Right out of the gate, Steve Wright, CMS, kindly wanted to make one thing clear — he owes all of his success, in business and in life, to God. It’s that simple, and something that he as a Christian believed must be stated, in order that his story be fully told. Because it’s from that recognition Steve says, that everything else has fallen into place — from the day he founded Wright Brothers, Inc. in 1976, to raising a family, to his life today as the leader of a $6 million business with 30 employees.
Wright Brothers is based in Griffin, GA. It’s about 30 miles removed from the faster-pace of metropolitan Atlanta, however there’s plenty of action for this medium size company, as its technicians operate within a busy 100-mile radius from home base that includes commercial and industrial work in metro Atlanta.
Steve Wright was a mere 22 when he founded Wright Brothers, with money provided by his in-laws for tools, knowledge he acquired through an HVACR program at Atlanta Area College, and a short time with a Trane franchise. And so, in yet another classic tale of small beginnings, Wright, his wife Beverly, brother Jim, and their first employee, David Cooley, worked out of the Wright’s home and one truck. Beverly ran the office, and Steve and David ran the calls, taking on whatever HVACR service work they could find. But it eventually came to focus on refrigeration, which was Steve’s primary interest.
Things Start to Click
It’s a good thing Steve Wright loved his work, because soon there was plenty of it. “We worked so hard that sometimes there was no time to think,” Beverly Wright says. “But we determined in our hearts and minds to do it, and we did.”
In 1979 they purchased a 1,500 sq. ft. building. Today, Wright Brothers operates out of a 15,000 sq. ft. building that’s neat as a pin. Their son Steve Jr. joined in 1992, and now serves as service manager. Beverly is the company’s chief financial officer.
Steve Wright credits much of the company’s prosperity to Beverly’s commitment to success, in both their business and family lives. “She did so much to keep the business and family going at the same time. She never complained, and was never too busy to let anything fall through the cracks,” he says.
Small beginnings were necessarily the order of the day, as the refrigeration industry itself was very small by today’s standards. The company’s first account was Pet Dairies stores, where they serviced refrigerated display cases and coolers. Then came Big Star, a large regional grocery chain. Refrigeration service was the team’s primary offering but they gradually moved into case and cooler installation.
In 1996, brother Jim took charge of a residential HVAC division, which enabled Steve to focus entirely on commercial and industrial refrigeration.
The firm’s growth was fueled by the growth of the industry itself, as more supermarkets came into being, and competition heated up.
“Our customer base has grown, and that’s allowed us to expand with them,” Wright explains. “We picked up some accounts based on our name recognition, and as Big Star and later Piggly Wiggly, began to grow as leading chain stores.
“We also maintained a consistent sales effort from the sales team. John Whitworth and John Denson are in the field everyday: their focus is to identify new accounts and pursue them.
Today, Wright Brothers’ main supermarket customers are the Food Depot and Wayfield Foods chains, which Steve describes as “mega independents.” Wright Brothers currently services about 70 supermarkets. Industrial accounts include Inland Seafood, Exopac, Cargill, and Star Packaging.
Couldn’t Do It Without the Team
Steve Wright views his employees as the company’s “number one asset,” and he’s focused on bringing the best talent through the doors and onto the payroll.
“We want to have the reputation of having workers that are highly-skilled, familiar with cutting-edge technology, hard-working, and well-compensated,” Steve says. “I want everyone to work in a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere that breeds excellence. I want every worker to be able to fulfill their career goals and dreams at Wright Brothers.”
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Technician Training & Certification
All of Wright Brothers’ technicians are EPA-certified for handling refrigerants. Some have CM designations from Refrigerant Service Engineers Society (RSES), and they hold state HVAC licenses.
New technicians with training, but without previous field experience, must pass a test on the fundamentals of refrigeration. They will then spend two to three years riding with an experienced technician before taking to the road on their own.
Someone with technical school training, but who also has some industry background, will go through the RSES training program, which is similar to an apprenticeship program. In-house training is based on RSES materials, and they hold regular meetings which focus on a technical topic and safety.
Wright says, “We attend an RSES training session each month. Son Steve Wright Jr. and Tim Sutton are both active in the strong, local RSES chapter. We meet at Southern Crescent Technical College. Moving forward, we’re going to encourage them to acquire RSES CM designations, and provide a spiff for that.”
“Most of our training for experienced technicians is hands-on, and supported by our in-house training in principles and by RSES training sessions. We’ll also have people come in from manufacturers, such as Manitowoc and Hoshizaki, or Sporlan. We do that several times each year,” Wright explains.
“You get them on the bandwagon and work with them,” says Tim Sutton, controls manager. “We’re in the trenches with them, correcting them if they go in the wrong direction.” Steve Wright says he’s a very non-meddlesome manager, who is most effective by walking around, observing, and asking questions.
