Russ Ward

Dirty Little Elevator Secrets

Elevator secrets mean more than you think, if you are in the process of buying an elevator for a building project. You need help! But despite pushing the help button none is to be found because there are dozens of dirty little elevator secrets the major elevator companies don’t want you to know about.

That should be no surprise, after all the elevator industry is more cloaked in darkness than the Illuminati or the New World Order. They tend to hide what they do and lurk in the fog regarding important items like: costs, timelines and motives. So, in this blog post I will shine some light on just two of the biggest elevator secrets. You will also be given tips on how to shed some much needed light yourself on an industry that desperately needs it.

But first, why do they hide the information? Let me tell you, it is not an evil plot devised by a cat stroking Bond villain. It is a more mundane motive. Money. If you, the consumer, are not given clear factual information, the likelihood is you will make poor decisions regarding vertical transportation. Also, you will become more reliant on the elevator company itself for the limited facts that are available. So your decisions will be made with few and skewed facts and that will ensure you bleed money and they get richer. The result is overall lifetime cost of an elevator becomes much higher than advertised. So let’s get started with just two elevator secrets.

Elevator Secret 1 – Profit Motive

The first of many elevator secrets is the real profit for the major elevator companies is based on keeping you under their thumb regarding a maintenance contract. Otis in a recent SEC filings said, “New Equipment and Service, which, for the year ended December 31, 2019, contributed 43 percent and 57 percent of our net sales, and 20 percent and 80 percent of our total segment operating profit, respectively.”

Did you get that? That means is that new equipment or elevator sales while important is no where near as profitable as the maintenance. And to keep the money rolling in, unknowing customers are being pushed into making decisions that increases the profit of the elevator company through the maintenance contract not the elevator itself. How do they do this?

Being Sold Up

The vast majority of people that ride in an elevator don’t give it a second thought. The doors opens, they walk in, push a button and go up. They do not care about the mechanical means of conveyance at all. But, selling up to a different type of elevator conveyance can make a bigger profit for elevator companies through the maintenance agreement. So…they push specific elevator types that increase the maintenance contract price. This is despite most riders or building owners not caring a wit about how they get from point A to point B.

So, when I personally speak to people that are being oversold on the type of conveyance it makes me a little steamed. Let me be blunt. If you are being sold a traction elevator (the kind with ropes) for a low-rise application you are most likely being oversold and more than likely being taken advantage of.

Look at the Math

Why? Because the long-term maintenance contract for a 3-stop hydraulic elevator is around $200 per month (depending on where and other factors). For a 3-stop traction it can be $600 or more per month (depending on where and other factors). Need more convincing? Do the math. The lifespan of a typical elevator is 20 years (240 months). With hydraulic maintenance cost around $200 a month, that is $48,000 over the lifespan of the elevator. A traction elevator on the other hand, at $600 a month is approximately $144,000 over the lifetime.

Now you know why they upsell unwitting customers on traction when often it is not needed. They will even discount the initial sales price on traction units to make less upfront as a way to garner longer, more profitable returns. A real quick note, hydraulic elevators are not inferior just less expensive to maintain. Also, this is not a screed against traction units. Sometimes they are needed. We just honestly assess your project and make recommendations rather than selling you up to something you don’t need.

Proprietary Parts and Elevator Secrets

But that is not the end of the elevator secrets and profit motives. When the light bulb goes off and you realize you have been duped into overpaying and try to get out of the contract so you can competitively shop it, you can’t. That is because part of that cheap up front price usually includes proprietary parts in the elevator system. In simple terms, proprietary parts makes it impossible for anyone (other than the elevator company you bought it from) to maintain it. You are stuck. The elevator with proprietary parts requires special tools programmed for your specific elevator. There is no advantage to these tools at all they are just the keys to a prison you cannot escape from.

There are also lots of other contractual tricks of the trade to keep you locked in as well; like auto-renewals. Auto renewals are common place with almost everything now-a-days. Phone service to online entertainment auto-renews all the time. But elevator maintenance contracts often auto-renew with an annual increase built in and if you miss the tiny renewal window, you can’t get out. The contracts are often multi-year (usually 5 years) and are very lopsided in exclusions and other factors.

Elevator Secret 2 – They Don’t Manufacture

The second of the dirty little elevator secrets is the major elevator companies don’t really manufacture elevators at all, at least not in the way we generally think of manufacturing. They do produce some components, but in real terms they are bundlers of other companies parts and pieces. They crate them, ship them and screw them together on site, but the elevator is not manufactured at all, and the parts they actually make are limited. Believe it or not elevator companies have admitted that the real “manufacturing” takes place at the jobsite.

Think about it this way, if General Motors only crated up parts and dropped them off at your front door, you would not consider them to be a manufacturer. That would be a preposterous notion. Then in cold or heat, rain or snow, a mechanic would meander to your house at their leisure and cobble all those parts together in a process that takes months in your driveway. You would laugh out loud if cars were “manufactured” that way. Yet that is what is done regarding elevators.

This truth reveals a couple of realities. The elevators they sell are screwed together with very little supervision, inspection or quality control in dark and cramped environs and in all sorts of challenging conditions. Also, the safety and quality of the elevators rests in a single inspection at the end of the process when they are either given a green light or a punch list of code violations to fix. If that one inspector, in one visit misses something, they just do. Also, the code inspector is not necessarily looking for fit and finish, just functionality and code compliance.

