Motivating, rewarding and challenging your most important asset
As the key link between management and customers, material handling distributorship employees are arguably our most valuable resource, and happy, motivated employees can forge better, longer-lasting relationships with our customers. For MHEDA members, there is no one secret to keeping employees motivated to work harder, strive for improvement and remain loyal. Company leaders express the value they place on their employees in a variety of ways, from well-crafted compensation packages and frequent open dialogue, to training opportunities and social events that allow employees and their families to interact with one another on an informal basis. When employees feel that they are an integral part of the company they work for, they are more likely to expend even greater effort to keep the company prosperous. MHEDA members are making excitement felt at all levels of their companies. Discover how these members are ensuring business success by powering up their employees.
All for One and One for All at Bode Equipment Company
“Part of our mission statement is that we try to build each other up, be supportive of each other, and work in a friendly environment,” says Bode Equipment Company (Londonderry, NH) President Steve Fawcett. “It’s all for one and one for all.”
That’s an assertion Fawcett takes to heart. He works hard to ensure that his 12 employees feel a personal connection to each other and to the company. Part of that is company get-togethers, including Friday afternoon barbecues, an annual Christmas party, and occasional outings like this past summer’s excursion with employees, spouses and kids to a minor league baseball game. “It’s a really good time,” says Fawcett. “There’s no business talk—it’s completely social.” He cautions, though, that employers need to be careful not to get too close to their employees. “If you’re going out for beers with them every Friday night and you become their real friend, it can make it that much more difficult if you have to let somebody go,” he says.
The company places a high importance on training. Once employees have been with Bode Equipment Company for a year or more, Fawcett looks into upcoming manufacturers’ training programs. “If we send an employee to a training school, that tells the employee that we’re willing to invest in him or her,” he says. “Three or four days later, they come back stronger and appreciative that the company did that for them.” He also stresses the value of MHEDA education programs. “MHEDA offers some good resources to help with teambuilding. We’ve participated in several webinars over the last couple of years.”
One of the most important steps Fawcett takes to ensure a sense of “team” is constant communication. At employee meetings, Fawcett is open and honest regarding the state of the market and how the company is faring, and he makes a point to publicly recognize strong employee performance. “Everybody knows what’s going on, and everybody knows when the phones aren’t ringing,” he says. “We talk through it as a team, and we step up our efforts together.”
Cross Bros. Focuses on Commission and Communication
Cross Bros. Co. (Rochester, NY) is in the midst of a power shift. President and CEO Roger O’Brien recently revised the company’s compensation package to include an open-ended commission plan that makes salary a much smaller component of a salesperson’s total compensation. With the new plan, there is no limit to what salespeople can earn, and O’Brien expects that every productive sales employee will see a substantial increase in compensation as a result.
“It isn’t so much that people become complacent when they’re on salary,” he says. “It’s that they aren’t as fired up over real heroic wins because they can’t participate in a similar way economically. This will give our salespeople an opportunity to be rewarded in an uncommon way for heroic results. It puts the burden on the company to provide marketing and inside sales support in a more effective way to help our salespeople achieve those results. When our salespeople win, the company wins, too.”
That sense of shared purpose is one that permeates Cross Bros. Co. O’Brien makes a point to communicate across different groups at the company so that each group knows what the others are doing, instead of working in isolation on its own goals. “We are starting to communicate more frequently and more thoroughly with all employees about all of the activities of the company and about what those activities mean to them,” he says. “All of our employees are very important cogs in the wheel, and this gives them a better appreciation for the shoes their fellow workers walk in.”
O’Brien also invites the company’s five most senior managers to board meetings once a month. “That’s been very well received,” he says. “It accomplishes two things: It gives the outside board members a better sense of the managers running the company because now they have regular verbal interaction with them, and it gives the managers a sense of what guides the board’s decision-making because they’re seeing them in action.”
In addition to regular group meetings, O’Brien holds standing half-hour, one-on-one meetings with employees where he invites them to share their concerns about any issues that may have arisen. “I don’t think it’s enough to say, ‘My door is always open,’ because in my experience, even if people have issues, they don’t always knock on the door,” he says. “This way, I ensure that they have a forum, and my employees know I care and that I recognize that they’re as important as anybody else in the company.”
