Bartlett Bearing Co.
Bartlett Bearing Co.’s vast inventory and product knowledge make it the go-to bearing distributor among electromechanical repair customers throughout the country.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
Bartlett Bearing Co. has maintained its reputation as a bearing specialist for more than 60 years and remains committed to the electromechanical repair customer base it has served since its inception. “What makes us different, special compared to other industrial distributors of bearings is that through all the changes in the trade, we remain focused and committed to bearings,” Vice President of Operations Bill Potts says. “It’s unique in our trade.”
Tom and Gladys Bartlett founded the Philadelphia-based company in 1951, servicing electric motor repair shops. The company’s accounts were based primarily in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. “Back then in the 1950s to the early ’90s, it was very common to repair all sizes of electric motors: small, medium and large,” Potts explains. “As the world changed and motors today have become a bit of a commodity, a lot of these smaller electric motors no longer get repaired.”
Although the industry has changed significantly since the couple founded the company, Bartlett Bearing’s focus has remained the same, Potts says. “When I became associated with Bartlett Bearing 39 years ago, we had 25 shops in the Philadelphia area; today we have three,” he explains. “We cover a lot more geographic areas today to make up for that decline. Technology has evolved and motors have become more sophisticated, so there is still a huge after-market for Bartlett Bearing to service and this family of customers.”
Electromechanical repair shops, also known as electric motor repair shops, have changed with the industry and diversified the types of products they repair for their end-user customers. “So in addition to repairing electric motors, many of our clients repair pumps, gear boxes and other types of rotating equipment to support their end-user accounts,” Potts explains.
Today, Bartlett Bearing has become known as the go-to bearings distributor among its 3,000 accounts nationwide. “What has become unusual and exotic to the localized distributor becomes much more common to us,” Potts explains. “It allows us to stock a lot of specialty bearings that other distributors really couldn’t justify because they have a small population of clients under their umbrella.”
In 1988, Tom Bartlett sold Bartlett Bearing to his daughter, Gayle Musser and her husband Larry, which makes the company a woman-owned and operated business. The trade has traditionally been dominated by men, but Potts says Gayle Musser has taken the company to “levels beyond expectations.”
Bartlett Bearing operates five locations east of the Mississippi River that are strategically located so the company is as close as possible to its customer base. This allows Bartlett Bearing to supply product using UPS one-day ground service. “We sell west of the Mississippi every day,” Potts says. “And along the East Coast, we service from Maine to Florida.”
Its Gastonia, N.C., facility opened in 2000 to service clients in North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia. “For example, if we have a client in Charlotte, N.C., that needs a bearing tomorrow, the only way we could have serviced them out of Philadelphia was to use some type of priority shipping method like next-day air, which has an added cost for transportation,” Potts explains. “By locating in North Carolina we eliminated that. We have a huge population of customers in that geographic region that we can service with one-day ground.”
Providing one-day ground service for its customers has been Bartlett Bearing’s strategy since day one. “When we open a new facility we do a lot of market research,” Potts says. “We focus on how much geographic coverage we can get using one-day ground and what population of our targeted customer base exists in that geographic area.”
Bartlett Bearing’s Hebron, Ky.-based facility opened 11 years ago with the objective to again meet its customers’ needs in Kentucky and the surrounding states using one-day ground shipping. Both facilities have been successful, Potts says, so the company opened a facility in Pelham, Ala., to gain more marketshare in the South.
Its fifth location is in Tampa, Fla., which opened just over two years ago and only services its customer base in Florida. “We targeted some corporate business down there that had locations throughout Florida,” Potts says. “There is one guy down there that has multiple locations and we have a relationship with the customer, and wanted to get closer to capture more business. So far it’s worked.”
Its headquarters in Philadelphia is where the bulk of the inventory and staff are located. Each branch also has its own inventory to service their respective customers, as well as a staff of inside and outside salespeople. “Our biggest challenge today is finding people. We are going to open another facility in 2017 and sort of change our business model a bit,” Potts says.
The new facility is expected to be up and running in Fall 2017, but the location has yet to be made public. It will be a satellite branch for Bartlett Bearing. The satellite office will have inventory on-hand, an experienced management manager from within the company and an extensive staff of warehouse personnel.
