How dealers are shifting their approach to customer service

By |  July 25, 2019
Dealers who offer quality, steady service are more capable of adding to their equipment and parts sales and, in turn, maximizing their own profit margins. Photo courtesy of Telsmith.

Dealers who offer quality, steady service are more capable of adding to their equipment and parts sales and, in turn, maximizing their own profit margins. Photo courtesy of Telsmith.

Travis Wise cannot afford a machine to be down for days at a time without it getting the critical attention it needs.

When a machine is down or simply in need of regular maintenance, Wise sometimes requires an outside tech to step in and provide service. The dealers who regularly win Wingra Stone’s business are the ones capable of effectively and quickly servicing equipment.

“You can’t be waiting hours on a callback for a down machine these days,” says Wise, vice president of operations at Wingra Stone. “Generally most dealers are pretty good, but there are some who are a lot better than others.”

As an example, Wingra Stone is currently running a Kleemann crusher that, like all portable plants, requires regular maintenance. Wingra Stone partners with Roland Machinery, a dealer based in the Upper Midwest, for service on the crusher.

Wise recently called Roland Machinery on a Friday evening hoping a service tech could pay Wingra Stone a quick visit, and the response time was exactly what Wingra Stone needed.

“They were out there 7 o’clock Monday morning,” Wise says.

Of course, the service needs of Wingra Stone are by no means unique to this one producer. Most producers are currently pinched for people, particularly those who possess the technical skills to quickly get an out-of-service machine back up and running.

Unfortunately, some of the most knowledgeable quarry workers have already retired. Others are nearing retirement. Regardless, the shortage of personnel complicates service matters greatly.

“Simply put, it’s hard to find qualified people who are comfortable disassembling a crusher or vibrating screen,” says Larry Hetzel, owner and CEO of Rock Machinery, a dealer based in Wisconsin. “Let’s face it, a mistake would be costly to all involved.”

To avoid costly mistakes, producers increasingly turn to dealers to provide service that their own internal experts historically provided. The shift in approach undoubtedly puts new pressure on dealers to keep equipment up and running. But the ongoing labor shortage also creates opportunities for dealers to capitalize on a producer’s dire service needs.

“One of the good things is it can be fairly steady work,” says Jeff Gray, vice president of sales and marketing at Telsmith. “Having good, steady service adds to parts sales and equipment sales. It can help the dealership maximize profit margin.”

Then and now

John Garrison, vice president of sales at Superior Industries, has been around the aggregate industry long enough to see the general approach to equipment service change. According to him, the last recession was a turning point that shaped the current landscape.

“There were a lot of producers who had to reduce people at their sites, and as the market picked back up it was hard to find people,” Garrison says. “That’s why dealers have expanded service programs and they even come in to maintain equipment.”

Service contracts are more prevalent, too, due to the labor shortage producers are experiencing.

“A lot of this has rolled back to the dealers,” Garrison says. “Dealers will sell service contracts that say they’re going to maintain this for me, say three times per year, and inspect this and that and make recommendations – say if you need cone liners changed on a Saturday.

“Four years ago, maybe the dealer had one service truck,” he adds. “Now, some have a whole fleet with techs.”

Some producers remain capable of handling the bulk of their equipment servicing tasks, but more producers seek out dealers to work on equipment these days, Garrison says.

“For spring startups, we have guys in the field every week in support with our dealers,” he says. “Or, our dealers are hiring us to come out.”

Trend setters

The nation’s top aggregate producers are arguably the ones leading the change in approach, tasking dealers to take on a number of servicing responsibilities. And because of their size, top producers are leveraging their buying power to win a dealer’s favor.

“The Martin Mariettas of the world are operating the plant, but the upfront building of the plant and the back end of maintaining and taking care of the plant is now outsourced,” says Mark Krause, managing director of North America at McLanahan Corp.

“Then there’s the back end of parts on the shelf, predictability in the plant, and service trucks with technical people to go out and service the equipment,” Krause adds.

According to Krause, keeping a service truck on the road conservatively costs $300,000 per year. Some top producers, many of whom don’t have adequate expertise in-house, are unwilling to bear that burden.

“The Vulcans (Vulcan Materials) and Martins (Martin Marietta) don’t want that,” Krause says. “They want to go to Caterpillar and the Cat dealer – say Holt Cat in Texas – and have them dedicate an employee to San Antonio who comes to work for Martin Marietta any day. But they’re not a Martin Marietta employee, they’re a Holt employee.”

Krause wonders whether this approach to service will become the norm for crushing and screening equipment.

“Martin Marietta is especially trying this down in Texas on their other gear,” Krause says. “They’ll come in and audit their equipment to make sure it’s taken care of.”

According to Hetzel, today’s dealers must possess a high degree of application product knowledge to effectively service a customer’s aggregate processing equipment. But not every dealer possesses this knowledge.

“Application is about sizing equipment, troubleshooting a customer site and finding bottlenecks to improve product yield and production,” Hetzel says. “I think application is an area most do not understand in our industry. Dealers may know equipment features and benefits, but they must know how to apply process equipment by understanding crusher reduction ratios, sizing manganese liners, screen calculations and wash equipment.”

Additionally, Hetzel stresses that dealers must understand aggregate product gradations and specifications.

“The end user generally knows their product requirements but often needs help on how to get there,” he says.

What’s ahead

Although the typical relationship between today’s dealers and producers is different than the dynamic of the past, there’s no telling how the two will collaborate going forward.

Perhaps dealers will take on even more service responsibilities in the years ahead, but there’s always the chance producers secure their own experts and revert to a more traditional approach to service and maintenance.

“The pendulum swung from the local quarry doing everything themselves to the other way,” Krause says. “Over time we’ll find our way back to a happy medium. I think that’s the way life and business works. Eventually, you end up in the middle place.”

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