It’s a lot easier keeping a happy customer happy than it is to make an unhappy customer happy. At least that’s how Paul Michaels views his job as an Astec regional parts manager covering Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
With nearly 19 years of Astec plant experience as a controls’ product engineer and plant service member to draw on in his current two-year role as a parts manager, Michaels is happy to be out in the field working with plant operators to maintain and maximize their asphalt production capabilities.
“When I worked in the service department, I was often sent out to solve a problem, make a repair, which meant the plant wasn’t running,” Michaels notes. “When a plant is down, the operator is stressed about the situation, and let’s say he’s not in the best mood. But as a parts manager, I’m generally at a customer’s plant when it’s running, producing mix, which is what the operator wants and needs; and I’m there to make sure it keeps producing the way the operator wants and needs it to.”
So, when Michaels took over the territory in July of 2016 and relocated to Austin with his wife and grandson a year later, he realized it was the right job for him based on his plant service experience.
“When you work as a parts manager, you’re in a much better position to build a strong relationship with plant operators,” Michaels says. “You call on asphalt plant facilities to evaluate the equipment to identify potential problems and recommend replacement parts. Plant operators want to know what replacement parts they need to keep on the shelf.”
Michaels says that is particularly important for many of his 300 plant customers in Texas that run year-round. Many take a preventive maintenance approach, performing maintenance on weekends or during the day when an operation is supplying night paving projects.
“There might be a week or so during the year when an operation is actually shut down for more significant maintenance, but general maintenance is ongoing throughout the year, so the plant operator is counting on me and others (Astec plant sales and controls associates) to stay on top of what needs to be addressed,” Michaels says. “We (Astec parts) work together with the controls and plant sales representatives on major upgrades when that’s the best recommendation for the customer. We approach it as a team focused on maintaining and upgrading a customer’s plant operation to keep it in peak performance.
“It’s not uncommon for a customer to ask for a quote on another component when making upgrades with other major components,” Michaels adds. “If a customer purchases a new set of silos, he may inquire on the cost of a new drag conveyor. It requires all of us to share information based on individual expertise.”
It takes time to get to know a customer and gain their confidence and trust, but Michaels says that’s time well invested when it leads to a partnership focused on optimal plant performance.
“I have a customer who purchased a competitor’s asphalt drum and after attending one of our schools he asked us to help modify the drum with our flighting design,” Michaels says. “When you build a strong relationship with a customer, both benefit.”
When Michaels is not busy helping customers, he enjoys exploring Austin and Texas with his wife and 11-year-old grandson.
“We toured the Houston Space Center during Spring Break and Texas A&M University,” Michaels says. “I also enjoy pursuing Bushcraft skills like building primitive shelters and grilling over an open wood fire. Again, it’s just another enjoyable way to spend time with my grandson and others.”