Adjustment period
Red metals distributor follows protocols to lower infection risk and keep its supply chain moving
BY Corinna Petry

he months have seemed to drag for a lot of people, especially those who have been laid off or who saw serious slowdowns in sectors that are heavily dependent on the consumer economy. The manufacturing sector and the metals supply chain that supports it are essential, which means that although there have been hiccups, Farmers Copper is taking things day by day.

Modern Metals spoke with Co-Presidents Dicky and Bob Farmer, and a new addition to the staff, Macy Surovik, a marketing specialist, to find out how the company has adapted to the challenges of a global pandemic.

“We have been following the guidelines and staying safe and healthy down here,” says Dicky Farmer. “I never thought it would go on this long. I thought it would pass in a couple months. Now we see a spike [in cases]. But we have weathered a lot of storms,” including 2008’s Hurricane Ike.

farmers copper employee
Farmers Copper employees are following health guidelines such as wearing masks and gloves.
While many articles have been published lately about the antimicrobial benefits of copper compared with other materials, Farmers has not yet seen an increase in copper sales for healthcare applications. However, “what we have done internally recently is placed copper sheeting on counters around coffee machines and workstations,” says Dicky Farmer.

Farmers is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines for workplace social distancing. “We have set up a couple shifts to spread out workers. We do temperature checks in the morning, and we have face mask requirements. We are taking it seriously. We hope our employees are taking precautions on their personal time,” he says.

If an employee does become sick or must quarantine to prevent infection, that will be managed on a case-by-case basis.

As for other risk management strategies, Bob Farmer says, “Crews go through the plants several times a day and clean surfaces—saws and forklifts, doors, anything that is a touched surface. Part of our staff is working remotely.

“We have temporarily suspended supplier and customer visits to our offices, as well as travel by outside sales staff. Those who are on site wear gloves and face masks. We are doing what we can to keep the place running and people employed. We haven’t had any layoffs,” Bob Farmer notes. The service center did participate in the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

Farmers laid down copper sheet in its employee kitchen due to its antimicrobial properties.
Minimal disruptions
There were worries early on during the pandemic, especially about the ability to receive imports from hot spots like Europe, because some companies were idling due to infection.

“We have noticed some mills in Europe that are running a little behind on delivery because they had to deal with COVID-related issues on their own staff,” Bob Farmer says. “Locally, we know of a couple of our suppliers that became late on deliveries, due to some employees who were out for a while. That put the hurt on our ability to meet deliveries. With our customers, we aren’t seeing any big problem at this time. But it’s actually still an ongoing concern.”

“We have always had a hurricane preparation plan,” Dicky Farmer says. “Our computer and VOIP phone system allowed us to make an immediate emergency plan. We transformed that pretty easily to adapt to COVID. If we get a hurricane threat, we already have people working remotely who can relocate and plug in immediately. That’s already in place.”
old photograph of Farmer's Marine Copper Works
Centennial celebration
By Stephanie Andrews (from Modern Metals, 2013)

Les Farmer Sr. was a dreamer. He emigrated from England to America in 1919. A coppersmith by trade, he and his brother, Sidney Farmer Sr., began working and repairing ships in a Boston shipyard. Once they saved enough money, they traveled around the Gulf Coast in search of opportunities, finally settling in Galveston.

In 1920, Les and Sidney Farmer founded Farmer’s Marine Copper Works, a marine repair shop that grew into a metal service center. When Farmer’s Marine Copper Works opened, its focus was shipyard repairs. Over time, the company expanded its services to include petrochemical fabrication and maintenance. Soon customers began purchasing raw metal and finished products, leading the company to open two metal service centers, Farmer’s Copper Ltd.

Among the oldest family owned and operated metal service centers in the United States, Farmers Copper is run by the four Farmer brothers (Bob, Dicky, Bruce and Keith). The original company, Farmers Marine Copper Works, still operates today as Farmers Alloy Fabricating Inc. That business, run by cousins Tom, Sid, Jason and Ted Farmer, continues to service the petrochemical industry.

Most of Farmers’ customers “are adapting to this pretty well, too. Some customers are bringing in different shift work to stagger their crews. When we make deliveries, our drivers are required to wear masks at their facilities. I think most everyone in our industry is very blessed that we have work and we are following guidelines to keep it going,” he says.

Even before the outbreak of a pandemic, Farmers had been “affected by the oil and gas market. A lot of that was due to the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and then COVID hit. So there has been a serious downturn in the energy market, including layoffs,” Dicky Farmer says. “For us, we have other markets we handle and cater to. Those other markets have us in a good place.” As to revenue projections for the rest of the year and how they might compare with 2019, “I don’t have a solid idea. We are taking it day by day and doing the best we can.”

Staying connected
Because so much more business is being transacted electronically, Farmers Copper has spent more time working on social media and other marketing outlets. “We are tracking a lot more information about our customers than we were in the past. It’s good to have someone here right out of college and who knows the lingo,” Dicky Farmer says of Macy Surovik.
come to us for metal, but also for information about where to get other services.
macy surovik, farmers copper
“Farmers has access to a lot of information and, with my new position, we are now able to retrieve it,” says Surovik. “We are tracking the market, who is where, what they want and how to get it. We want to be a one-stop shop—come to us for metal, but also for information about where to get other services.

“We are expanding our website to get new customers to find us,” she continues. “Marketing has completely changed during this pandemic. People don’t want just a sales effort, they want easy access to information right then and there.

“We created a lot more material for our sales team to put out electronically, especially for the outside sales team that cannot visit customers. We are trying to stay connected.”

metal with holes cut out
Operations such as hole cutting continue as demand from some markets remains steady.
Because there has been a curtailment in activity in energy and aerospace, Bob Farmer says, “We make sure we have material and try to optimize items we have in stock and constantly adjust to the market.

“We maintain inventory but we are not going overboard on items where demand has declined or is expected to be down compared with prior years,” he says. Some products going to oil and gas have been adjusted significantly. Hopefully, the market will adjust upward again. It takes time.” Meanwhile, however, Farmers Copper reduced inventory by about 10 percent in the first half.

“Although we manage inventory closely, we are still adding a size here or an alloy there as demand indicates,” Bob Farmer says.

“Until we get America back on its feet, driving and delivering materials, oil and gas will suffer for a while,” Dicky Farmer says.

Farmers Copper, Texas City, Texas, 888/336-0629,