Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to another person is that of being a mentor. Sam Grooms, MHEDA’s 1999 president and president of Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc. (Columbus, OH) can attest to the value of both being mentored and being a mentor.
In February of 1981, Grooms was fortunate to have met Bill Slife. As a long time member of MHEDA’s Board of Directors and as a past president, Slife had demonstrated a vision for our industry and a commitment to helping others grow within the field of material handling. As one of MHEDA’s early members, Slife was a very forward thinking individual, committed to sharing his knowledge with others in our industry.
It is a strong possibility that Grooms would not have selected a career in material handling, if not for Slife’s role as a mentor to young athletes at his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. Groom’s brother Scott was a freshman athlete, lucky enough to win a summer job working for Slife Material Handling, Inc. By 1981, despite a horrible recession, Slife had built a $3.5 million company employing 35 people. Scott, impressed by Slife’s leadership, convinced his older brother to seek employment at Slife Material Handling, Inc.
Slife was also a mentor to two other key individuals who, together with Grooms, own today’s Hy-Tek Material Handling. Seventeen year old Tony Murray joined the company in 1967. Dave Price joined the company in 1977 as sales manager. According to Grooms, “The scope of the dreams that I’ve been allowed to dream have become greater, thanks to the seeds planted by a mentor.”
Tragically, in 1988 Slife developed a terminal illness, precipitating his decision to sell his company to a team of five trusted individuals. The original five were: Bill Miller who had joined the company in 1966; Slife’s brother-in-law John Guenin, Price, Murray, and Grooms. Guenin was the only one of the five to have previous experience in actually running a company. At Slife’s request, Guenin assumed the role of president for a two-year period. Once the team was stabilized, Guenin was able to return to a company he owned in Dayton.
Bill Miller served as president from 1991 until his January 1, 1997 retirement. Today the “semi-retired” Miller is working more hours than ever, and is Hy-Tek’s star sales person.
Price and Murray serve as the company’s executive vice presidents. Today Hy-Tek employs 160 people and operates three locations serving a market that spans 400 square miles. Hy-Tek personnel serve customers throughout all of Ohio, with the exception of northwestern Ohio, parts of Indiana, and parts of Kentucky. Slife’s legacy lives on, as the company he created continues to grow and prosper.
The three principals are mentoring the company’s future leaders in much the same way as their former teacher did. Grooms says, “As employers, we must help an employee to meet his or her goals and objectives. As a customer-driven company, we are helping our customers to reach their goals and objectives.”
The Tradition of Excellence
Hy-Tek’s “Tradition of Excellence” is based on the results accomplished during the past decade. Hy-Tek’s leadership has set very high goals. According to Grooms, “We want to win the national championship in material handling every year.”
It is not by chance that Hy-Tek is constantly among the top distributors of every manufacturer they represent. Prior to representing a manufacturer, Hy-Tek will scrutinize the company, assuring themselves of the manufacturer’s ability to provide the solutions that Hy-Tek’s customers require. Grooms says, “Once we make the commitment to being the distributor for a particular product, we will do everything that we have to do to get both that manufacturer and the product into a customer’s shop.”
Facing Today’s Challenges
Like other distributors, Hy-Tek has found the recruitment of quality employees a challenge. Like other MHEDA members, Grooms knows the value of networking with other members in order to find solutions to the challenges that are common to our industry. A conversation between Grooms and George Wilkinson, a MHEDA past president and executive vice president of The Modern Group (Bristol, PA), helped Hy-Tek develop a training program at a local vocational school. Hy-Tek’s leadership then helped to develop the curriculum and program for service technicians. True, some graduates may opt for a position in other industries, but today Hy-Tek is, to some degree, creating its own talent.
A Customer-Driven Company
The company makes it a point to seek employees who possess a high degree of empathy for its customers. The achievement of the customer’s objectives is each Hy-Tek employee’s number one concern.
The importance of satisfying the customers’ objectives is demonstrated by the frequency of facility tours, conducted by Hy-Tek personnel. It is not unusual for Hy-Tek personnel to host two tours per day. As opposed to stressing the number of technicians available for service or the number of delivery trucks available, Hy-Tek places an emphasis on the results that they are able to generate, because of those service technicians and delivery trucks.
