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Carolina Handling, LLC Exceeding Customer Expectations

MHEDA President Tim Hilton has a vision for his company and our industry.

“We believe that customer service is the name of the game and that satisfying our customers means going beyond what is expected.” Carolina Handling President Tim Hilton knows that working hard to exceed customer expectations develops loyalty and, above all, long-lasting relationships.

Tim Hilton

Carolina Handling President Tim Hilton

What began as five employees at an old gas station in 1966 has blossomed into a rapidly growing regional corporation serving five states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The company’s sales total over $70 million a year. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Carolina Handling, LLC maintains five full service facilities totaling over 125,000 square feet, as well as a Motor Remanufacturing facility, an Electronic Component Rebuilding Center and a Corporate Training and Development Center.

In 1996, Carolina Handling was asked to be the exclusive lift truck supplier for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta and last year was recognized as a Dealer of Distinction by the Raymond Corporation for the seventh consecutive year. This honor is bestowed only on dealers who demonstrate strong overall performance and a solid commitment to the industry.

Material handling is an ever-changing field using new methods and new technologies,” says Hilton. “It holds excitement and challenge for us, and we are dedicated to accepting and using our capacity for change for the benefit of our customers. As we apply the technology inherent in our product lines, our goal is to reduce our customers’ operating costs to help them become more efficient and productive.”

Product Service and Support
To ensure that customers maintain efficient and cost-effective processes, as well as get the best performance from their equipment, Carolina Handling offers a wide range of products and product support. Over 160 well-trained and highly skilled service technicians are qualified to service every piece of equipment. Service programs include scheduled maintenance, fixed-price maintenance and comprehensive fleet management services.

All Carolina Handling service vans are uniquely equipped to meet the needs of specific truck populations. Each van contains diagnostic equipment that helps reduce troubleshooting time and related expenses. The state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment interfaces with the customer’s equipment and service dispatch center to expedite the problem-solving process.

Carolina Handling has the capabilities to recondition, rebuild and remanufacture trucks and major components, including motors. The company recognizes that extensive repairs at the customer’s job site are not always the most economical solution to a problem.

Associates

Associates are the key to Carolina Handling's success.

The automated parts department stocks a complete inventory of replacement parts and maintains a same-day fill rate greater than 92 percent. A Parts Consignment Program has online capabilities networking each branch, enabling parts to be shipped directly from one of several locations. As a result, customers benefit from increased equipment uptime, improved maintenance productivity and an effective means of inventory control.

Rental Programs
A large narrow aisle rental fleet, in addition to dock trucks, is available. Carolina Handling offers rental plans from one day to one year or longer. Also provided are leasing arrangements or rent-to-own programs.

Systems Integration
System design and product integration capabilities ensure that all phases of a customer’s material handling system complement each other. Experienced in providing turnkey material handling solutions, sales representatives use CAD programs to specify and organize any proposed warehousing configuration. They also help to determine productivity analysis and financial justifications, as well as arrange efficiency and safety training for facility employees.

Associates
Carolina Handling believes that in today’s business world, it takes more than just great products and programs to achieve success. In order to find the best possible way to utilize these products to solve customers’ material handling challenges, skilled and knowledgeable people are necessary.

Undoubtedly, the biggest asset for Carolina Handling is its employees, better known as “associates.”

“Associates are carefully selected. They fit into a collaborative, team-building environment where they listen to customers, they ask questions, they seek innovative solutions, they anticipate needs, and they develop loyal and long-lasting relationships with our customers, with our suppliers and with fellow associates,” says Hilton.

Carolina Handling’s recruiting, screening and hiring processes assure that only associates of the highest caliber are enlisted. Associates are encouraged to refer potential employees. Hilton says, “We think the people we hire are pretty neat, and we’d like to bring on other quality people our associates would like to work with and would be proud to call an associate of Carolina Handling.”

When asked what makes a good Carolina Handling associate, Hilton responds without hesitation, “Someone who is customer-oriented; someone who has communication skills; someone who knows they have to earn their stripes every day with customers; and someone who understands that they have to grow, so they take the initiative to self-develop. These are the traits we continue to look for in every position we hire.”

Every one of Carolina Handling’s 330 associates is aware of the company’s motto: Exceeding Customer Expectations. “Simply meeting an expectation means coming through on time with the right part at the right price,” Hilton says. “But exceeding expectations is a whole other story. It takes asking your customers a string of questions to help clarify their true needs. Just the right question might bring to light a need that wasn’t recognized. Perhaps leasing the equipment would be a more appropriate solution, or possibly a completely different piece of equipment would better fill the need, or perhaps modifying a particular service to adapt to the particular customer’s needs. You don’t know until you ask.”

Hilton knows that learning how to listen takes time and practice, and he emphasizes to associates that they don’t want to talk to customers only about equipment. “We want to talk about their businesses, their problems, their processes and their customers. It’s not, ‘How do you handle material?’ It’s, ‘How do you handle your business?’ From those discussions, we can become a true problem solver, and that’s the way we become valuable to our customers.”

Much time and resources are devoted toward ensuring that associates furnish clients with the highest level of service and exceed their expectations. Each applicant is administered a series of interviews, as well as an assessment from Caliper Human Strategies, Inc. to help determine if the individual will fit into the workplace culture—are they empathetic, able to bounce back when things don’t go as they would like, motivated to exceed customer expectations, and do they have growth potential.

