In this exclusive Q&A, Larry Watson, VP of Sales for Hunter Engineering, shares his thoughts on how COVID-19 and managing business through a pandemic has changed Hunter Engineering, and the industry as a whole.
The aftermarket industry, and the world as a whole, is undergoing a time of immense change. What are your thoughts on how COVID-19 has impacted the industry over the past several months?
The pandemic drove down car counts drastically through mid-April. From that point on, we have started to see a slow and steady resurgence of vehicle traffic based on some of our cloud-based equipment that is able to measure overall vehicle activity trends within a facility. As vehicle traffic continues to recover, we are seeing our most creative customers focus on new and innovative ways to do business. We have certainly seen an interest in more efficient autonomous-based solutions and digital based inspection results.
Hunter Engineering has remained open during the pandemic. What does your workplace look like today, and what will it look like going forward?
Hunter has been focused on the safety and wellbeing of our team members and customers as our top priority. We have taken aggressive action to provide a safe working environment for those who have remained at our facilities and have transitioned a large portion of the team to a work from home format. We are now slowly transitioning back toward more of our group in the office while still exceeding local guidelines and ensuring employee safety. Our plan is to continue to bring the rest of our team back from our work from home format as the local guidelines allow us to do so.
What have you learned about the way to do business during and aftermarket the pandemic, and how has Hunter adapted?
Our sales/service teams rapidly shifted toward the adoption of virtual tools and remote presentation capabilities to meet the challenges that the pandemic presented. We have really seen some wonderful use cases and creativity when it comes to serving our customers in a virtual way. We have also created a series of educational classes and customer assistance complimentary services that our team has been using to assist our customers with training and industry education remotely.
What tips and recommendations do you have for other aftermarket organizations on how to move forward safely and get back to business?
I would recommend that you take the time to understand what your customer desires and how they expect to be served in this new world. Staying nimble and being willing to try new things is key. We are definitely seeing technology and touchless solutions coming to the forefront.
What are you doing (or what have you been doing) to support customers during the pandemic?
Hunter has always been focused on doing our part to educate technicians and the industry as a whole. We have focused on ramping up our remote and virtual offerings to that end over the past few months. We are seeing that the industry is craving front counter and sales training as much as traditional technician training during these times. In addition, Hunter has remained open throughout the pandemic and has continued to provide timely local support to our customers so that we can ensure their equipment is working during this challenging time.
Tell us about thePAPR partnership with Dr. Delaney and Washington University – how it came about and what the result was of the partnership.
Hunter recently worked with Dr. Jennifer Delaney of St. Louis and a team of engineers from Washington University, MIT, Harvard, the Veterans Administration and a few others to create Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) for healthcare workers on the frontlines. Dr. Delaney developed the idea to build PAPRs from recycled continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. Luckily, we had a generous amount of donations and overwhelming participation from our field team and local medical communities around the country. We had special drives held in honor of the project in many states. All of these were voluntary and put together by great people at the local level. Once we get approval from the FDA, we will be able to make a number of these for our local medical facilities.
What are your general feelings and expectations for the aftermarket in the next 6 to 12 months?
We are extremely optimistic. During the recession in 2009 we experienced the aftermarket outpacing some other segments in the industry as customers kept their vehicles longer. We will likely see the same thing here as vehicle traffic continues to increase.