Why this is Important

Because traditional elevator companies just really gather elevator components from others, then anyone can buy those components and provide a better, truly manufactured solution. That’s what happens with a modular elevator. We purchase the same or comparable parts, and actually manufacture an elevator in a factory. It is much faster, greener and safer.

This is just a partial list and if specified or requested others can be used.

Inside a modular unit you will find the same parts because there are precious few elevator component producers. Where different parts are used, due to the level of regulation in the elevator industry, they are all high-quality. All must pass muster of regulating agencies and the elevator code. We just produce the product in a much better and smarter way.

What ultimately makes the difference is that modular elevators are actually manufactured in an assembly process. They are not pieced together in less than optimal working conditions. Imagine that! They are inspected daily for fit and finish. They are always plumb and square because checking quality is as easy as walking the factory floor. The units are produced horizontally so inspections are routine and daily.

Also, because it is manufactured you decide when it arrives. It is then shipped and is placed on-site. This ends workplace interruptions and the elevator is no longer holding up other’s work. They free up work space and the elevator is off the project’s critical path.

The set is less than a half a day. The startup less than a week. And get this, the elevator can be used for construction in some cases! A better elevator because the process is better. Same quality components, manufactured smarter.

So What Can I Do?

Below is an honest list of things to look out for on your next elevator purchase. However, it is a bit self-serving. We feel MEM is the best alternative for quality, safety and cost-effective vertical transportation. However, your decision must be made based on facts and below are some to consider. So, look over this info to avoid some of the dirty little elevator secrets and feel free to challenge us with questions about our process and products:

  • Realize elevator parts and components are largely the same company to company. Just because it has a specific nameplate does not make it better. I have walked the factory floor of component manufacturers producing all the same parts with logos being the only difference.
  • Look at other options and think outside of the box. It gets real easy to just do what you have done before or listen to the first sales pitch. The easy choice is not always the best. Modular may not be the best solution for you. Just consider it as an alternative.
  • Get advice from experts. True experts are willing to discuss the project, purpose, type, traffic patterns and how those determine the right elevator choice. You must be wary and not oversold!
  • Never buy an elevator with proprietary parts! Ever! Insist on non-proprietary parts throughout the elevator. Even if the price goes up it will save you money in the long run.
  • Read the maintenance contract. You will find a host of questionable clauses such as hidden annual increases. Also, loopholes will be through out that make it nearly impossible to get out of the deal. Don’t be afraid to shop maintenance before the buy. It is where the profit is.


Finally, consult, challenge and discuss. Biased? We are. But not regarding the conveyance type. We will be honest and fair. On our factory floor you will find hydraulic elevators and even roped hydraulic units as well to meet your needs. Our bias is based upon modular being a better way to produce elevators, not the elevator itself. We will recommend what you need and price anything else you want or have speced in.

If you are curious and would like more information just click the button below. In 24 hours we can produce a thumbnail price for any project. Remember with us there are no secrets! Just straight forward talk from people that care about you and your project that are highly experienced in the elevator industry.

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11 thoughts on “Dirty Little Elevator Secrets

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  3. Pingback: Dirty Little Elevator Secrets - Part II - Modular Elevator Manufacturing

  4. Scott

    Plus another secret is extremely crazy hourly rates they charge you and even bigger rip offs if they need overtime

    • Russ Ward
      Russ Ward

      The list of ways to rip people off is enormous. I guess I will have to write a follow up to this post. Merry Christmas!

  5. Scotty

    Real good advice on watching the maintenance contracts. Auto increases, auto renewal, exclusions, and even more. Thats not to mention the install and construction problems. Every time it got colder than 50 degrees they would pack up a go home. a 3 month install turned into 9 before we knew it. Crazy.

  6. Russ Ward
    Russ Ward

    Thanks for the comments. This post was made about real people that are tired of the tactics. We will always continue to a company you can rely on for a fair analysis. Just let us know if you have any questions.

    • Joe

      It’s not the components that are proprietary it’s the controller always ask for MXXXXXn or SXXXt any company can work on this eqmt so you can’t be tied to maintenance contract you can get bids when the maintenance expires from the installer and what you need to look for is when you get your maintenance make sure they stay the hr when their doing maintenance every month, the big companies are telling their mechanic to just get the paperwork signed and leave these guys have anywhere from a125 to a150 units to service in a month no way in hell your elevator is getting serviced , unless theirs an entrapment.

      • Russ Ward
        Russ Ward

        Yes the controller is a primary (and really only) difference between companies. If you get a unit with proprietary parts and special tools for the elevator maintenance costs go up and there is no real alternative. Then they can raise maintenance rates and you have no recourse. On the actual maintenance, it is not done monthly generally anymore and often times the maintenance agreement it will say “monthly or as needed”. As needed quickly becomes every quarter or two. If you think you are paying for monthly maintenance you are mistaken and if you want a real shock check the log book in the machine room. If they are even there, they are usually very blank. I had an elevator owner say that she changed the locks on the machine room door because she never saw the technician and wanted to see when he came. Months went by and no repairman showed up. When she got her bill for the maintenance they still had not shown up so she sued to get out of the contract.

  7. Diane C

    Jack – Don’t worry we all come to that moment when we know we have been had. I was a sucker that bought the 2 story traction. Never again. Don’t believe the big elevator companies for a second. MEM won’t steer you wrong. Good company!

  8. Jack Blake

    Maybe I am a bit naive, but this is shocking. I have been a victim of being sold up and never saw it coming. I always thought the elevator company was giving recommendations based on the need.

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