Hello, old friend. I’m writing today to say thanks, and to say farewell. This will be my last column.
Lessons Learned Cataloging Old Pumps in the Catskills
I spotted a story in the newspaper last year that made me smile with a memory that was bittersweet. One of the main buildings at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, or what was left of it, had caught on fire and burned to cinders because the fire department had a tough time getting to it, the abandoned property being so overgrown and strewn with concrete barriers.
In the 1987 film, “Dirty Dancing,” Patrick Swayze memorably said,“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” While that was true for the film, real life was not so romantic. The resort had gone belly-up the year before.
During the 1960s, when Harry Grossinger ran the place, the resort had 36 buildings on 1,200 acres and could accommodate as many as 1,400 guests at a time. I was dancing with those buildings — hydronically speaking — in the early 1980s. I was in boiler rooms where the tangle of pipes looked like a dog’s breakfast. I crawled through low, filthy spaces and gloomy attics, because those places were home to many of the Bell & Gossett pumps.
And it wasn’t just Grossinger’s for me. I was all over the other Borscht Belt resort hotels during that long-ago time because I had this idea that I thought couldn't miss. I was going to tag every B&G pump in every resort in the Catskills. I would give each resort manager a hand-written binder that would identify every pump by number. The binder would list all the replaceable parts of each pump by order number. If a coupler broke, or if the motor mounts sagged, the maintenance people just had to look in the binder to get the needed part number. Brilliant, right?
I was doing this because I worked for the B&G rep. Our office was on Long Island, and at the time, I was what my boss called the Contractor Boy. I had no sales territory. I was just told to roam the Catskill Mountains, which were 140 miles away from my home, and help any contractor who needed help. The thought was that if I did this, the contractors would come to love me, and love B&G at the same time. Sales would soar.
What I learned along the way, however, was that many of the contractors were looking at those small, water-lubricated circulators, which were arriving from companies such as Taco and Grundfos. B&G did not yet have such pumps because they liked making money on replacement parts for circulators that weighed four times as much as what the competitors had to offer. And the B&G pumps needed to be oiled regularly, even if they resided 50 feet into a spider-infested crawlspace.
“Get them to buy genuine, B&G parts,” my boss said, and since I could not be holier than the church, that’s what I was trying to do.
So here’s my thought process way back when:
Get the maintenance people to do the maintenance by making it easy to identify what they needed. The maintenance people were less likely to replace the entire pump with one of the little guys Taco and Grundfos were offering if they could just buy a cheaper part and fix the old B&Gs.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the contractors were starting to think that the replacement part number for a failed B&G Series 100 coupler was not PZ-4291. It was Taco 007.
I was missing the reality of the marketplace because I could not be holier than the church. “Get out there and sell genuine, factory-authorized parts,” the bishop said, so that’s what I set out to do. Mea culpa.
I approached the local wholesalers and gave the manager a copy of the binder I had assembled for each of the resorts. “Here,” I said. “This is every B&G pump they have, and here are the genuine, factory-authorized part numbers. Note how many of the pumps use the same part. If you stock those parts you will have everything the resorts will need to repair any pump that fails anywhere in the Catskill Mountains. Our salesman will be visiting shortly to take your orders. And isn’t it wonderful that I did all the dirty work for you? Doesn’t it just make you want to dance with joy?! Think of all the money you’re going to make selling genuine, factory-authorized B&G parts.”
Each manager thanked me and placed my hand-written binder on one of the stacks of other binders and catalogs that littered their office.
I drove 140 miles to my home and I waited.
Our salesman called me. “They all want to know why they have to stock all those genuine, factory-authorized B&G pump parts now that you made those binders for the resorts. They figure the resorts should be holding the inventories, not them. Why should they tie up their own money in inventory? That’s what they’re asking me, Dan. They’re not buying; they’re asking.”
“Well, isn’t that what a wholesaler is supposed to do?” I sputtered. “They’re supposed to have in stock what their customers need at a moment’s notice?”
“They’re supposed to, Dan, but if there’s an alternative, they won’t want to. And you gave them that alternative. Nice going.”
“So what do I do now?” I said.
“You go back to those resorts and tell the maintenance people that they have to have the parts listed in your binder in their stock. It’s the right thing for them to do. Then they’ll order what they need from my wholesalers and everyone will be happy.”
“But the wholesalers won’t have what they need in stock,” I said.
“I know. We’ll have to ship it to them after they get the orders from the resorts.”
“That makes no sense,” I said.
“Just go back up there and tell them what I just told you.”
So I drove the 140 miles back to the resorts and told them. Not one of the resorts went for it. Why should they lay out the money? Someone else should lay out the money. Then they suggested we hold all the inventory for everyone. After all, we’re the manufacturer’s rep.
“But we’re on Long Island and in New Jersey,” I said. “We’re far away.”
“So what? When we need a part, you can drive it up here. You drive up here anyway, don’t you? Look. You’re here now.”
Thinking back, I realize that those folks were probably seeing what was coming. They must have suspected that very soon Patrick Swayze would be lifting Jennifer Grey over his head in their triumphant dance and everything else would just be nostalgia. The tens of thousands of people who had once driven their cars to the Catskills were now flying off to Miami Beach instead. I think they knew it was all falling apart. I should have seen it, too, but it was all too magnificent to think such thoughts back then. They were all having the time of their lives.
I know now that my time at those resorts was not wasted. I learned a lot, and mostly about people.
Sometimes Baby does get put in the corner.
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