Gerry Kenny has worked with materials processing equipment almost his entire adult life.
A gregarious Irishman, he has worked with screens and conveyors in Europe and Africa and since coming over to America more than 25 years ago, he has operated one of the most successful equipment dealerships in the Southeast.
So it is not surprising that Kenny knows a few things about how to make friends with his customers and keep them happy.
Through his company, Sand Science Inc. in Beaufort, S.C., Kenny has built a reputation among construction professionals as a very knowledgeable, reliable and personable dealer of high-quality equipment.
Sand Science is marking 25 years in business in 2010 largely due to the fact that Kenny offers service that is one-on-one and family-oriented — not the rather impersonal brand of service favored by some companies. Kenny believes his approach leads to satisfied customers and by extension, more sales.
“We may be a smaller company than a lot of dealerships, but we are very attentive to our customers,” Kenny explained. “Because we are smaller, though, we have flexibility and we have proven that by our longevity. The fact is we can move in a certain direction when we see our customers have a need, whereas bigger dealerships don’t have the ability to do that.”
Kenny added that Sand Science doesn’t sell loaders or excavators — it is strictly a dealer of processing equipment. That includes several name-brand manufacturers, such as Finlay, Roto-Screen and Kafka. Because of that, Sand Science has become an expert at finding solutions for its customers in the handling of soil and aggregate materials.
“We are able to listen to our customers and I can honestly say, realistically, after 25 years you would be hard pressed to find a customer in the region who would have bad things to say about us,” he said. “If somebody has a problem, we will do what it takes to address that problem. Our customers’ needs are very important to us because we know that their recommendations are what will give us our next sale.”
And it is that penchant for listening to his customers that gave Kenny the idea to add a new dimension to his company.
Sand Science had already established itself as a substantial dealer of trommel machinery through Finlay and Roto-Screen. But most of that business was geared toward medium to large contractors.
“What I started to see was a need for a smaller, more flexible machine that you could move onto small sites and something that was a bit more affordable to small contractors,” Kenny said. “They were saying to me ’Look, I would like to buy that brand of conveyor but I can’t afford it’ or ’The sites I am working on don’t allow me to bring it in and out very easily. I just need something smaller.’”
After doing a lot of research, Kenny found that the Ultra trommel, manufactured by Ultra Plant International, offered the very flexibility his smaller customers said they needed.
Due in large measure to his reputation and his contacts in the business — on both sides of the Atlantic — Kenny was able to suggest upgrades to the Ultra to make it more attractive to the contractor that needs a smaller than usual trommel.
“Our aim was to provide something that had all the features of the bigger machines, but was more effective,” he said. “For example, there are machines out there that have little four-foot drums on them, but those are too small. We wanted to have features that the bigger machines have, like a five-foot drum and a drum with no spokes. We also wanted a machine that had a variable speed feeder with a wide belt for material collection that was still portable and easy to move around and, obviously, one that was reliable. If you look at the Ultra you will see that it is basically a small version of the bigger machines.”
As a result of his close relationship with the manufacturer, Sand Science has become the official distributor for the Ultra trommel in the United States. Right now, Kenny is the only Ultra dealer in the country, but he is currently looking for companies that want to offer Ultra products, he said.
“I am really looking for smaller dealers, maybe someone who sells farm equipment and a couple of conveyors and mixers, too,” Kenny added. “We want smaller, more family-oriented businesses for Ultra, not big firms that sell competing products.”
In that Kenny is just ramping up his Ultra business through Sand Science, he is more interested in finding dealers in the Southeast first in order to make it easier to set up lines of distribution for parts and service. Once he gets the experience of working with other dealers, he hopes to set up Ultra dealerships in other parts of the country.
His interest in developing family-oriented dealerships comes from the involvement of his own family in running Sand Science. From his 10-acre compound just off I-95 in Beaufort, Kenny has operated the business with the assistance of his wife and two sons, along with several other employees.
A native of County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland, Kenny worked for Powerscreen in Europe and South Africa for several years. While using Johannesburg as his base, he traveled all over the southern part of Africa in the early 1980s where, among other things, he showed diamond miners how to use portable processing equipment. Kenny’s African adventures are featured in the novel, “The Kimberley File,” which he published in the late 1990s and frequently gives out to his customers today.
“They were all using static equipment at that time,” Kenny said.
Powerscreen brought him to the United States to set up a franchise for its equipment and gave him a choice as to where he wanted to live and work.
“I am a warm weather man,” Kenny said. “The only places available were South Carolina and Georgia, so we chose Columbia, S.C. It was in January and I was led to believe it was a warm climate here, yet when I arrived it was 11 degrees and I didn’t even have a jacket.”
He later moved to Beaufort chiefly because he and his English-born wife, Diane, loved the 1983 movie The Big Chill, which was filmed in the Beaufort area.
Since then, the Kennys have become American citizens, as well as enthusiastic Gamecock fans due to their sons having attended the University of South Carolina.
Kenny said that Sand Science’s high profile location just off I-95, coupled with his advertising exposure in Construction Equipment Guide, has been great for advertising his business.
As a result, he said, the company has had customers from “Maine to Honduras.”
“But our main business comes from the Carolinas and Georgia, although because we are only two hours from Jacksonville we also do business in north Florida,” he added. “I would say that we sell everywhere within a 500-mile direction.”
Sand Science’s primary focus is sales and rentals, but the company also offers complete parts support and service.
To Kenny, everything he does in his business is designed to get his customers what they need to be successful.
“For example, if someone were to call me and say they are interested in an Ultra, we have a special program going where we will rent one to them for a week,” he explained. “Generally I wouldn’t rent anything for less than a month. But because the Ultra is new and there is a recession on where money is scarce for many small contractors, I will rent week to week for as long as they need it. Hopefully when they get enough money in it to get financing to buy, they will remember that I got them going.”
For more information, call 843/525-6140, visit www.sandscience.com or contact [email protected].
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