How dealers are working through the pandemic

By |  June 25, 2020
Photo: Kemper Equipment

Working through the pandemic means masking up, when necessary, like Kemper Equipment’s Greg Donecker. Photo: Kemper Equipment

The first half of 2020 was, in many ways, a unique and unprecedented challenge for every industry. The aggregate industry certainly was not immune from the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

An economic slowdown in the first half of the year impacted the supply chain between manufacturers and producers, leaving equipment dealers caught in the middle and forcing key adjustments to their operations.

“This pandemic has pushed us all to think beyond the status quo and move our businesses into different modes of operating,” says Stephenie Davis, president and CEO of Florida-based Davis Industrial.

Adjusting and adapting

Fortunately, Davis Industrial – and much of the aggregate industry across the United States – was deemed essential from the onset of the coronavirus.

Also at the onset, uncertainty in the supply chain forced producers to proactively order equipment and parts in advance of any workflow shutdowns. While unemployment numbers have climbed in recent months, Davis Industrial actually hired additional help to meet demand.

Kemper Equipment, a Pennsylvania-based supplier of crushing, screening and conveying equipment, also hired additional employees to meet anticipated higher demand for when the nation opened back up. But while Kemper Equipment and others remained open, workplace adjustments were made.

Davis Industrial adopted recommended precautions from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and altered employee scheduling to accommodate social distancing measures. Kemper Equipment has taken a similar approach.

“Kemper Equipment has implemented COVID-19 guidelines, including social distancing among employees, staff working remotely and additional personal protective equipment and precautions in our manufacturing and warehouse facilities,” says Greg and Sheri Donecker, owners of Kemper Equipment. 

Indiana-based Belt Tech Industrial also adopted workplace precautions while remaining open.

“Working through the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges,” says Belt Tech CEO Jordan Russell. “Many of our people are working from home. We are striving to protect our service and sales personnel as they are still traveling, [and] we are also making an effort to manage customer relationships when many companies are not allowing vendors on site.”

Despite the challenges and workplace adjustments, equipment suppliers found new ways to provide for their customers while still adhering to recommended health and safety guidelines.

“Most, if not all, of our customers are still operating,” Russell says. “However, most [customers] are only allowing employees on site if they have an immediate need, so our sales team is relying more on digital communication and phone calls to service customers.”

When it comes to getting parts or equipment to customers, dealers have found workarounds there, as well.

“We are implementing creative ways to provide continued service to our customers, such as parts delivery and curbside service,” says Mark Strader, general manager at Kentucky-based Bramco-MPS. “We are also offering options to service hours [and] working during off-hours in an effort to keep human [contact] to a minimum.”

Overall, the end goal of providing equipment sales and service to producers remains the same for dealers. But the way dealers went about their business took them into uncharted territory.

“I think overall with our customers I am seeing a cautiously resilient trend,” Davis says. “Almost all of our customers are continuing to operate as an essential business and doing what they can to protect their personnel as best they can.”

Photo: Davis Industrial

Although tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the industry’s dealers – including Davis Industrial – have added personnel to keep up with demand. Photo: Davis Industrial

Looking ahead

As aggregate customers continue to produce and explore equipment, they, too, have changed the way they operate.

“In the current COVID-19 environment, capital expenditures have been mostly frozen in the short term,” Russell says. “Rental purchase option requests have increased, as producers seem to want a more short-term commitment until we all see how the long-term economy is affected.”

While no one can predict what the economic road ahead looks like, Russell believes there are reasons for optimism when looking at the second half of 2020.

“We continue to see strong sales of aggregate out of the quarries, so the demand is still there,” Russell says. “We are predicting once things open up, the capex funds will be released and it will be a mad rush to spend in this calendar year.”

Yet another reason for optimism in the months ahead is the potential for legislation on infrastructure – specifically at a time when the industry could greatly benefit from an economic boost to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.

Steve McGough, chairman of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), called on the Trump administration and Congress this spring to stabilize state transportation programs and enact a multi-year plan that dramatically increases federal highway, bridge and public transportation investment.

“As ARTBA has reported each night since mid-March, nearly all of the nation’s governors have declared transportation construction work as essential,” McGough says. “However, we can only keep operating as long as the resources exist to pay for needed transportation improvements.”

In the meantime, dealers and the industry as a whole continue to rally together to support one another during these trying times.

“We’ve been on many calls with suppliers and customers throughout the country as we check in on each other and the industry,” says Greg and Sheri Donecker. “For such a large industry, it’s a tight-knit group. That will give us strength moving forward.”

Like the Doneckers, Davis is inspired by how the aggregate industry has united over the last few months.

“We are in a pretty incredible industry, one that on the surface wouldn’t seem to be overly empathetic or compassionate, but the way we have all banded together to share ideas, information, resources and our time is really inspiring,” Davis says.

As the industry looks to the months ahead, the general attitude among dealers is of the “glass half-full” variety.

“I am excited and cautiously optimistic to see if things in general get back to normal for the second half of the year,” Russell says. “If so, I believe the industry in general will be in good shape moving into 2021.”

Zach Mentz

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