How COVID-19 has altered small-sized machine builders' buying habits

Oct. 20, 2021
Increased online transactions compound effects of being asked for more innovation

Small panel builders, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), integrators and contractors face issues, brought on or exacerbated by COVID-19, whether it is the availability of vital products, labor issues or simply having to rethink their fundamental business approaches.

We have seen a shift in the field of machinery and equipment, including conveyors, packaging, pumps, compressors, HVAC, refrigeration and furnace applications, in two significant ways:

  • smaller companies taking on more innovative tasks
  • increased digital customer interactions.


Equipment solutions can help to automate tasks or operate more independently, giving small businesses a leg up. However, do small businesses have to sacrifice quality for lower material cost?

They shouldn’t have to. And, yet, too often they might feel forced to make a decision between high-quality products for the sake of the price of electrical components. This creates a barrier for smaller companies to compete. They often don’t have the same opportunity as larger corporations for mass-order discounts, which can mean either a higher price for their equipment or a sacrifice on profitability. Or they feel they must independently use a website as their only way to select and source electrical components because they lack the purchasing volume to get the direct attention of manufacturers and traditional distributors.

We directed a blind study of more than 100 companies that buy lower-priced motor control offers via the Web to better understand their buying behaviors and customer needs. Of those surveyed, most were smaller-sized companies with fewer than 100 employees. Given these are smaller companies without significant buying power, it was no surprise that product price was very important. It also follows that the second most important need for motor-control products was brand recognition, as these smaller accounts work to establish their reputation for quality product. From the results of this survey and from feedback we’ve received directly from customers, we’ve identified several observations.

Cost vs. brand

A small company trying to establish itself within the market doesn’t want to sell you an inexpensive product that fails and, in turn, hurts its reputation and yours.

However, a simple product and a higher reputation for your growing business means not only more reliability to the completed system, but the recognition that is passed on to their customers. When they open up a panel and see a name they know, it brings a level of trust.

But price and brand aren’t the only considerations on the minds of panel builders. They find sales support and ease of selection to be important, too. While more transactions are moving online in recent years, this is another area where the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process.

Online commerce grew 42% in the 12-month pandemic period in 2020 compared to the year before, according to the Adobe Analytics 2021 Digital Economy Index. And it’s not slowing down in 2021 or beyond. 2022 is expected to be the first trillion-dollar year for eCommerce, according to the index.

As such, small businesses need support. Builders don’t always have the time or desire to pick up the phone any more, so online access to sales, support and educational resources is a must. Distributors need to provide everything from live customer service and troubleshooting to online content that’s accessible 24/7. Ultimately, it’s not just about purchasing products; it’s the additional helping hand that goes with it (

At the end of the day, small businesses aren’t just picking the products, they’re picking a partner. If you have visions of growth, it’s important to align with a manufacturer that can grow with you. It’s all interconnected; reliable products will help to grow your business. Growing your business means needing more support and access to products. Shifting market needs can mean changes in the amount or types of components you need. Whatever the change to your business, establishing a relationship with a supplier partner that can change with you from the get-go can help.

About the author

Erik Barnes is motor control product lead at Schneider Electric. Contact him at [email protected].

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