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Getting parts and service in a pandemic

By |  April 1, 2020
Getting service and support through a pandemic is easier said than done, but equipment suppliers, for their part, are doing what they can to deliver for customers. Photo: P&Q Staff

Getting service and support through a pandemic is easier said than done, but equipment suppliers, for their part, are doing what they can to deliver considering the constraints. Photo: P&Q Staff

While consumers continue to flock to the Costcos and Sam’s Clubs of the world for their precious toilet paper, some industry vendors are seeing an uptick in parts purchases as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Schurco Slurry, a slurry pump and parts provider, is among those experiencing a moderate rise in sales of key items.

“We had a talk about this as things started progressing at the end of ConExpo-Con/Agg,” says Will Pierce, vice president of engineering at Schurco Slurry, based in Jacksonville, Florida. “We expected we were going to see an uptick and some panic buying. It’s not going to the store and buying toilet paper, but rather the things that are going to keep you operational. You’re going to need an impeller or something like that.”

Jonathan Hart, vice president of Washington Rock Quarries in Puyallup, Washington, can relate to the purchasing approach Pierce describes. Based in hard-hit Washington state, Hart’s company already evaluated its parts inventory and asked itself this question: In the event of a worst-case scenario, what parts would be needed to carry the business through a tough two-week period?

“It’s things like screen media,” Hart says. “With certain spare parts like bearings, we’ve made sure we have at least a few extra on the shelf to get through in case it gets any worse than it is now.”

Washington Rock Quarries is trying to keep its added purchases within reason, though.

“It’s so we’re not going ‘out to the store and buying all the toilet paper,’” Hart says jokingly. “We’re just seeing if we have a two-week supply of something.”

Still, Hart suspects he’s not the only aggregate producer who’s rethinking the parts they have inventoried.

“Everything is still functioning on the same level here,” he says. “But I think you’re going to have that subconscious panic.”

Producer and contractor feedback

ConExpo Roundtable

Turner

With U.S. companies now practicing social distancing, some producers report vendors aren’t coming around like they did before the pandemic. Business isn’t necessarily interrupted for producers, but some say they have seen slight delays with vendors due to the world’s new constraints.

“We have seen a little bit of a downtick in our serviceability from dealers and vendors,” says Keaton Turner, president of Turner Mining Group, which is a nationwide contractor. “There’s been a real shortage of qualified technicians in the industry prior to this global virus pandemic. Throw this in the mix and you get a few people sick, and then it becomes a real problem.”

Turner Mining Group, for one, has not felt a tremendous impact on the supply side.

Still, companies like Turner Mining Group are used to seeing vendors show up to jobsites within 24 hours. Now, that timeline is more like 48 or 72 hours, according to Turner.

“We’re seeing [vendors] as close to face-to-face as allowed,” says Turner, who connected by phone with P&Q on March 30. “They still visit our sites and come out to service equipment. We haven’t seen a huge disruption in parts availability.”

Photo: Travis Wise

Wise

Travis Wise, vice president and general manager at Wingra Stone, has had a slightly different experience with vendors lately.

“Parts seem to be [available], but if you need face-to-face vendor interaction you run into problems with getting people to stop by,” says Wise, whose company is based in Wisconsin. “They’re doing a lot of online parts ordering and curbside service, which is good. But if you need somebody to come out and look at something, there’s not that regular interaction.”

The coronavirus hasn’t just impacted service, though. Not surprisingly, producers aren’t seeing the number of onsite sales calls they traditionally do.

“A lot of it’s been virtual – either email or phone,” says Ross Duff, vice president at Ohio-based Duff Quarry. “I really think that it’s going to allow some of your companies serving the aggregate industry to reevaluate how they conduct business. They may discover some efficiencies. They may be able to streamline the sales and service sector.”

Schurco’s experience

Photo: Will Pierce

Pierce

In the meantime, equipment suppliers continue to do what they can to support customers across the aggregate industry.

Like producers, vendors are doing what they can to practice social distancing. Schurco Slurry is a case in point.

“We’re lucky here in that everybody has hard-walled offices,” Pierce says. “We’re doing additional cleaning and not allowing outside visitation. Everybody in the office is maintaining their space. We issued a letter to everyone just saying to be cautious and safe.”

For those at Schurco Slurry who don’t regularly work within an office space, additional measures are being taken to keep them safe.

“We do have some collaborative workspaces where two or three people might be working on a single thing, but we’ve eliminated that,” Pierce says. “As long as it can be safely done, one person will do the job.”

As Pierce describes, the feeling at work has largely been business as usual.

“In our last two weeks, it’s more active than normal,” says Pierce, in a March 27 interview. “As far as a business effect, it’s been a ‘positive.’ As a wider thing, [the coronavirus] is a negative effect on the world. But we have seen an uptick in business.”

Pierce does, however, sense that producers have concerns about their vendors’ ability to deliver goods and services.

“A lot of our customer base is nervous about supply chain,” he says. “In California, they locked everybody down. It doesn’t matter who you are – you’re not going to work. I think a lot of customers are worried that is going to happen to their suppliers.”

Considering these strange times, many producers are being as proactive with their vendors as they can.

“We had a customer in Texas who had a pump go down and needed a repair,” Pierce says. “Normally, they would ask us to get them parts when we can get them. Instead, the response was: ‘Can you ship me a pump tomorrow?’ They didn’t want any possibility of there suddenly being a shutdown order.

“If we put that pump into a production schedule, it might take two or three weeks to go through all the steps,” Pierce says. “We drove it through and got it done quickly.”

That’s just one example, among many, of the customer urgency Schurco Slurry is experiencing.

“Everybody wants things to ship ASAP, and they’re paying extra to have it expedited,” Pierce says.


For additional P&Q coverage related to the coronavirus, visit our dedicated webpage.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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