Contractor expectations are often based upon the level of service they’re accustomed to receiving. If you’re accustomed to three-day delivery from a distributor, and get it consistently, you’re expectations have been met. However, if one of your competitors begins to receive its orders in just one day, you may be at a disadvantage. Soon, your standard expectation, and that of the entire market, becomes 24 hour delivery.
The automation envelope is being pushed in every aspect of the HVAC industry just as it is in nearly every walk of life.
If it’s automation you’re after, it’s automation you’ll get when you walk into the R.E. Michel Company’s Skywater warehouse in Glen Burnie, MD. This writer has traipsed through many a manufacturer’s factory floor and has never seen the level of sophistication witnessed there.
Every contractor customer expects product availability, training, and marketing support, and usually in that order. R.E. Michel offers complete mobile training capability as well as a state-of-the-art training facility. The Glen Burnie staff is certified to train under North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification standards.
It is their approach to availability and customer service that really sets them apart. J.V. “Beau” Michel III, director of distribution at the corporate center, admits that the company had already achieved less than 24 hour service on a regular basis. However, the distributor spent a tremendous amount of money in 2001 to improve its speed to market for its customers.
Busy is as Busy Does
Similar to many distribution facilities, R.E. Michel moves an array of products that would rival the North Pole on Christmas Eve. What sets them apart from some distributors, and more closely aligns them with Santa’s elves, is the speed at which they reach their customers. R.E. Michel has more than 175 sales locations in 20 states and is positioned to handle even more business when the need arises.
Why did the company implement a new system when it’s next day delivery promise was already being fulfilled? Customer satisfaction. According to R.E. Michel Company President John W.H. “Doc” Michel, “That is the driver behind the development of the improvements to our central distribution operation. We invested substantial capital and man-hours to improve our ability to provide enhanced service to our customers. Our accuracy in shipping product has never been better, and I would venture to say it’s the highest in the HVACR wholesales distribution industry. At our branch locations, this translates into the best possible customer service and more satisfied customers of the R.E. Michel Company. That’s what this business is all about.”
How Long Will “Next Day” Be Soon Enough?
Beau Michel says, “If a contractor calls or walks into one of our branch locations at closing time and the product is not available, it can be there the next morning.”
Having a late-in-the-day ordered product available on a next morning basis may not seem all that extraordinary, depending upon your relationship with your distributor. At the old style R.E. Michel, a contractor could meet an early morning truck that carried an urgently needed part. That process could entail waiting nearly two hours until the truck was unloaded and the part searched out.
“Since the process improvements, we now type in part XYZ; the computer tells us which master container to open and which tote box inside the container holds the part. This can happen in less than 10 minutes,” according to Michel.
Next-day, same-day, or even same-hour service is of no value if the correct product is not available for the customer. “The efficiency of our system combines speed with accuracy, making it virtually impossible to ship the wrong item,” says Michel.
All R.E. Michel branch locations have the capability to provide the same level of service to every customer. The system can process an item today, whether ordered by fax or a wireless terminal in a service van, and have it at their place of business tomorrow.
Many customers are connected directly to the R.E. Michel inventory system. Customers can determine immediately if something isn’t available at the nearest branch and choose options such as driving to another location, or having the product shipped to a jobsite.
Beau Michel says, “This industry has changed so much from the day a distributor salesman walked into the back of a contractor’s shop with pencil and paper in hand. No matter what type of inventory software they use, we can write a program to integrate with their system. They don’t have to change anything about their business. That’s a very customized process.”
“Having a strong in-house Information Technology department gives us a decided advantage. While competitors may still be talking to outside providers, our programs are up and running,” Michel says.
Not receiving the level of service that R.E. Michel provides its customers? It may not be too long before it reaches your doorstep — one way or another.
by Mike Murphy