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Eaton exec: Hose distributors must make commitment

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Industrial Hose Manager Joe Mika.

For distributors who want to deal in industrial hose, it is more than a matter of just ordering the hose and waiting for the orders to arrive.

It takes a commitment of capital and staff, as well as a willingness to help raise standards in a business that encompasses numerous applications in a variety of industries.

That was the message delivered by Joe Mika, Eaton Corp. P.L.C. manager for industrial hose, during a panel discussion at Eaton's 2013 Distributor Meeting, held Sept. 15-18 in Orlando, Fla.

"What we look for in a hose distributor is someone who isn't just going to bring the product in without training the people to make sure they have the right product knowledge," Mika said. "And product knowledge in industrial hose is much more than knowing what product goes in what service. It's knowing the application and getting closer to the end user."

There are several major differences in selling industrial hose rather than hydraulic hose, he said. First, hydraulic manufacturers normally sell a hose and coupling as a system, compared with industrial hose, where there are hose makers and then a number of firms who either supply couplings or another method of attachment.

In addition, hydraulic hoses will have hydraulic fluid going through them. But an industrial hose can convey anything from air, water and chemicals to oil, steam, food and a whole host of other items. "And there aren't necessarily any overall standards that you have in hydraulics," Mika said. "So we're looking for distributors who are going to help set those standards and raise the bar to the end user."

Scott Jones, vice president of sales and marketing for Dixon Valve & Coupling Co., said that following safety guidelines is vital. "There's more than one way to make an industrial hose assembly," Jones said. "With all the different components supplied by all the different manufacturers, there are risks to doing things wrong, and the consequences can be pretty significant."

It also takes quite a financial investment for distributors not already marketing industrial hose. Mika estimated startup costs of $250,000 for initial inventory for hose and couplings, along with first-year operating cost and having a sizable amount of available warehouse space. Successful industrial hose distributors also typically have staff dedicated to that part of the business.

"If you're going to put in part-time focus, you're going to get part-time results," he said. "You're either in the industrial hose business or you're not. You have to stock common products, and you have to make the commitment for the people and the resources to make sure they are properly trained."

Buzz Hooper of Rubber & Accessories Inc. said he started in the business with a manufacturer and got to visit distributors all over the U.S.

"I saw what a good distributor was and what a bad distributor was," he said. "It's a very good business to be in, but just make sure you're ready to make that commitment because you can't be in industrial hose half way."

Eaton also provides support to its distributors by making sure that both outside and inside sales staff are trained on new products. The firm also works with either NAHAD or coupling manufacturer partners to ensure proper training on couplings is provided.

Its first choice in looking to add industrial hose distributors is to work with established Eaton distributors, according to Mika. The company has established Aeroquip and Weatherhead distributors for hydraulic lines, and the goal is to get them to convert to Eaton industrial hose if they currently sell another brand or to teach those not in the business what it takes to enter the sector.

Ed Fabacher of Fabacher Inc. said for those in the fluid conveyance industry, it is easy to incorporate industrial hose into the business. "I encourage you to do so because I think you'd find the profitability would be very astounding."