Walking the Tightrope

Walking the Tightrope

Protecting Both Lives and Livelihoods

By Kathy Danforth / Published July 2020

COVID-19 has been a pandemic plus, so navigating between the threats of disease and destitution has quickly become the new challenge for many businesses. Ben Hagemann, current president of CETA and CEO of American Pressure, shares how his distributorship has been handling the circumstances they face in Minnesota.

“When the situation developed in March, we put social distancing measures in place,” he shares. “Some worked remotely for a time if they could function from home, but we have kept normal hours. Because of the infrastructure we supply, from food producers to basically every business area, and because of what we heard from customers and manufacturers, CETA identified us as an essential business. We carried those papers with us and have been functioning through this as normally as possible.”

American Pressure has made a number of changes to limit contact with and proximity to customers and fellow employees. Avoiding contact is the first choice, as that also avoids the need for cleaning. Hagemann advises, “Some doors are left open now to avoid touching them. I can open the front door with my key and then push the door with my foot instead of touching the handle.”

Other potential contagion is avoided by separation. “We placed tape on the floor for social distancing,” says Hagemann. “If one customer is being helped, the others wait at a distance and we disinfect in between. Depending on where people are, the front door may now be locked part of the day with a number on the front door to call for customer access, just to help with the movement of folks and social distancing.”

“We’re communicating by email to avoid shared interactions,” notes Hagemann, “and we’ve made more arrangements by phone than ever before to make sure customers are comfortable with us coming on their sites. We have provided masks for employees; some customers insist they use them, while others don’t. That reflects what we see in stores: some big box stores require you to have masks, and in others you don’t see masks at all. I heard that here in Minnesota, our social distancing grade has dropped from an A to a D-. And, all technicians do have disinfectant so we can clean up after ourselves. We will probably carry disinfectant indefinitely—it is not a bad idea to have it on a service call to use if something looks gross.”

As in other areas, American Pressure has looked at their employees’ situations and tried to use common sense and do things with practical value. “Employees no longer eat in the lunchroom—everyone eats in their own area, and sadly we have discontinued our lunch time game of cards,” reports Hagemann. “Since we have multiple bathrooms, we’ve assigned folks to certain ones. And where three months ago if you were in someone’s office you might take a phone call, we don’t share phones anymore. We will keep the practice of not using someone else’s office space or phone.”

The same principles apply in the service area with vehicles, according to Hagemann. “We try to minimize changes in who’s using a vehicle, and we sanitize between drivers. We’re currently remodeling and were rearranging to put in drains, so our social distancing in the service area occurred by accident.”

Hagemann notes another area where business has changed. “Our vendor interaction is altered—nothing we can’t work around, but there’s a lot of variance in perception by different companies as to how to proceed. Some are trying to make deliveries contactless and control who comes in and out of their facility, while another may no longer make calls on site. We’re seeing that we’re all in this together trying to do what’s right to stop the disease spread and keep everyone safe—but we’re doing it in different ways.”

Looking out for customers and employees means keeping the business afloat, also. “Early in March we looked at financial capabilities, considering scenarios of lowering inventory or going to part-time work. We decided we were a few months out from that, and we could go forward. Then the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) came out and strengthened our resolve to go strong for customers and employees. We’re very blessed.”


“The PPP has allowed us to be forward looking. We were able to say, let’s develop products for this; let’s keep going with our normal stuff. We’ve got our normal business that’s a little bit lower, but let’s go full steam and try to make the best of it and be ready when business picks up again, versus trying to manage expenses so tightly. My brother and I manage this together, and it’s very important to make sure our employees have a paycheck.”

Hagemann reports that sales were lowest the last two weeks of March, when the lockdown first started in Minnesota, and April showed a drop from prior year sales. “The area we’re most concerned with is agriculture, which is being hurt by low prices. Those affected by the oil industry are concerned by those markets, but there will be ripple effects over time,” he observes.

Looking at the new normal and how pressure washers fit in has quickly become American Pressure’s strategy. “We’ve developed new products to spray disinfectants, and we have brought on a new line of disinfectants to help our customers. We took what people were doing to spray higher pressure to make a good mist, and we looked at how to be more user friendly. Basically, we have outfitted a Rubbermaid cart with a 15-gallon tank and an AR pump/motor combo. It sends a few hundred psi through a fuel nozzle because that’s very good at misting. It’s very mobile and not difficult to set up and add chemicals to. We are having luck with cities, businesses, and factories, and since the product is new, we’re just starting demonstrations at restaurants. It can clean kitchen and seating areas quickly when they reopen.”

“Our disinfectant product is Vital Oxide, which is on the EPA list as a disinfectant to deactivate COVID-19 after 10 minutes,” explains Hagemann. “It’s food safe with no rinse required, and there are no requirements for PPE since it is very safe, with no fumes or gases. It is a high-end disinfectant that you can use in any setting. You don’t use a lot to cover a large amount of surface, so though it’s more expensive than some disinfectants, it’s a good value because you don’t have to worry about fumes, rinsing, or the environment.”

“Use of a pressure washer as a mister may pick up,” Hagemann observes. “CETA white papers and CDC information state that you clean, then disinfect; and that definitely plays into our industry. CETA has guidelines on how to use a pressure washer to disinfect, and people would be wise to pay attention. You can sell the right product with the confidence that it will do the job right.”

American Pressure is in the process of starting online sales. “We have been talking about online sales anyway, and I’ve had more time to think about that,” says Hagemann. “We’ve had regular traffic in the shop, but equipment sales are down. We’ll also be able to market disinfectant.”

Good information is at a premium in making good decisions and serving your employees and customers well. To that end, Hagemann says, American Pressure freed up time for employee Jimmy Welch, long-time industry technical expert, to head up a CETA technical panel to gather information for the industry. “In March he was trapped in Florida, and we told him, ‘Your full-time task for the next five or six weeks is to see what our industry can do.’ He put a good team together to help the whole industry with white papers providing accurate information. We figured, if he does something good, we’ll all benefit because we’ll be able to sell more products, and we are part of the industry.”

Though the white papers are not yet finalized, their topics provide a glimpse at directions the industry needs to be prepared to provide guidance to customers. “Cleaning and Sanitizing of Surfaces” provides information on cleaning (first) and disinfecting using sodium hypochlorite (bleach). “Sodium Hypochlorite to Sodium Peroxide: a Comparison” explains how these two chemicals can be used appropriately for disinfecting—the latest national pastime. The use of wet or dry steam and the level of disinfecting it can provide is covered in three white papers. Though heat can deactivate the virus, because of the wide number of variables involved in that method of cleaning, it is important for sellers and users to know what the process will and won’t do. Hagemann points out, “The steam cools from 180 degrees to 170 degrees within four inches. We want to make sure we don’t provide folks with bad information, and we have to be sure of the process since we don’t test a surface for COVID-19 before and after cleaning.”

COVID-19 has disrupted routines and lives, but there are lessons and opportunities. Hagemann states, “You can look at it either way; all business is down, or where are my opportunities? Where can I serve my neighbors by getting them my product? Where can I sell my product? It comes down to a good attitude and realizing that there’s potential because the industry applications are so vast that there’s usually something that’s up even if everything else is down. It may not be easy or be a booming business, but there’s always something you can focus on or something you can focus on doing better. There’s opportunity if you look for it.” Hagemann is convinced: “If you’re focused on taking care of employees and customers, everything else works out.”

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