Experience and service make the difference for longtime MHEDA distributor.
Sometimes, those of us in the material handling industry don’t realize how important we are to America,” says Gordon Morrow, president of The Bailey Company in Nashville, Tennessee. “We’re not glamorous like Hollywood, but we make America move. We load the trucks, planes, trains, ships and barges. I think it’s critical that everyone in the industry understand how important we are to American industry.”
That enthusiasm for the material handling business is what keeps Morrow coming into work each day after nearly 50 years on the job. “There isn’t a more educational experience than working in material handling because we get into plants that make all kinds of products. We touch everything,” he says. “Material handling is a great continuing education. I love it because I’m still learning, and that’s why I’m still in it.”
Morrow joined The Bailey Company in 1958 as a salesman in Nashville working under James M. Bailey. It was Bailey who, nine years earlier, had opened a Nashville branch of the Memphis-based Grady Jones Company. When Bailey’s Nashville store became an authorized Towmotor dealership in 1953, The Bailey Company was off and running.
Strategic Pattern of Growth
Since that time, The Bailey Company has expanded to encompass 12 locations, with territory extending throughout middle and eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, southwestern Virginia and parts of Kentucky. Five “major stores” in Dalton, Georgia, and Nashville, Chattanooga, Johnson City and Knoxville, Tennessee, are complemented by smaller stores in between each city. “We established our locations very strategically,” Morrow says. “It is our objective to be no more than one hour away from any need, so we added the smaller stores so that we could be much closer to the customers.”
That dedication to customer service is a legacy left behind by James Bailey. “Mr. Bailey was the best people person that I’ve ever known in business,” Morrow recalls. “He taught us to relate to people in our endeavor of selling and product support.” Bailey passed away in 1979, at which time his wife Lu appointed Morrow to take over as company president. Bailey’s children are active in the company as well, with Bert Bailey serving as chairman/CEO and Laura Bailey Busby as CFO.
Another company trait attributed to James Bailey is the corporate personality. “It is very important for a corporation to have an acceptable and identifiable personality, so we’re very careful about that particular aspect of our business,” Morrow says. “We want an upbeat, performing, friendly personality for the corporation. Therefore, the people we hire must have a compatible personality.”
To ensure that a new hire is a good fit, The Bailey Company focuses on the “DISC” method of personality testing. Morrow learned the system more than 40 years ago, and has become adept during interviews at determining a candidate’s personality type. According to Morrow, D stands for dominance, I for influence, S for steadiness and C for compliance. Different jobs within the company require varying combinations of these traits. “For instance, a salesperson should be very high in influence and good in compliance, but is usually lower in steadiness. So a typical salesperson would score a high I, then D, C and S. Managers and service people would have a different mix,” Morrow explains. “We’re very strong on that, and we’re pretty good in learning those things about candidates through personal interviews.”
The DISC system also proves valuable when dealing with customers. “We try to analyze the customer by determining his or her dominance, influence and such so that we know the best way to approach the individuals who are buying the equipment. It’s really worked well for us.”
Very well, in fact. Morrow recalls that when he started at The Bailey Company in 1958, it was a half-million dollar business. By the time he became president in 1979, it had grown to $12 million, and in 2006, revenues were more than five times that. In addition to the increased territory brought by the extra branches, the company has also grown through taking on new product lines. Primarily a forklift dealer for Cat, Crown and Mitsubishi, The Bailey Company has expanded its product mix in recent years. “We are also in the conveyor and storage rack businesses, and we sell a lot of allied products,” Morrow says, adding, “A selling visit needs to be profitable, so our salespeople are trained to sell something else if they can’t sell a lift truck. We sell almost $2 million in things other than lift trucks. However, those don’t bring in any service business.”
Service Is King
Service is where The Bailey Company makes its mark. The company’s mission statement says, in part, “It is our endeavor to perform a real and valuable service to the material handling needs of industry.” To which Morrow adds, “The best way to define our mission is to say that we are a very service-oriented company, and our customers recognize that in our performance.”
With an employee ratio of 250 product support people to just 20 salespeople, that proves to be more than just lip service. As a further indication of the company’s focus on service, Morrow says that The Bailey Company has one of the largest service portfolios in the United States. There are more than 3,000 accounts signed up for Care-Plus, which is the copyrighted service mark for The Bailey Company’s total repair and maintenance program. With Care-Plus, The Bailey Company uses its inventory of more than $3 million in replacement parts to guarantee responsive repair at a long-term fixed cost to customers.
