1825 transformers delivered in record time to Florida Panhandle
November 12, 2018
Stellar history gave CEO Tom Hemmer the confidence that Solomon Corporation’s workers could answer most any call for help.
They’ve done it many times.
But the performance earlier this fall in the wake of Hurricane Michael, moved company standards into the stratosphere, and left the boss bedazzled.
The Solomon-based company has built a reputation of exceeding expectations to fill needs and calm desperate times for others.
To date, however, no performance compares to the 1,825 electric transformers delivered to the hurricane ravaged Florida Panhandle between Oct. 10 and 31, to help crews in the region restore electric power.
The bulk of those orders were delivered over 13 days, which is “phenomenal,” said Chrissi Farless, inside sales manager at the Solomon service center.
The company with 700 employees in seven locations, repairs and sells electrical transformers, and has been a quick responder for natural disasters for all of its 47 years.
This challenge was immense, Hemmer said.
By comparison, Solomon Corporation delivered 400 transformers in four weeks to one utility in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in late August 2005. Following a typhoon in Saipan during 2015, the team rebuilt and sent 500 units over four weeks to the island in the western Pacific Ocean. This past summer, a small group of workers at the Solomon plant, sent 79 transformers to Marshalltown, Iowa, to help restore power after an EF-3 tornado ripped through the city of 27,000 people. When the order came in, there were only five ready-to-ship transformers in stock, but some 18 workers gave up a day off and stayed on duty nearly overnight to recondition enough units to fill the order.
All of those were remarkable feats of dedication, skill and sacrifice, Hemmer said, but there had been no challenges so immense as those that emerged last month in Florida.
“I didn’t have any doubt we’d be able to deliver,” Hemmer said. “But I didn’t realize we’d be able to respond with such scale, and so quickly.”
There were reasons. Solomon Corporation has grown in recent years, and five plants can produce transformers. Plus, the firm enjoys partnerships with other companies.
“It was just a big collaborative effort, and the magnitude was unprecedented,” Hemmer said. “It might be the most gratifying thing that we’ve been able to do.” It’s really exciting to see our people respond in such a significant way.”
Solomon Corporation quickly mobilized a team after the first call came from Florida on Wednesday Oct.10.
“Our initial response was to others on the team, to check the inventory and start pushing units through our shops,” Farless said.
The company was blessed to be “a little bit prepared,” she said. “We had some units ready to go because of the hurricane right before it.”
The task was huge, Farless said, but it was no surprise.
“This is what we do, what we’re best at,” she said. “We have a really good sales team and a phenomenal operations group. We all have the same mindset, to help out neighbors, even if they are across the country.”
It all started with some emails for Andrew Gruber, assistant plant manager at Solomon Corporation’s Decatur, Tenn. plant.
“It was basically a request; ‘how quickly can we get units down to customers affected by the hurricane?’ ” he recalled. “The original request was for well over 300 units.”
The crew in Decatur got to work identifying transformers in stock, but some of the inventory had not been entered into the Solomon Corporation computer system.
“We had guys going through, manually counting units,” Gruber said.
Staff members evaluated routine work that was scheduled and juggled it to fill the needs in Florida. Other customers graciously agreed to delay delivery to accommodate the more pressing needs.
“We started working 12-hour shifts and Saturdays,” Gruber said. “We were also able to utilize technicians from other departments who had been cross-trained to build more pole mounts (transformers) than our department usually does.”
The Decatur service center coordinated with Solomon Corporation locations in Solomon, Decatur, Tenn.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Georgetown, Texas; Osage City near Topeka; Prairie du Chien, Wisc.; including the plant in Flandreau, S.D., that was acquired by the company in August.
“It was a huge order, and it all hit at once,” he said.
Making the job more perplexing was maintaining a steady flow of transformers to each of seven utilities in the Florida Panhandle.
Solomon Corporation’s workers proudly accepted the challenge.
“We are uniquely qualified to fulfill this type of order,” said Cindy Curry, marking manager. “We can shuffle production needs from one location to another to handle emergent needs,” she said. “By shifting less urgent production to other facilities, we opened up production in Solomon and Decatur where most of our inventory is located.”
Solomon Corporation has its own fleet of trucks and partnerships with other truck lines, the company has the capacity to deliver quickly, Curry said.
System, locations, and workforce “gives us the ability to be nimble, move things around and take care of emergencies,” she said. “We figured it out. We’ve got this.”
Florida needs pushed the Decatur plant to more than 200 percent capacity during October, as additional orders were added.
“Our transportation team did a good job delivering those,” Gruber said.
The sales staff was willing to set aside less-pressing orders.
“We appreciated their efforts and the flexibility of customers,” he said. “There were people willing to work long hours, change things in their lives to be able to accommodate coming in. It was a great team effort.”
The project further sealed a sense of family at Solomon Corporation.
“It brings our whole company together and gives us a lot of pride in the company we work for,” Farless said.
That deep sense of satisfaction resonates clear to the top.
“When you are able to respond to people who are out of power, it just brings a lot of meaning and significance to the work you do,” Hemmer said. “It feels great.”
There is no break from emergencies. Solomon Corporation has received its first order for 300 transformers for Saipan, to help restore power after a super-typhoon in the South Pacific, wreaked havoc there a few weeks back.
Here is a rundown of what Solomon Corporation provided the Florida Panhandle during October:
1. Delivered 1,825 transformers to the Florida Panhandle during three weeks in October, an unprecedented number in this short a time for such a delivery
2. Sent equipment to 6 utilities — Gulf Power, Florida Public Utilities, City of Blountstown, Gulf Coast EMC in Georgia, West Florida EMC, and the City of Blakely, Ga.
Solomon Corporation is uniquely positioned for disaster response:
• Seven locations allows the company to shuffle production needs from one location to another to handle emergency needs as they arise.
• With more than 30,000 transformers on hand, Solomon Corporation has the largest inventory in the industry, and is likely to have the units that are needed in any given situation.
• Solomon has its own fleet of trucks, and partnerships in place to cover emergency routes without interrupting service to ongoing orders.
• Nearly 50 years of experience restoring power to devastated areas around the country, Solomon learns and improves with each disaster.
• Solomon Corporation’s people — production workers, drivers, logistics, sales representatives, managers — all work countless hours to put orders out in record time.