the metal parts on forklifts,” Jose said. “We look at forklifts in terms of hours used, rather than miles,” he said.
OJL short-term rentals can be for one day or more, while leases are for longer periods. Prices vary, depending on the type of equipment and the lease period. Typically, leasing a 5,000-pound capacity forklift can cost about $500 a month.
As part of OJL’s leasing contracts, the company delivers and recovers forklifts with its own rollback truck. “These forklifts can weigh three times more than a car, and we want to make sure the are delivered and returned in good condition,” Jose said. The company charges for these services.
After the recession, OJL saw impressive growth in its revenues — about 10 to 15 percent per year. They increased 22 percent in 2015 and are expected to “pass last year” in 2016, Jose said.
“Now we’re getting new business from small and mid-sized companies that never used a forklift before,” Jose said. “They’re discovering that forklifts are a great tool for improving their businesses.
“Some people even use them for changing light bulbs. Once they buy a forklift, they can’t live without it.”
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OJL Forklifts & Equipment
Business: Hialeah-based OJL Forklifts & Equipment Inc. sells, rents and leases refurbished forklifts that are the mechanical workhorses of industry, commerce and international trade. The family-owned company buys used forklifts that are in good condition from around the nation and refurbishes them. These rebuilt forklifts are in high demand because they provide a reliable alternative at prices well below new equipment. OJL also repairs forklifts and equipment for other companies and sells parts.
Founded: 1979 by Osvaldo Gonzalez.
Headquarters: 3701 NW 62nd St., Hialeah.
Owners and managers: Jose Gonzalez and Ubaldo Gonzalez, sons of the founder.
Employees: 11 (including the owners).
Customers: Warehouses, freight forwarders, lumber yards, companies handling empty shipping containers, marinas and construction companies in Miami-Dade and south Broward, plus companies as far south as Key West and as far west as Naples.
Source: OJL Forklifts & Equipment.