West River: Conveyor Belts, Customers and Community

In the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and the center of coal country, there is a 36-year-old manufacturer that delivers two things every day of the year: conveyor belt systems and exceptional customer service.

 

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      In 1981, West River Conveyors and Machinery Company was founded by two business-savvy men who went to work rebuilding mining equipment. Today the company has flourished into a 37-person operation housed in a 100,000-square foot facility. The business is centered on manufacturing entire conveyor systems from the head drive that powers the conveyor to the tail section on the opposite end. They also manufacture and/or source the entire structure that supports the conveyor. “You’re talking thousands of feet between the tail end and the head end. The belt has to be carried on some type of support system,” said Pete Savage, Vice President of International Sales. “They’re also on rollers, and you have a frame system that’s designed and built specifically for a particular tonnage or underground layout. We do all of that.”

      West River is primarily focused on the underground mining industry, with customers in coal, potash, trona, salt, limestone, gypsum, copper, aggregate, silver and gold. However, they make, refurbish, repair and sell any conveyor system part to any customer in any industry that requires a belt. One big differentiator from the competition is the company’s large inventory of parts and components. “No company typically wants to carry inventory,” Savage said. “We stock new and used components.” The inventory allows West River to serve customers quickly and efficiently. Conveyor system parts can be hard to find and expensive to purchase. When a customer experiences a problem, they need that problem fixed as soon as possible. Every minute a system is down is a minute the company loses out on production and valuable revenue. “We’re talking thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses that a mining company can experience when their conveyor stops working,” Savage explained. West River works to fill those needs and fix those problems fast. In the process, they are often able to save their customers money.

“We have the ability to rebuild a lot of used conveyor equipment, to warranty it, and put it back to
manufacturer specifications. 
We can save 30-65 percent for our customers by doing that,” Savage added.

        Carrying inventory like West River does can be risky for business, as the mining industry is highly volatile. That’s why West River is one of the only companies worldwide who does it. But the company sees its stockpile as such an advantage to its customers, that they take the risk. “People call us who need something they can’t find anywhere else,” said Jessica Savage, Marketing Manager. “We’ve sold our products in almost all 50 states, and 14 or 15 different countries.”
        More than providing systems and parts for their customers, West River has a strong focus on offering a solution to its customers’ pain points. “We want to know what problems you’re having and we want to help you fix those problems,” Jessica said. Many times, a customer will contact West River who has less been than satisfied with the competition. That company may have thousands of dollars tied up in spare parts and systems that consistently go down without a clear or simple fix in sight. When a company contacts West River, no matter who they reach on the telephone will have knowledge of the product and a path to finding a solution. “Everyone has that mindset of customer service,” Pete went on to say. “We want to reduce our customers’ down time, every time.”

“Customers want to talk to somebody when things go wrong,” Jessica said.
“Here, you can talk to someone 24/7, 365 days of the year.

       Our owners give their home phone numbers out and say ‘you can contact me at 3:00 in the morning, it doesn’t matter when.” Those owners who still give out their personal phone numbers are Joe Street and JB Roulett. It has been nearly 37 years since they founded the company, and they are still heavily involved. Though the company has grown and evolved, it has remained and will remain a family business, as Jessica and Pete Savage are Street’s daughter and son-in-law. JB’s son, Kenneth, is also involved in the business.

         As the company continues to advance, the entire team aims to make operations even more efficient, and expand the markets West River serves. “There’s been a push to look at other mining markets outside the coal industry,” Pete said. “Production fluctuates a lot based on clean energy groups, the political climate, whether coal is popular or gas is popular. That all hits the bottom line of our customers.” In order to stay ahead of the unpredictable coal market, West River is planning to diversify its product portfolio. “We saw the writing on the wall and the need to branch out. Part of our five-year strategy is to produce two new product lines; conveyor systems in other niche markets,” Pete said. West River is also expanding international sales, with a recent partnership in Canada, and big opportunities arising in Mexico, Colombia, Chile and other South American nations.

In order to serve and deliver the best products at home and abroad, West River has cultivated
strong and lasting relationships with top strategic partners and suppliers.

       For starters, one of the only parts of the conveyor system that the company does not manufacture, is the actual belt. For that, West River partners with Cobra America. Applied Industrial Technologies Canada is another valued strategic partner that acts as a distributor for West River. Ringspann Corporation is another one of our strategic suppliers. We have been working together for several years. They provide backstops that we use in our conveyor systems. Their products as well as their service are “Best in Class” and we look forward to a continued long lasting relationship.
     In addition, Jessica said West River has acquired a lot of knowledge and value out of being part of the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association (CEMA). CEMA has provided education, support and other resources that the company has been able to utilize over the years, while empowering West River to stay up to date on their own industry, and as a result, deliver the best product available.

While the people who make up West River are extremely passionate
about their work, they are also very dedicated to their community.

      “We were given the 2015 Manufacturer Of The Year award from the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing,” Jessica said with a smile. In order to receive that honor, the company had to not only shine as a manufacturer and employer, but also show a deep sense of community involvement. The company participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and they adopt 15-20 needy children in the community from the Angel Tree each year. The staff purchases Christmas gifts for the children.
        At West River, the owners lead by example, prioritizing charity work and participating in it themselves. When leaders get involved, the staff follows with willing hands and hearts. From creating a product, meeting a need, providing a solution, handing out their own phone numbers and contributing to their community, West River has proven itself an elite in its industry. When it comes to conveyor systems, these are the people any company needs on its team.



 

        
Company Name: RINGSPANN CORPORATION   Company Name:  RINGSPANN GmbH 
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Phones: +1 847.678.3581
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