Employees Take Ownership at Superior Equipment
Superior Equipment Corp. (Delray Beach, FL) General Manager Chuck Vinton believes the first step toward powering up his company’s five employees is helping them to understand their value to the team. “We make sure to compliment our employees,” says Vinton. “Even when they do something wrong, we focus on what they did right. We make a point of ensuring they understand that we appreciate that they tried, and explain what they need to do differently, then we let them go on and try again. Usually, that’s pretty effective.”
Once employees have been with Superior Equipment long enough to learn the ropes, they are encouraged to begin finding their own way and taking ownership for their work. “We can either tell our employees how to do something, or we can ask them how they think it should be done,” says Vinton. “An employee may have a different idea of how to do things than I do, but their idea may be just as good. If they’re following their own plan, they’re more likely to take ownership for their actions, and when it’s all done, if everybody’s happy with how it turned out, they’ll feel an even greater sense of satisfaction.”
Soliciting employees’ opinions this way not only leads to happier employees, it leads to greater investment and productivity. “It prompts them to come up with even more ideas,” observes Vinton. Of course, that can be a double-edged sword. “Once you get started, some employees pretty much want to tell you how they’re going to do everything,” Vinton notes with a laugh. “Sometimes we have to guide them down a more efficient path, but we always make sure to listen.”
Vinton firmly believes that happy employees produce happy customers, so a work environment rich with support and encouragement is a must. That starts at the top, but it doesn’t end there. “I know that anytime somebody thanks me for something I’ve done, I walk away feeling good,” he says. “It’s important that all of our employees, from senior management to the guy who cleans the floor, know they’re appreciated. We get 85 percent of our business from referrals, and those referrals are predicated not only on the way in which we accomplish a task, but also the way in which we interact with the customer. If our people feel respected and appreciated, I feel confident that will encourage them to make our customers feel the same way.”
Sharing the Wealth at Harrison Equipment Co.
At Harrison Equipment Co. (Kent, WA), employee investment in the company begins on Day One. On an employee’s first day on the job, he or she is paired up with a more experienced employee who can show the new person the ropes. The effort not only brings the new employee valuable experience, it helps foster the sense of teamwork that pervades Harrison Equipment Co. Occasional company-wide parties further that goal. “They help build morale, and keep everybody on the same page,” says President Jerry Harrison.
Harrison believes that an even more important factor in increasing employee motivation is the company’s compensation package. For salespeople, the number one concern is commission. “We try to pay a little higher commission than the industry standard, and we give bonuses on top of their commission stub at the end of the year,” says Harrison. “We also make sure to support them and provide them with the tools they need to make that commission.”
The benefits package for all of Harrison Equipment Co.’s 16 employees includes health insurance and a retirement package. “A health benefits package is a must now for every employer, but a lot of small companies don’t offer a retirement package,” Harrison points out.
Part of the secret to highly motivated employees, though, is finding the right candidates to bring on board. “Number one, you need to find the right person,” says Harrison. “They have to want to work.” With an average employee tenure of eight to ten years, clearly both Harrison Equipment Co. and its employees know a good thing when they see it.
At Lift Pro, Upbeat Employees Lead to Upbeat Customers
“It’s hard to get and keep good salespeople,” says Lift Pro Equipment Co. (Sioux Falls, SD) Vice President Craig Schoen. “It takes more than just a salary and a commission to motivate somebody and get them to stay.”
As such, one of the things Lift Pro strives to do is make its salespeople’s jobs as easy as possible. “We offer a lot of different allied product lines for them to sell, and we provide a good support team to allow our salespeople to spend more time in the field,” says Schoen. The company is exploring ways to offer incentives over and above commission. “We do spiffs to keep our guys energized,” Schoen says. “We’re also looking at other things, like a weekend in Vegas.”
Another motivating influence for employees is the opportunity to share knowledge and experience with a less-seasoned colleague. “There’s no better motivator for a person who’s really good at what they do than to help the young guys come up through the ranks,” says Schoen. The more experienced employee feels a sense of pride not only in seeing the younger employee’s growth under his or her tutelage, but also in knowing that the company recognizes his or her expertise as a valuable resource.
That sort of teamwork contributes to the positive attitude among Lift Pro’s 32 employees, something on which Schoen places a great emphasis. “One of the first things I instill in our employees is that we want the customer to feel like coming in here is a good experience because the people here are kind and polite and generous,” he says. Employees are encouraged to be creative and to work together to help grow the business, and that produces even greater employee satisfaction. “If the atmosphere among our employees is upbeat, our entire business stays upbeat,” says Schoen. “Our employees are happy to be here, and that flows over to the customer as soon as they come through the door.”
