• Contractingbusiness 1480 Cb0911 Degrees Improvement

    Degrees of Improvement

    Sept. 1, 2011
    Taking your refrigeration business to the ‘next level’ requires a focus on areas needing improvement, and capitalizing on new opportunities.

    Since he started at TWC Services, Inc., Ft. Myers, FL in 2005, Branch Manager James Roberts has helped take the branch from $1 million in annual sales to $4 million, and he's had to hire 13 new technicians. He accomplished that feat by improving training and administrative processes, and an emphasis on solving customers’ problems.

    TWC Services' customers include many major national account customers. The Ft. Myers location is a branch of TWC Services, Inc., Des Moines, IA.

    "Our corporate policy has always been to encourage training, but we started a monthly in-house training class, based on technician surveys. We asked them to describe areas in which they'd like to see more training," explains Roberts, who is also an instructor at a local four-year apprenticeship academy.

    Roberts explains, "We started this increased emphasis on training about three years ago. We kind of anticipated the economy faltering, and we wanted to differentiate ourselves. It's better off to be considered a little higher in price, but to have customers who can be confident that it's going to get fixed right the first time within budget."

    TWC Services' senior technicians have developed training classes to address service call-specific issues and troubleshooting, as a way to reduce frequent callbacks. During the classes, technicians are asked to review equipment problem areas that have been the source of more frequent callbacks. Roberts says it's picked up the success rate of first-time fixes.

    "We found that the callbacks seemed to be consistent in certain areas, which, of course, reflects a weakness in a particular area. Once we targeted it, it seemed to improve everybody's performance. Examples include diagnosing defrost problems, and causes of certain icing conditions. Another one was managing excessive icing on walk-in and reach-in coolers. A lot of these reach-in and walk-in coolers don't really have the capacity for all of the humidity we have to deal with in Florida. So, we have some unique issues when it comes to the amount of ice they get and the amount of defrost it needs to keep the coils clear."

    TWC Services participates in manufacturer training, including courses by Manitowoc, Heatcraft, Sporlan, Emerson, Parker/Alco, Browning, White Rodgers, and NuCalgon, for training on environmentally safe cleaning products.

    Problem Solvers
    Roberts believes it's important to examine how a company maintains its primary business processes, and determine what differentiates it from competitors. For example, he wants TWC Services to be seen as a diverse problem solver.

    "I don't mind developing the relationship to the point that I'm the first person they think of when they need something," he says. "I've had customers call about roofing, plumbing, electrical problems, even where we got our business cards printed. I get the answers for them. If we can’t help them, I'll help them find a reputable contractor who can. We've become the 'go to guy' for them, not just another vendor."

    Roberts and the team have improved their overall approach to managing the business, from dispatching, to billing, to their image before customers.

    "We've tried to make sure we have good dispatching. We've put GPS on our vans, which improved our travel times. We also saved on vehicle insurance by tracking the speed of the vans. Going 80 instead of 70 really doesn't save you much time, increases fuel costs, and is unsafe. Everything you can remove from the cost side of the ledger adds to profitability, but also to your ability to provide more employee benefits," he says.

    "We also examined our billing and collections, and made improvements, so we no longer have many late billings or payments. A brand-new business must complete a credit card authorization form. That gives us an extra hook, so we're not left hanging by no-pay or slow-pay accounts. We now have a minimal amount of 90-day accounts."

    Roberts found many of his ideas from Lessons from the Mouse, by Disney Corporation speaker Dennis Snow, who says to look at everything through the lens of the customer. "Everything you do 'says something,' from how you park your truck, to how you speak to the customer, to how you treat your tools. Snow says you have to 'WOW' the customer with extras that take you from being just a vendor to almost like a partner in their business," Roberts says.