In addition, the company has over 9,000 contracts for Lift-Care, the copyrighted service mark for planned maintenance accounts. Lift-Care seeks, through detailed inspection, to find potential operational and safety problems that need immediate corrective action. Maintenance is scheduled by calendar or machine hours.
The service culture extends to internal customers, who are subject to a culture that Morrow describes as one of “mutual understanding, care and empowerment.” The main goal is to make sure all employees understand and respect each other’s responsibilities, duties and areas of activity. “Then we take care of that mutual understanding and help each other,” he adds.
Empowerment is very important at The Bailey Company, as different groups are responsible for certain activities. For instance, three years ago the company’s vice president of sales passed away, and Morrow needed to decide the best way to replace him. “We divided the territory into three regions: Cumberland, Chickamauga and Appalachian. I decided, in keeping with our philosophy of being close to the customer, to assign a general manager to oversee each of the three geographies,” Morrow recalls. “Rather than having one vice president to oversee the entire territory, each general manager is within that area and therefore closer to the customer. We empowered all of our general managers with the responsibility and decision-making activity in those geographies.”
A variegated marketplace comprises the company’s vast territory. The Bailey Company often does business in light industrial products, printing, distribution, carpeting, flooring, chemicals and automotives. “The carpet industry is headquartered in our territory—Dalton and Calhoun, Georgia, are the carpet capitals of the world. We also have a lot of Tier I and Tier II automotive suppliers. But it’s a very diverse territory,” Morrow says.
Morrow spends much of his time traveling between branches. He tries to cover at least three stores per week and is sure to visit each major store at least once a month. “I stay in touch with all the salespeople and all the projects. The general managers all report to me, and I’m on the road helping them and watching everyone’s performance each week,” Morrow says. He also stresses the communications systems the company has implemented. “We have an intranet in addition to our external Web page. We’re online everywhere at all the stores full-time, which helps to keep everyone on the same page.”
Along with the company’s presence on the Internet, The Bailey Company includes an e-commerce platform. “We have an online catalog, but really our Web page is more of a lead generator,” Morrow says. He explains that in the material handling industry, an e-commerce platform is often counter-intuitive. “In this industry, it’s important to get specifics because all applications are so different. Sometimes people on the Internet don’t really know all of the specifications that they should know about buying a lift truck. Closing the order is hard to do without being in front of the customer to solidify their requirements and requests.”
Employees at The Bailey Company are trained to focus on the LAER method of problem-solving. LAER stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Examine and Respond. “By going through each of those steps, you can make sure everyone involved in the communication is on the same page,” Morrow says. “There are many questions in this industry about the proper application of products. Too many errors can be made if you don’t carefully proceed through the LAER steps.”
Training is another area where The Bailey Company focuses its resources. The company holds quarterly service meetings in different cities, at which time the service managers and product support managers are brought together for various educational sessions. Plus, branch managers at every store hold weekly meetings to discuss issues. The Bailey Company sets aside many hours annually for training of salespeople, service people and repair technicians. “We attend all the opportunities that are available to us from the manufacturers and also some outside educational programs. Sometimes at our annual meeting, we bring in motivational or educational speakers on various aspects of business,” Morrow says.
The annual meeting to which he refers is the yearly banquet, a program Morrow started 45 years ago. What began as a way to honor a handful of employees is now a way for over 100 managers, salespeople, service technicians and support personnel from all company branches to get together for a two-day training and recognition session. The venue rotates among major cities in each of the company’s three geographic regions. “It’s a big event for us and our people really look forward to it. We have two half-days of training in various programs, and then a big banquet at night. It’s a way for all the employees to get to know each other better, because they typically don’t see each other too often throughout the year.”
With over 50 years of experience on its side, it’s easy to think The Bailey Company will rest on its laurels. However, Morrow doesn’t foresee that happening. “Our goal is to continue steady growth throughout the years as in the past, based on our mission statement,” he says. “We have quality products and experience, which help, but the big difference for us is product support. We have a great identity and acceptance in the marketplace because of our high level of performance in that area.” With that in mind, look for even more to come from The Bailey Company.