“Those facility customers won’t call that location,” Potts explains. “They will call us in Philadelphia or any of our other branches. The facility manager will develop new business and we want those customers to call us in Philadelphia, where we have the most number of employees, the greatest resources and literally centuries of experience in our customer service department.”
Bartlett Bearing employs 67 people throughout its five locations, and of that total, 33 of those employees work on the customer service team. The sales team consists of inside salespeople who take calls from inside the facilities and outside salespeople who visit customers’ locations. “I find it a bit fascinating that half of our people are making something happen and the other half are managing our inventory through purchasing and inventory management,” Potts says.
The company staffs 14 warehouse employees, seven of them located in the Philadelphia. Nine people total are involved in purchasing and inventory management for Bartlett Bearings with six located in the company’s headquarters.
To ensure its employees are knowledgeable and the integrity of the products are preserved, Bartlett Bearing is focused and committed to ongoing training and development for all its employees. The company holds internal product training for its customer service team, as well as online training and off-site training through the manufacturers it represents.
“Gayle Musser, the owner of this company, is dedicated to the future of the company,” Potts says. “If we are going to continue to be bearings specialists for our electro-mechanical customers, we have to continue to bring the value to them. Part of that value is product knowledge.”
Bartlett Bearing is also actively involved with training its customers and members of the Electrical Apparatus Service Association. The association’s annual meeting is a multiple day event where Bartlett Bearing offers its expertise.
In addition to training, Bartlett Bearing purchases the necessary products in its warehouses to ensure the diversity of its inventory. “We need to have integrity of the product that we send out our door,” Potts says. “Accuracy and the important of packaging – these bearings are dense, heavy parts. We can do all the right things, but if we send it out the door and it’s not in an acceptable condition due to the unfortunate things that happen in transportation, we have lost our value.”
Because of the commitment Bartlett Bearing makes to its employees, Potts says the company has a good retention rate. “It’s quite unusual for an employee who has been here for a year or two to end up leaving the company,” he adds. “Generally, if we can attract the right people – and we have been successful at that – it’s a very low turnover.”
Bartlett Bearing partners with a group of five core manufacturers that have identified the company as an industry specialist in the electro-mechanical motor repair industry. “These manufacturers have supported us in a lot of ways,” Potts says.
The company’s top-five manufacturers include SKF, Koyo, NTN Bearing, FAG and Timken, which are all well-known, tier one bearing manufacturers. “They have all chosen to partner with Bartlett Bearing as a distributor to service the electro-mechanical repair industry,” Potts says. “In addition to that, we have other manufacturers that we strongly partner with: Ringball Corp., Garlock Sealing Technologies, Moline Bearing, AMI Bearings, Electro Static Technology and Consolidated Bearings Co. They aren’t the ‘big five,’ but are an important part of our business to service the same industry.”
In addition to its U.S. manufacturers, Bartlett Bearings also partners with two bearing manufacturers in Europe: NKE in Austria and Fersa in Spain. “We bring in products they can provide to us that are unique to applications within our customer base,” Potts says. “Selected products are stocked on our shelves from them that fit our customers’ needs and bring value to our proposition to the client.”
Fulfilling the Need
Ringball Corp.’s RBL product line meets the needs of customers that have economy in mind. “This is for customers who are driven by price,” Potts adds. “We spend time and effort working with Ringball and have been somewhat instrumental in developing this RBL product line.”
RBL is a Chinese bearing of high-quality standards for electric motor applications with the correct design, internal clearance, grease, and low noise and vibration specifications to meet Bartlett Bearing’s customers’ needs. “We have chosen to hang our hat on RBL because of the commitment we have to one another,” Potts says. “It’s been a very, very successful line for our customers to purchase and an economy product of high-quality.”
Moline Bearing and AMI Bearings provides Bartlett Bearing with pillow block bearings for air handling equipment such as fans and blowers. Many of Bartlett Bearing’s customers go on-site to their customers’ facilities to repair motors. While they are on location, the customer can also provide end-users with ball bearing pillow blocks from AMI Bearings and rolling bearing pillow blocks from Moline Bearing for their fans, blowers and exhaust systems. “It has become an add-on for aggressive, larger clients,” Potts says.
