How Distributors are Dealing with COVID-19

Success in the pump distributor world in the fight against coronavirus is measured just like any other industry these days, it seems.

“It’s really just being able to be pliable and be nimble in a scenario that is constantly changing,” said Chris Campo, the vice president of sales for Seacoast Supply, Inc., a family-owned and operated New England distributor of products such as mechanical seals and lubricants for high-performance equipment critical to plant operations.

Campo said during a recent interview that different end user companies had different rules for distance and visitation, but if Seacoast employees could visit them, they would. However, some problem-solving has been left to phone calls and computer video chats.

“We’re responding to those inquiries and those needs,” Campo said. “I think in our business, the pump and system and industrial industry, it really can’t be done 100 percent over email, over the phone or behind a computer. We have to put our hands on something, our eyes on something. If we need to take a measurement or put a wrench on something, it’s impossible to do that 100 percent from behind a computer or over the phone.”

So, the company puts a higher priority on simple tasks such as using personal protection equipment (PPE), keeping a safe distance and not having extra human interaction. For example, it could be with one point of contact at a plant instead of the entire maintenance team.

“You try to map out your day and keep everything concise and simple, whatever it takes to get the job done that day,” Campo said. “We’re trying to be respectful of our end users. And, this is a situation that is changing every day from every standpoint. We’re going to keep being pliable, try to be nimble and change as the situation changes.”

Campo said industry success depends on which distributor you talk to. All could have a different answer. In Seacoast Supply’s case, its end users are mostly in water treatment, utilities and power generation.

“The turbines are going to keep spinning, the pumps are going to continue to run and wastewater treatment is high in demand,” Campo said. “Everybody’s at home using water. From that standpoint, we’re seeing things stay very stable.”

Chemical manufacturing also appears stable, Campo said, but oil and gas are struggling.

How Distributors Help OEMs Improve Relationship with Customers

The pandemic has also caused companies to take a better look at their lines of communication.

“Let’s talk to our folks in customer service, talk to folks in tech support and talk to contacts in shipping and receiving,” Campo said. “Let’s make sure we are all on the same page here. Let’s do that with the OEMs and let’s do that internally as well. Let’s look at our stock levels.”

Make sure your important stock is in as abundant of supply as it can be. For Seacoast Supply, that is lubricants. Check shipping policies. One important question to be asked is if all shipments should be overnighted.

“End users, talk to your distributors, people like me,” Campo said. “Talk to your field reps and make sure you are on the same page. Go through your stock level at the end user level and say, ‘Let’s look at our critical equipment.’ Do we need to have some redundancy here and have some backups on the shelf in case this piece of equipment goes down.”

What’s Next for the Industry?

Campo said that his company is trying to do what’s best for the current scenario today, staying fair to the employees and also the company.

“We still have folks that need us,” Campo said. “We don’t have to make any extremely hard decisions yet.”

There have been some hard conversations as of March 27, Campo said. Nothing has been enacted, but some ideas include banding together the field and sales staffs. Because of sales fluctuations, one rep could be on the low end and another on the high end. The objective is to try and band together as a team to support each other from a financial perspective, but this has not been done yet.

“Our end users really rely on us, especially these critical industries,” Campo said. “We have some maintenance engineers saying that you can’t shut down. If we need you, you have to be here. I think a lot of these guys would take the shirt off their back for their customers.”

But the pandemic will strain operations.

“Inevitably, it’s going to wipe out some business,” Campo said. “The dust is going to settle and there’s going to be some businesses that don’t exist anymore.

“This is a bit of wishful thinking, but I hope it has some merit. We’re looking forward to coming out of the other side of this situation and my prediction is there will hopefully be a boom in production. I think people are going to look in their operations from an improvement standpoint. I think they’re going to make capital improvements and examine systems and redundancies.

“You can’t keep all this pent-up energy so long and not have it explode on the other end. I think we’re hoping is that everybody comes back and business is booming.”

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