“I try to get people on board with what I’m doing. If they come to see me, or if I see something that’s out of line technically, I’ll use that as a training opportunity. I’ll devise some training to help resolve it, and I also work with them to improve managerial skills,” he says.
Steve and the team prepare themselves for industry changes by reading. Their favorites journals are ContractingBusiness.com, the RSES Journal, and what they find on the HVAC-Talk.com discussion forum, owned and managed by ContractingBusiness.com.
Bring On the New Technology
The Wright Brothers team welcomes any and all improvements to technology that help them work faster, more accurately and more efficiently.
Steve sees automation and controls as primary changes that have led to the betterment of the industry.
“Another is the way we can obtain technical information, virtually instantaneously, through the Internet and manufacturers’ websites. The third is the smartphone, and how it can be used to send photos of equipment failure from a jobsite. I can help the technician identify the failure if they’re stuck.”
Electronic expansion valves are one of installation manager Carl Grubbs’ favorite advancements.
“Where it used to take an hour to set a valve , they can now be set in 10 minutes,” he marvels. “If we would install new cases in a grocery store, it would take us a month to run and check all of the valves. Now, it can be done the same day as the installation. And today’s supermarket customers want it running now.
Sutton appreciates EPR valves, TXVs, and all types of compressor controls.
“You set the temperature on the computer, and the electronics take care of it,” he says with a smile. “Also, today’s digital discus compressors make racks run better, smoother, and more evenly. When we deal with some old equipment, we try to update it the best we can, using new technology. I also appreciate alarm capabilities. We find out when fans are down or cases are becoming warm. From that to refrigerant leak detection, alarms really help us.”
Fulfilling Many Commitments
Quality and a high level of customer service are top priorities at Wright Brothers. “We always do what is in the customers’ best interest,” Steve says. In fact, the company’s mission statement claims that Wright Brothers’ customers must be completely satisfied with their work.
It states: “Our objective is to meet their wants, needs, and desires in a cost-effective way. We want to maintain the reputation of having the highest quality standards, while being the best value provider in our service area.”
“In our business, it’s important that we have proper refrigeration at all times,” says Ron Edenfield, president/CEO of Wayfield Foods. “I want a company that not only has the technical knowledge to fix the problem, but also has the know-how to prevent most problems. Wright Brothers does this for us. We’ve had less problems with our refrigeration since we’ve been with Wright Brothers. When we have a problem they’re quick to respond and fix it.”
Eric Bone is the manager of the Wayfield Foods store in College Park. He admires the Wright Brothers’ sense of urgency.
“We feel that we’re a priority. They take care of the problem within hours,” he says. “We also work well together to balance meeting our retail sales needs with their need to complete the work.”
“They’re excellent,” says Terry Nash, manager of the Food Depot in Fayetteville. “There’s never an issue where you can’t get service from Wright Brothers. In most cases, because of their controls savvy, they know something is wrong before I do. They’re a phone call away.”
Tim Sutton, controls manager, knows the value of communicating with customers and understanding the feelings of others.
“When you talk to store owners, they understand that their managers are there to manage the store, and they’ll tell us to do whatever we need to do. You must do what the owner wants, which means you might have work through the manager, to do what the boss wants done. You’ve got to find a way to explain that to the manager. You never mow anybody down, but you can influence them.”
“Mom and pop stores are different. They’d rather not pay for anything, but they know we wouldn’t be calling or stopping in if we didn’t need to be. We’re there because an alarm told us something is wrong.”
Great Help to RSES
Steve Wright appreciates the importance of association involvement, and is an active member of RSES.
“Steve Wright has been an ‘ideal’ RSES member, because he’s a contractor with technical prowess and ability,” says Mark Lowry, RSES executive vice president. “He also encourages his employees to become members, and will pay for those memberships. As a local volunteer leader, he’s been very engaged with distributors in his area, encouraging them to provide information about RSES to their other contractor customers.
“Steve is the newest member to our board of directors, and is doing a great job by adding his expertise in finance and planning, and challenging other directors to join him in regional recruiting,” Lowry adds.
Wright Brothers is ready for any and all challenges that might come its way in the ever-changing world of commercial refrigeration. It has 36 years of learning, observing, serving, and adapting to a changing market and changing technologies. So don’t let its calm exterior fool you. Bring on the change; they’re ready.
Within that name — Wright Brothers — hides another word that sums up their key desire: to do what’s “right” for customers and employees. For that reason,ContractingBusiness.com magazine has selected Wright Brothers, Inc. as its 2013 COMMERCIAL REFRIGERATION CONTRACTOR OF THE YEAR!
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Honesty and Support Energize This Management Team
Each member of the Wright Brothers management team is there to help one another in times of need, in or out of the office. They know how to have fun on the job, and can also share ideas with each other to improve the overall operation of the business.