Every associate then develops a plan with measurable objectives that will help to meet corporate goals. “It takes years and years to evolve and develop into a company that exceeds expectations,” acknowledges Hilton, “and every year the plan is refined.” Each associate’s individual business plan contributes to his or her development and to the overall success of the company.

Visions
Visions, a total quality management program, was begun in 1992 to improve the way Carolina Handling serves its customers. Somewhat different from a typical TQM program, Visions pledges that associates will strive to do the job right the first time, become proactive instead of reactive, measure performance through customer surveys, promote education and communication through associate involvement, and secure long-term business relationships by exceeding customer expectations.

Three focus groups made up of associates search for ways to improve the company’s processes. The focus groups research suggestions and recommend solutions, determine how they will be implemented, then work out and verify the cost savings. These focus groups end up functioning as a training program for the development of problem-solving skills, and associates learn that while some solutions may sound like a great idea, they turn out not to be after all the ramifications are researched and worked out.

Typically, many employees worry about their own individual domains. After participating in Visions, associates gain a clearer idea of the bigger, total company picture. “The primary purpose of Visions,” says Hilton, “is education and development. Associates who participate in the focus groups end up having a completely different perspective of management and of how difficult it is to find a policy or make a change in a policy that is fair and consistent throughout five states.”

Training
Every associate receives at least two weeks of training each year in areas such as customer service, problem solving, leadership and safety awareness. Sales representatives, service technicians and management also attend industry and job-specific programs. Full-time trainers work with associates and customers at the Corporate Training and Development Centers located at each branch. Many associates also participate in the company’s college tuition reimbursement plan.

Training Session

Training is an ongoing process for associates. Pictured above is a class being conducted at the Corporate Training & Development Center in Greenville.

Hilton’s commitment to education goes back a long way. He’s always had a need to understand why things were done, and his mother, a teacher, taught him the value of learning why. He’s also benefited from having experienced outstanding mentors throughout his career, especially Don Pratt, his first boss at Carolina Handling. Pratt later sold him the business. “Don was patient and fair, and a man of extremely high integrity,” Hilton says. “I learned a lot from him.”

Prior to joining Carolina Handling as its controller in 1978, Hilton worked in the banking industry. He found that many employees really did not understand the reason why things were done, they just did them. “I learned that if employees understood why, they’d probably enjoy their work more.” Hilton is committed to his associates’ education. “People truly make the difference, and helping them grow makes an even bigger difference.”

Hilton’s commitment to educational programs was evident during his tenure as chairperson of MHEDA’s Educational Committee. As a result of his efforts, MHEDA is now offering more and varied educational programs, and is experiencing an increased number of attendees at the Annual Convention and Educational Seminars.

MHEDA in 2000
In his role as 2000 MHEDA president, Tim Hilton hopes to emphasize the excitement as well as the challenges currently facing the material handling industry. New products, new technology, new ways of doing business and new companies are threatening traditional distribution. “The distributor is squeezed in the middle as both manufacturers and customers attempt to take dollars and time from the distribution channel. This is happening through technology and through reduction of inventories, which is one of the results of technology. Also, customers’ expectations are growing at an incredibly fast rate, because of consolidations and the immense pressure to compete. This is changing customers’ relationships with their distributors.”

Carolina Handling logo

“When these two factors are combined, along with the technological advances that are changing the way we do business, a tremendous challenge is placed on distributors to expand our capabilities to add value,” continues Hilton, “because the only thing distributors have to offer to both the customer and the manufacturer is added value.”

“This is the challenge—and the threat—to our industry,” says Hilton. “We must figure out how to truly add value to both ends of that spectrum, because distributors really are the middlemen. Many people think we just add value to the customer. There is more. We also have to add value to the manufacturer.”

At the start of this new millennium, Hilton sees the material handling industry in an evolutionary stage. He predicts there will be fewer manufacturers, fewer but larger distributors, and more partnerships with customers. “We are evolving rapidly toward a more service-oriented industry,” he says. “When you are a partner with a customer, the whole relationship is changed because now they expect more than they did before.” Hilton uses the analogy of marriage. “When you get married, more is expected of you than when you were dating. Likewise with a customer. Now, you’re one of them, so they’re more critical and they expect more, and the bar keeps rising.”

The bar will continue to rise for MHEDA members. Adding value, managing costs, looking for niche markets, competing with large dealers, developing personal relationships are all issues every distributor is facing. “Our goal this year,” says Hilton, “is to truly meet the needs of a changing industry.” A Strategic Plan will carry MHEDA into the first few years of the new millennium. MHEDA will be at the forefront of the material handling industry and will continue to offer numerous opportunities for the distributor and the company’s employees to grow and prosper.

When Tim Hilton joined Carolina Handling, he was attracted to a growing industry that had an untapped potential for growth. When he became president in 1986, he was eager to contribute his skills toward improving it. Hilton purchased the company in 1989, and today, Carolina Handling has a long-range plan which addresses customers’ visions brought about by their own changes, associates’ needs, and what Hilton envisions is going to change in the material handling industry. What continues to motivate him is the success of his company and its Associates. He admits that winning is a strong motivator. “Watching people—our associates and our customers—win, seeing their enthusiasm and their excitement when they do win, really motivates me.” The excitement is evident in Hilton’s voice as he talks about watching his employees win. He laughs, “This is great fun!”

The strategy is set for the year 2000. The new millennium is upon us, with its challenges and its opportunities. At least one company, Carolina Handling, is ready for the race. And others, all MHEDA members, will also be ready. With the Board of Directors, led by President Tim Hilton, the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association surely has a winner.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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