Equipment dealer copes with hurricane aftermath

It was the Tuesday morning following Katrina. Working without power, employees of Jackson, Miss.-based Great Southern Tractor started loading a truck with water, cleaning supplies, sanitary wipes and snacks.

Their destination: Great Southern’s Biloxi branch, which had taken a direct hit. Setting up shop in a trailer behind the destroyed building, employees started securing the facility and clearing the way for equipment arriving on trucks making three-times-a-day runs between Jackson and Biloxi. The word got out: Customers found that in addition to skid steers, excavators and loaders, they could get water, ice, first-aid kits and flashlights.

“One of the most important things we did is not raise our prices,” says Jim King, vice president of support, parts and facilities for Great Southern, a Komatsu dealer. In its trailer-turned-office, the dealer set up a financing station, relaying all information by cell phone. King says Komatsu gave Great Southern and its Louisiana dealer, H & E Equipment Services, corporate allocation priority. “Our finance contracts also have first dibs, which speeds up the process tremendously,” he says.

The needs were immediate. “People are asking for skid steers and wheel loaders with grapples for hauling trash, and excavators with thumbs for picking up trees,” King relates. “Most of the skid steers in this part of the country just have a bucket on them, and that won’t do you much good now. The same is true with excavator buckets without thumbs.” Foam-filled tires and rubber tracks are two other requests. “You can’t keep the air in the tires because of all the debris,” King says.

On the parts end, electrical supplies, including battery terminal ends and fuses, were in great demand. Customers are also using the dealer’s yard as a storage and staging area.

Great Southern has been able to fulfill most equipment requests, in part because of the larger inventory it purchased to take advantage of last year’s depreciation bonus. “If we had not done that, we would not have had the equipment we needed,” King says.