Talking haul trucks, tailgates with Philippi-Hagenbuch’s Josh Swank

By |  August 27, 2020
ConExpo Roundtable


P&Q caught up with Josh Swank, vice president of sales at Philippi-Hagenbuch, to discuss 2020 equipment sales, 2021’s prospects and how aggregate producers can effectively navigate the economic downturn when it comes to their haul trucks.   

P&Q: What has the 2020 sales experience been like for you?

Swank: It’s been like a roller coaster. Through April, it was solid. It was as good as any year has been. And our clients were engaged, our prospects were engaged.

We had great meetings, great discussions [and] there was need. It was really a very nice year, and it was solid leading into ConExpo-Con/Agg.

ConExpo-Con/Agg came and went. The pandemic and lockdowns occurred, and we made it through March solid; we made it through April solid. I mean, we’re seeing all sorts of companies around the country and world that are having challenges. We were not experiencing that. We continued to get great sales.

As May hit, it just changed overnight. Sales just dried up – [it] became very, very quiet from a sales standpoint.

What hasn’t been quiet, though, is customer engagement. People are answering phone calls. They’re replying to emails. They’re calling in asking questions and requesting quotes – quote volume has not decreased.

The need is out there. People want to buy equipment, but they’re conserving their cash and they’re not placing orders. They want to. They have a need, and they’re communicating that. They just aren’t sure where the pandemic is going. And until there is some specific direction – that everybody has confidence and that it’s improving, or we’re edging back to normal – then I think it’s going to remain that way.

So we’re in a better position than a lot of companies. From that standpoint, we’re blessed. But it’s certainly a concern for the long run. The silver lining is, as I said, people continue to request quotes. They keep expressing interest, and projects keep occurring. Eventually, people will need to start spending again.

P&Q: On the customer level: Has 2020 become a year of ‘getting the most’ out of existing equipment, putting off purchases that were planned for the year? What about next year?

Philippi-Hagenbuch unveiled a new version of its Autogate tailgate specifically for off-highway trucks and roll-off containers that require a 100 percent positive seal. Photo courtesy of Philippi-Hagenbuch

A newer version of Philippi-Hagenbuch’s Autogate tailgate is specifically for off-highway trucks and roll-off containers that require a 100 percent positive seal. Photo: Philippi-Hagenbuch

Swank: I think it’s all of the above. I think some people are trying to get the most of their equipment. Some are just holding off on orders. Other people are holding off on expansion plans.

It’s just way too early to have any idea what 2021 is going to be like. I certainly would expect 2021 to be better than 2020. But we have too many factors involved to be able to make a good guesstimate with the pandemic and with the presidential race. [These are] significantly huge factors.

Either of those can go in multiple directions. Some directions would lead to a good environment within our industry, some would be devastating to our industry. So we will have to wait and see. I think it’s really a big combination between those two distinctively different situations.

P&Q: What impact does putting off a haul truck purchase automatically have on tailgate purchases? 

Swank: Well, the beauty of tailgates is to help people be efficient. In years when people aren’t buying new equipment because they don’t want to spend a half million [dollars]-plus on a new truck, they are trying to stretch as much as they can out of their existing fleet. If they don’t have tailgates on their fleet already, it can help them gain 15 to 20 percent additional payload on their existing [trucks]. It’s a very small financial investment that would typically pay for itself in 10 to 15 days.

In downturns when people aren’t buying new trucks, the tailgate really makes a lot of financial sense. In boom times when people are replacing their trucks and enhancing their truck fleets, [the] tailgate [is] next if you’re getting a brand new truck off the line. We can maximize payload right from the beginning. They’re already allocating capital upfront. A lot of times, people tie the tailgate into the truck financing. So it’s all financed together.

I believe as we get closer to fall that a lot of aggregate producers in our country are going to see it’s been a really good year. A good number of producers are going to be in a [better] position than normal when it comes down to it. It gets down to the last four months of the fiscal year. From every producer I’ve spoken with, their production this year has been awesome. With that, I think some prospects and clients will say it’s a good time to add tailgates to the trucks.

P&Q: What are some of your general messages to customers to help them prolong their equipment?

Swank: Well, good haul truck operators and good loader operators are so important. You need people who care. You can train anybody to do just about anything, but you can’t train somebody to care.

If they are driving the trucks without care or if they are loading the trucks without care, you’re going to have additional damage on those pieces of equipment. Damage is going to build up quickly, so you need people to care.

From a supervisor standpoint – depending on what the piece of equipment is – I say discreetly [to] watch as they use it for a few days. Then, create a training program to enhance it to make it more efficient, but [also] decrease some of the ways that the equipment might be used that could cause damage.

Generally, our industry is really, really safe. The people are very conscientious. So I don’t encounter those types of situations often. It’s very rare. But those would be my general recommendations.

P&Q: Is this economic downturn a reminder to producers about the value in things like quality equipment and the total cost of ownership concept?

Swank: I would think so. But I also think that the vast majority of the people in our industry are already focused on that. [With] contractors and construction companies, they maybe [are] not so much; they’re looking at the lowest cost, right? They’re just looking at price. Aggregate producers generally look at the best quality with the lowest total cost of ownership.

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About the Author:

Carly Bemer (McFadden) is a former Associate Editor for Pit & Quarry.

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