We can all agree that life has changed a bit post-2020 COVID pandemic. Equipment still fails like it did before 2020, but depending on your customer base, scheduling jobs can be a little more frustrating.
Many restaurants in my area have changed their operating hours because of limited staffing, so the ability to work on their equipment during normal business hours can be a challenge. It is not a major issue, but one of many we all have been forced to adapt to since 2020. It has always been a good practice to call your customer before arriving on the job; these days, it’s just more important in many areas across the country.
The availability of parts has always been something we need to deal with when repairing refrigeration equipment. Today, it is much more of an issue — and more important to check the availability of a component before committing to a customer.
Recently, I was working on an ice machine that needed a harvest assist assembly. The part was not available at the distributor for six weeks, so we decided to repair the component instead of replacing it. That is not normally a wise option, as the reliability of the repair is not the same as replacing with a new component. However, having the customer with a nonoperational ice machine was not a good option, either. Getting creative on repairs might be necessary until the supply chain gets back to pre-2020 conditions.
The ability to order new equipment in a timely fashion is another possible hiccup to our business. Recently I was asked to quote the installation of an 8x10 walk-in cooler. The cooler had a 22- to 24-week lead time; however, the mechanical equipment only had a 1- to 2-day lead time. We checked with our other vendors, and they had similar lead times as well. I’m not sure what the customer decided to do, but we did not get the job.
Every industry is seeing the rising cost of components and equipment, and our industry is no exception. As such, I will no longer guess at pricing a repair. Pre-2020 on certain repairs, I could give a customer an estimate before confirming the pricing of the components, but today I rarely do this. I feel more comfortable confirming pricing now before giving a customer an estimate; it is an extra step that is absolutely necessary these days.
Not knowing if a component’s pricing has dramatically increased or not is another issue we must now manage. One of these components is refrigerant. The cost of refrigerants has risen, but that is not all COVID-related. New U.S. government policies that mandate the use of lower-GWP refrigerants and equipment with higher efficiency ratings are more likely the reason for the increase in price, but adding that into the mix is just another item to manage.
Another potential issue for contractors (as well as everyone else) is when the need arises to purchase a new service vehicle. The price of service vehicles has risen quite high these days, with a new standard cargo van costing $40,000 or more. Even the smaller utility cargo vans are around $30,000 these days. Many dealers are even pricing these vehicles over the MSRP. One dealer I spoke with wanted $8,000 above the MSRP for a cargo van! The cost of used vehicles has also gone up by nearly 30% this year, making them a very undesirable option.
Dealing with these new norms can be quite frustrating. Let’s just hope we rebound and get back to a pre-2020 world.