Vesco Toyotalift Hits a Home Run
Vesco Toyotalift (Hickory, NC) President Ken Turnmyre takes an approach to employee motivation that incorporates both competition and cooperation. “In the summertime, we split our service department into four or five teams, with the teams changing every three weeks,” he says. “We have a different goal for each period, like performing particular services, and we’ll give gift cards to the winning teams. That’s been a big hit.”
But when it comes to the success of the company as a whole, the name of the game is cooperation, not competition. Vesco Toyotalift’s sales staff is not on straight commission, and incentives are based on the company’s total success, which encourages each department to work together for the good of the entire company. “We’ve done that for almost 30 years, and it’s worked really well for us,” says Turnmyre. “We don’t have any departments that are working against other departments to improve their own situation to the detriment of others.”
Turnmyre is a firm believer in the importance of employee development. Vesco Toyotalift pays a monthly bonus for every employee who is at 100 percent on the Toyota e-learning plan, as well as bonuses for associates who pass the ASE test and cash incentives for achievement in the Toyota Master Technicians program. The company also developed a special program for its employees under the age of 30, called “Young Guns.” Says Turnmyre, “We try to do things to keep these guys motivated and involved. Every one of them has a mentor, which is working out well.”
The company leaves plenty of time for fun as well. Vesco Toyotalift organizes an annual “family night” in which every associate and his or her family is invited to a ballgame. “We have events for all the children who come to the game,” says Turnmyre. “We have shirts made every year that identify them as our kids, and the kids love them.” The company also hosts associates-only events twice a year, as well as a company Christmas party.
And this past summer, the Vesco Toyotalift softball team went 22-4, becoming the tournament champion in Hickory, North Carolina’s industrial softball league—proving that even off the job, Vesco Toyotalift employees know just what it takes to work together as a winning team.
Compensation Is Key at Cardinal Carryor
Cardinal Carryor (Louisville, KY) President Michael Brumleve makes a point to hire employees who show signs of being highly self-motivated and, therefore, don’t need a manager looking over their shoulder every moment. “I look for people who were raised the same way I was, with a healthy respect for hard work,” he says.
When it comes to Cardinal Carryor’s salespeople, Brumleve expects them to be motivated by the same thing that has motivated salespeople since time immemorial: money. “Compensation is the only thing,” he says. Given material handling‘s sales and service emphasis, he says, salespeople who aren’t motivated by money would do themselves and their employers a favor by seeking work in a different industry. “Sales is the highest paid job in the world,” says Brumleve, “and this industry is by far one of the biggest. We make great money because we’re money motivated. That’s what I look for in my employees, and when they perform well, they’re compensated accordingly.”
The formula is obviously working: Cardinal Carryor has an average employee tenure of between 20 and 25 years. And this past summer, Brumleve rewarded those loyal employees in a different fashion: an excursion to Six Flags for all current and retired employees and their families—a total of about 250 people. “This year is our 60th anniversary,” explains Brumleve. “We had a big open house for our customers, but we wanted to do something for our employees as well. This was our way of congratulating them.”
Tri-Lift, Inc. Walks the Talk
For Tri-Lift, Inc. (New Haven, CT), communication lies at the heart of employee motivation. “We keep a lot of people involved in decision-making,” says President Paul Murgo. “We do weekly meetings on the management level and get them involved in sales meetings as well. We do once-a-month meetings for each department, and then usually on a quarterly basis we bring everybody together, just to keep them informed. A lot of our information from department to department is pretty open, and employees know they can ask any question.”
Murgo stresses that it’s important to communicate with employees daily: about what they’re doing well, about how they can improve and, most important, about management’s expectations for them. “If expectations are clearly defined, the chances of success are much greater,” he says.
To reward employees for a job well done, Tri-Lift buys lunches on a monthly basis. The company also offers optional events, such as a golf outing, two or three times a year to enable employees to bond outside of the workplace.
Perhaps most important, though, Tri-Lift doesn’t just communicate to its nearly 100 employees—the company listens. “They give us feedback, for example, on things we can change to help them be more productive,” says Murgo. “Our employees know that we’re trying to make everybody in our material handling equipment business successful, and that’s the key.”