During the last quarter of 1998, managers of various Hy-Tek departments including parts, rentals, service, systems and installation met with representatives from 25 of the company’s most prominent customers. Those customers were asked about their needs in the way of solutions. As a result of the three-to-four-person focus groups meeting over breakfast, Hy-Tek’s leadership has a better understanding of what the company needs to concentrate on, in order to exceed customers’ expectations. The synergy of Hy-Tek resources and the resources of its customers will create benchmarks that Hy-Tek will use to manage its operations. Says Grooms, “It is not enough to benchmark ourselves against the benchmarks established by our own industry. We must be Walt Disney friendly, FedEx fast, and Nordstroms attentive to customers.”
It is this ability to consistently exceed the customer’s expectations that has enabled Hy-Tek to continue to serve customers like Merchandise Warehouse. Bill Slife began working with this customer at a time when they had just two accounts. Today Merchandise Warehouse has grown into a very large third party logistics warehouse and distribution facility.
Hy-Tek’s number one goal is to not only serve their customer but to serve their customer’s customer. Hy-Tek’s professionals understand their customer’s philosophy and their culture. Amerisource began doing business with Hy-Tek in 1983. Today Amerisource is a $9 billion company with locations spanning the country. Hy-Tek has been responsible for over 80 major projects over the course of their relationship.
A Forward Thinking Company
As the material handling industry has changed, so has Hy-Tek. Today 75-80 percent of Hy-Tek’s customers are leasing equipment. Many are moving towards fleet management. Fleet management customers are assured that Hy-Tek is lowering the cost per operating hour for their equipment. At one time, Hy-Tek employed three shop technicians for every one field technician. Today there is one shop technician for every four working in the field.
The make-up of Hy-Tek’s sales activity is also changing, influenced by various acquisitions. Last year, 56 percent of the business was lift truck related and 44 percent was storage and handling related. In 1999, thanks to the acquisition of Morrison Equipment Company (Cleveland, OH), the percentages of storage and handling sales may actually exceed lift truck sales.
This recent acquisition of the $15M company will provide Hy-Tek with more opportunities to serve more customers, including nationally recognized consultants.
As the bar measuring sales volume continues to raise, all distributors must offer more to their customers–more product, more service and more support. Some forklift distributors are not in a position to make the required investment in personnel, in facilities and in assets to add storage and handling products to their menu of products and services. Hy-Tek is partnering with those lift truck distributors by providing them with the CAD operators, the engineers and the design personnel to support their customers.
When it comes to goals, Sam Grooms is every bit the forward thinker that his mentor Bill Slife was. He, together with his partners Price and Murray are creating a highly regarded work environment. The by-product of that positive atmosphere is a level of service and a product that is superior to what their customers can receive elsewhere. As a result of employing the best people Hy-Tek can find, the company is creating the best in solutions for its customers.
Hy-Tek’s future growth will occur as a result of both acquisitions and internal growth. The company’s leadership anticipates continued acquisitions, provided those acquisitions make sense. The company will continue, whether it is acquiring other companies or growing internally, to maintain its focus on its customers. Grooms says, “When we join forces with another company, we want to create something that we alone could not have accomplished. It is important that we continue to dream of what we can become.” It is this kind of growth that creates a new math: one plus one equals three.
A Commitment to our Industry
As president of MHEDA, Grooms also has goals. “My goal as president of our association is to help other distributors in our industry to deal with the day-in and day-out issues that we are faced with. I’m living with these issues every day of my life: mergers and acquisitions, competitive pressures from the large national rental companies, consolidation of large manufacturers and the acquisition of distributorships by manufacturers. We are dealing with the shortage of quality employees by going out and creating new methods and new markets in which to find and develop those quality employees.
One year ago, The MHEDA Journal surveyed the membership and reported the biggest issues concerning material handling distributors. They were then and continue to be recruiting and retaining quality personnel, training and educating employees and conducting successful manufacturer/distributor relationships. These are the three issues that will most concern Grooms both as president of Hy-Tek Material Handling, Inc. and as MHEDA’s 1999 president.
Staying true to the path established under the tutelage of his mentor Bill Slife, Grooms says, “Personally, I would like to be regarded by my employees and others as a good leader, but not necessarily as a good manager. Things require management and people require leadership. I would like to be regarded as a good husband and a good father. I also want to be someone who has given back to my community through the successes that I have achieved with my partners.”
Bill Slife would be proud of the legacy he has left behind.