“We’re totally honest with each other,” says installation manager Carl Grubbs. “Even if we agree to disagree, we still move forward. Without having each person to fall back on, I don’t see the wheels turning. We’re honest with customers and honest with each other.”
It’s often stated, but remains so true: “We try to treat a customer the way we’d want to be treated,” says John Whitworth, sales manager. “Even with existing customers, where there’s no competition, you still must treat them right. Customers say ‘give me a price and I’ll give you a purchase order,’ and that’s because they know of our honesty. And when we do make a mistake, we take care of it, at our expense.”
“When a problem comes up, everybody does their part and then some, to resolve it,” says diligent office manager Amy Hinton.
“A major key to our success is that we always ask, ‘is it in the best interest of the customer?’” comments John Sweatte, operations manager. He describes working for Wright Brothers as, “a wonderful opportunity.”
“We shoot for everything to be correct,” says Tim Sutton, controls manager. “The quality we’re striving for is found in total customer satisfaction.We try to do whatever it takes to get there. If I see something amiss in our endeavors, we pull together to achieve that quality. We won’t leave it undone.”
“We’re a “family” and we have a lot of longevity. We all have unique talents, and we know our stuff. If we put our heads together there’s nothing we can’t fix,” adds Steve Wright Jr., service manager. “I don’t know anyone who can design a control system better than Tim, or could install it better than Carl. John knows how to find customers, and knows what they want. We have a lot of talent, and a lot of years.”
Leigh Roberts joined Wright Brothers after working in the fast-paced Atlanta corporate world Delta Airlines and then Coca-Cola. She's the company's accounts payable manager.
“We have great camaraderie and freedom. I like being able to do myjob to the best of my ability, in my time,” she says. “We all have deadlines, but if I’m not feeling that great one day I can take it a bit easier and focus only on the phones. They know I’ll get the job done. It’s a very relaxed, family atmosphere. I love that we all kid around as if we’re brothers and sisters, including the owner. Steve will sit in the kitchen during lunch, and talk with us. If there’s a problem we need to discuss, he’ll help us in a second.”
Roberts says the attribute that makes her most effective in her work is her friendliness to customers.
“I want them to ‘hear’ my smile over the phone. I want them to know that I understand the problem and that we’ll get to it today. I have a good phone presence and camaraderie with customers. They feel as if they’re calling a friend,” she says . . . with a smile.
The newest team member, dispatcher Donnise Gregory, has been with Wright Brothers for two years. She has experience in sales, and was a stay-at-home mom before returning to the business world. She now has a sure footing in the dispatching department. “I never once thought I didn’t want to do this, because everyone was so welcoming and encouraging,” she says.
Gregory has found that a dispatcher must be personable, diligent, and persistent. “You have to be on top of things. You can’t let anything slip through the cracks. We service such a broad spectrum of customers, so no type of call is predominant,” she says. To improve her industry knowledge, she will be devoting time to the RSES CD learning series.
“This position isn’t one where you can remain stagnant," she shares. "This business is constantly changing, from refrigerant phaseouts to more energy efficient products, you have to educate yourself about the industry.” — TM
WHO IS THE CONTRACTOR OF THE YEAR?
The ContractingBusiness.com National Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year represents an elite group: a forward-thinking class of commercial refrigeration contractors who are dynamic and professional in every aspect of their business. They constantly seek new ways to improve their businesses through quality contracting, and they strive for the highest level of customer service.
These contractors maintain superior treatment of their employees, customers, and suppliers. They establish a reputation as providers of superior products and services. They have an eye on the future, and are aware of changing market conditions as they respond quickly to opportunities in their niche.
These contractors follow strategic plans and maximize their returns on investment, and are always exploring new ways to improve their operations. They maintain high levels of communication within their organizations, are aware of changing market conditions, and respond quickly to opportunities. They’re the leaders of our industry. They’re committed to their businesses and the industry, and aren’t afraid to take calculated risks, and explore new market areas.
Visit bit.ly/2014CBRCOY to nominate a contractor you believe fits these criteria. It could be your own company or a competitor whose work you've always admired.
STEVE WRIGHT'S "Attributes a Leader Should Have"
1. Self control.
3. Able to teach.
4. Gentle, not violent.
5. Not quarrelsome.
6. Does not love money.
7. Not be new to the business.
8. A person of good repute.
9. Not overbearing.
10. Not quick-tempered.
11. Loves what is good and right.
13. Blameless, above suspicion.
14. Faithful to spouse and family.
15. Temperate and reasonable.
16. Respectable, highly regarded.
17. Not prone to drunkenness.
18. Manages his own household well.
19. Does not pursue dishonest gain.
20. Clearly understands the business.
23. A person of vision and passion.
24. Able to identify problems.
25. Able to envision, plan, and execute.
26. A person of influence.
27. A student.