More than 50 years ago a handshake agreement between the management of Seely equipment and Gledhill Road Machinery Company led to an order for a rail carload of snowplows. This was the start of a long-standing relationship between the two businesses. Today Seely is the largest distributor of Gledhill plows in the country. Seely also leads the distribution of Swenson spreaders and Thiele dump bodies and is the second largest distributor of Western plows.
As a division of Modern Group Limited, a large equipment and supply company that has six branches spread over four East Coast states, Seely has the financial backing needed to grow and support its municipal and private customers. More than 80% of Seely's business comes from municipalities.
Modern consists of six branch divisions that include two forklift distributors, an equipment rental company, a hi-lift equipment company and a material handling company. Modern purchased Seely in 1991 to help weather winter recessions in some of their other divisions.
Major Contracts Seely's top product is the municipal snow and ice control truck. Providing these trucks for several major transportation bureaus on the Eastern Seaboard is its specialty. Most orders for snowplows and ice control equipment are placed in April and begin to arrive in May.
"Because Seely is able to order a large number of plows and spreaders, most manufacturers provide terms for the equipment to sit during the summer and be installed in the fall and winter months," says Clint Koch, president of Seely Equipment. Many manufacturers offer cash discounts for early delivery as well payment plans that begin when the season begins.
Koch says having the financial resources to grow has led the company to a large municipal customer base. "Having the right facilities, equipment and people as well as a steadily improving economy in snow and ice control has helped Seely considerably," says Koch. He also notes that heavy snowstorms during the winter of 1994-1995 helped Seely win big municipal contracts that strengthened the business.
Last year Seely equipped 195 municipal trucks for the State of New Jersey with Gledhill hitches and plows as well as aluminum dump bodies and Swenson spreaders. The contract was initially for 175 vehicles but carried a piggyback clause that raised the total. Two more state contracts and work for the Garden State Parkway currently are pending at Seely. Sales are up from $5 million annually when Koch joined the company in 1992 to $16 million last year.
To manage inventory, Seely uses Shared Data Systems (SDS) software that provides management with a sales history of each product, current levels of inventory and what is on order so purchases can be adjusted based on seasonality. The software has been modified into a customized package over the last few years to better suit Seely's needs. The system will print a warning if a piece of equipment has been sitting in inventory too long.
Personal computers are used for sales commissions, quotes, specification writing, product comparisons, word processing and customer retail financing.
Seely employs a full-time warehouse manager with a staff of four and two full-time drivers for parts and equipment delivery to customers. Deliveries are also made to satellite locations with any of Seely's nine delivery vehicles that range from light-duty trucks to tractor-trailer rigs.
Facility and Staff Built in 1988, Seely's main location in Farmingdale, New Jersey, consists of a 30,000-sq-ft building on a 15-acre site.
Satellite locations in Bristol, Pennsylvania and Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey utilize 5,000 and 10,000-sq-ft buildings respectively. The two satellite locations are both about one hour from the main location and provide customer support, local sales and service. "Both other locations are capable of doing everything, but most major projects are brought to the main facility," says Koch. "We opened these locations to bring our parts and service closer to our customers."
Seely participates in several employee training programs including sending some workers to welding school. On-the-job training can last up to one year. Seely pays for 100% of the expenses for its shop personnel to attend local vocational technical schools. Modern also employs four full-time hydraulic and engine troubleshooting personnel to aid in employee and customer and training. Schools are held at Modern's headquarters in Bristol, Pennsylvania or at Seely's main location in Farmingdale.
All Seely managers attend school for managerial training and most recently have been through personnel law courses. "We try to keep the managers updated about the best way to handle personnel situations," says Koch.
Seely's sales staff consists of nine people, up from three in 1991. Eight of the nine are in outside sales, while one is dedicated to on-site sales. Sales staff members undergo product training by manufacturer representatives and work closely with customers to help identify their needs before writing specifications.
"Current 10-to 12-year replacement cycles require careful specification writing," says Greg Held, Seely wholegoods manager. "We strive to provide equipment that meets or exceeds the customer's needs."
Seely sales personnel use home fax machines, pagers, cellular phones, and laptop computers that can dial into the mainframe and access E-mail. Laptops also allow sales people to print specifications and provide finance terms on location. Database access also can be used for joint sales between other branches of the Modern Group.
Everybody at Seely, including the office staff, is made aware when a new product is introduced for sale at the company. "By educating everyone about what we carry, we reduce the chances of losing a sale," says Koch.
Service and Quality Control Seely provides hydraulic and deicing schools to its customers through local public works departments. Maintenance costs are reduced when customers become educated about their products, according to Koch. Schools on deicing include equipment repair and use as well as methods of deicing.
Being an Aeroquip distributor helps Seely keep up with the demands of municipal contracts as well as over-the-counter sales of hydraulic hoses and fittings. "Most pieces can be assembled while a customer waits," says Koch. All parts counter and service personnel are trained to use the Aeroquip hydraulic equipment that can assemble hoses and fittings up to 4" in diameter. Seely offers three-year warranties on its custom-built hydraulic systems.
Seely extends factory warranties on plows and equipment one year. All products are subject to a quality checklist review after assembly. Mud flaps are installed free on all truck repairs.
Seely's dedication to customer satisfaction is evident through its mobile services. For vehicles still under warranty, Seely provides mobile repair service at no charge. Mechanics travel to repair customer vehicles on-site or bring them back to the shop for service if repairs can't be made in the field.
Seely takes extra steps to expedite delivery of vehicles to customers. "Within 24 to 72 hours from the time we receive a customer order, we place an order for any of the equipment not in stock," says Koch. "We do not want any component holding up a customer's delivery."
"A parts coordinator acts as a liaison between the parts and service departments," says Koch. "The parts coordinator avoids having shop personnel stopping their work to go get something from the parts department." The parts coordinator's job is to pull the parts necessary to complete a municipal package. This requires placing special orders and working closely with the parts department. The use of a parts coordinator increases efficiency in the shop considerably and helps when Seely has big contracts to complete.