Garlock Sealing Technologies offers bearing isolators, a solution-based product that is typically applied by repair shop customers during the repair process. It is an upgrade to the end-users’ equipment. “Bearing isolators protect the bearings within the equipment being repaired from contamination caused by dirt, dust, moisture and any environmental products that can get inside these machines and attack bearings and shorten their life,” Potts explains.
Bartlett Bearing has seen an increase in interest among its customers as the product increase the life of rotating equipment. “I’m a firm believer that offering the Garlock solution-based product that we are going to continue to see growth and at the same time, be able to provide our core customers a product that can enhance their repair process to the end-user.”
Consolidated Bearing Co. has partnered with Bartlett Bearing for decades. “What makes them special to Bartlett Bearing and all their customers is their depth of inventory,” Potts says. “Consolidated Bearing is the most reliable, dependable, professional reseller of bearings to distributors in the U.S.”
Bartlett Bearing purchases from Consolidated Bearing routinely not because it has the best price, but because the company has excellent service, Potts says. “They have deep inventory and products that even bearing manufacturers don’t have sitting on the shelf,” he adds. “They are a class act. If it’s 5 p.m. and I need a product I don’t have, they are our go-to to make it happen.”
Variable Frequency Drive
One of the biggest challenges in the industry today as an end-user is the amount of electricity required to keep electric motors running, Potts says. To combat this, electric motor and drive manufacturers introduced a variable frequency drive (VFD) to reduce energy costs.
“What the motor and drive manufacturers didn’t understand when they introduced the cost-saving technology was that there were some bad side effects on the bearings within the electric motors,” he adds. “An electrical current attacks the bearings in the motors, so all this energy savings they were enjoying got sacrificed by downtime because the currents attacking the bearings in the electric motors.”
About 13 years ago, Electro Static Technology developed a product to address this problem through its AEGIS division called the shaft ground ring. It takes the bad capacitive voltage that the VFD creates within the electric motor that causes damage to the bearings off the shaft of the motor to the frame of the motor and to ground. “It eliminates that current that was passing through the bearing and damaging it and gives a path for that current to go without attacking the bearings,” Potts explains. “It’s a very big part of our business today because this problem is so prevalent.”
This year, Bartlett Bearing will buy more than $1 million worth of shaft ground rings to protect bearings. “AEGIS SGR is the solution that we bring to our customers to extend the life of the bearings,” Potts says. “There is no other distributor in the U.S. as dedicated to providing solutions for this problem that exists in the market than Bartlett Bearing. We provide the technology, stock the product and understand the problem.”
In addition to AEGIS technology, Bartlett Bearing stocks ceramic-coated and ceramic rolling element bearings, as well as insulated housing sleeves to offer a full circle solution to this problem and our customers.
Bartlett Bearing remains a successful and recognized leader in the industry because it is a trusted supplier. “We have partnered with manufacturers and committed to inventory on our shelves to support and service our customers’ needs,” Potts says. “It’s unusual today, Gayle Musser has a lot of money sitting on the shelves for our customers and manufacturers we distribute for. We have committed to stocking their product and believe in our inventory.”
Bartlett Bearing will continue to stock specialized inventory of exotic bearings for different applications that enhances its position with its customers. “When you piggyback out trust, knowledge, experience, passion and investment in inventory, which is close to $10 million, it enables us to provide service levels to our customers that’s tough to compete with,” Potts says. “We really believe we are a value-added, rapid response, trusted, reliable, experienced distributor serving our customers.”
Musser continues to reinvest in the company in many ways and is focused on future growth. A succession plan is in place and has already begun at Bartlett Bearing among the management team, as well as ownership. Sarah Musser, daughter of Gayle and Larry, has been working at Bartlett Bearing for six years.
Sarah Musser has progressed through the company, working her way up through each department and is currently involved in the marketing department. Her focus today is on the company’s website and upgrading it to one day launch an online store so customers can buy from the website instead of calling, faxing or emailing orders. “I see that Sarah will end up as the third generation at Bartlett Bearing, which is typically the kiss of death because the third generation often doesn’t want to work,” Potts says. “That’s not the case here. I am very impressed with the dedication, work ethic and vision that Sarah Musser will bring to the company. It’s reassuring for Gayle, Larry and all the associates.”