Celebrating 80 years of business
Earlier this year, VBS Inc. Material Handling Equipment marked 80 years in business, 60 as a Hyster dealer. As part of that celebration, VBS recognized the contribution of its employees, the partnerships with its customers and its vendor support network through personalized letters, special celebration gatherings at its branches and local newspaper ads throughout its market territory. Similar events and considerations will continue throughout the year. Such actions are representative of the philosophy VBS has towards its day-to-day activities in serving customers. “We strive for an environment that truly recognizes and helps support individual growth and development through serving everyone we come in contact with,” President Claud Crosby says. “It’s important to emphasize how everything goes together and let people know they are contributing to the success of our company.”
A Proud History
VBS Inc. Material Handling Equipment was founded in Richmond, Virginia, as Richmond Auto Parts in 1928. The company quickly became a major player in the automotive parts business and one of the premier engine rebuilding firms on the East Coast. During the 30s and 40s, the company developed an industrial division to respond to their customers’ evolving market and production needs. Tremendous growth during the war years and the subsequent industrial expansion of its customer base resulted in Richmond Auto Parts selling its first Hyster lift truck in 1946. Two years later, in March 1948, the company became an authorized Hyster dealer, covering Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland.
As the industrial side of the business expanded to meet new and developing requirements of its customers, the company made the important decision to sell the automotive side of the business and focus on the emergent needs within its marketplace. As a part of this new focus, the company became Virginia Bearings & Supply Company in 1963. In 1991, again responding to its customers and the industrial environment, the company ended its long history in the bearing business and dedicated itself totally to becoming the best material handling business in its territory. Eventually, the company came to be known as VBS Inc. Material Handling Equipment, showcasing the comprehensive level of products and services it offers.
A Matter of Focus
“There are reasons customers choose to do business with a company,” Crosby explains, “and those reasons are evident in the values customers want from their dealers. These values speak to the essence of what we are all about at VBS.” Over the years, VBS has defined these values into five key drivers that all customers want. A business must (1) be easy to do business with, (2) possess a sense of urgency, (3) have knowledge of the product and customers’ needs, (4) have a clear and consistent way of communicating and (5) exhibit a clear sense of integrity. “These values or customer wants are the basis for how VBS measures and delivers a service that exceeds the expectations of our customers,” Crosby adds. To make it more than just words on a piece of paper, VBS incorporates them in every aspect of the business.
Success in exceeding customer expectations is the result of what Crosby refers to as a “deliberate, if not downright stubborn, focus” on business planning and processes that support this goal. He notes, “Everyone can plan, but very few are prepared to stick to their plan.”
Individual Development Is the Key
VBS devotes considerable time and effort to training, more than doubling its investment in training over the last two years. Each new VBS employee attends two full days of orientation. The first day covers the company’s history, key vendors, as well as participation in an “Operator Safety Training Class” for lift trucks. This class gives all new employees “a firm grounding in what we are about and how we do business,” Crosby says. The second class is interactive training that reinforces the information gained from the first class and helps identify how everyone fits in the bigger picture of delivering value to customers. “Everybody leaves knowing that they do have an impact and can make a difference in our success.”
Training doesn’t stop there. Technicians, service coordinators, parts coordinators and sales staff all undergo training specific to their jobs. For example, Crosby authorized all VBS technicians to receive laptops, only to find that many were not trained to use that tool. In response, Crosby hired a second corporate trainer to focus on that type of training. “Technical training is a full boat itself and doesn’t necessarily include some of the surface skills of working a laptop,” Crosby added. “So now we make sure they’re grounded when they receive their laptop.” The “startup training” also is meant to focus on the basics of each person’s job across departments. “We’re realizing that when you have branch operations, regular on-the-job training may not get all the right things in place for new employees.”
Account managers spend up to six weeks in various facets of the business before they are permitted to go out in the field. They spend time in other branches working in parts, going on service calls and performing planned maintenance to get a feel for all aspects of the company’s frontline operations. They spend the remainder of the time at corporate headquarters in the company’s “need to know” training, which encompasses “all the things you need to know, but didn’t know to ask,” as Crosby describes it. “We use that as a base point to build around policy, procedure and process with the idea that it’s critical that people have a basic foundation when they get to their branch.”
“THE RIGHT CHOICE”
Making employees feel comfortable is another cornerstone of the company’s success. When the first Hyster was put into service in 1946, the company’s youngest shop employee became the company’s first Hyster product sales rep. He retired from the business 52 years later, a feat not uncommon at VBS.
Floyd Steele, CFO, describes the scene at the 80th anniversary party this spring when years-of-service pins were given to all employees. “We have a significant number of employees who have been here 20 years and longer,” he says, adding the average employee tenure is 10 years. Such a wealth of experience helps VBS be the right choice for the utmost customer service and support.
“THE RIGHT CHOICE” is the tagline VBS developed a few years ago to express the company philosophy. “We want to be the right choice for our employees and the right choice for our customers,” Crosby explains. Unlike many companies, VBS does not rely on a lot of cold calling, instead concentrating on what Crosby calls “focused-account selling.” VBS account managers call on customers and potential customers with very specific priorities. Crosby estimates that 80 percent of his sales staff’s time is spent with these targeted accounts. “We try to be very effective in the time and energy our account managers spend out in the field, with emphasis directed on their attention to an account’s needs.“
A Bright Future
Crosby believes this strategy will be key to the company’s future success. “In five years, I think this company can be twice the size it is today if we invest in the planning pieces we have in place,” he says. The planning pieces he refers to include concentrating on the opportunities available in his marketplace. “Businesses often overlook the opportunities in their own backyards. We must slow down and talk about what’s out there today before talking about the dragons we’ll slay tomorrow.”
It comes back to what Crosby calls his “deliberate focus” on the business plan. “People tend to set goals according to what they did yesterday,” Crosby says, “but the truth is that yesterday is relatively limiting. At VBS, we are all about creating possibilities and then figuring out what it takes to do it.” As an example, Crosby is growing the company’s field sales force from 8 to 12 at a time when many other companies are retreating.
Another thing he’s honing in on is improving the company’s communication. “The challenge in dealerships a lot of times is they cover such a large area and the message doesn’t always get out or gets diluted,” he explains. “The critical piece for us is to not only identify the opportunities, but make certain they get exposed to the people that can help put it into practice.”
Even after 80 years, it’s clear that becoming stale is not a problem at VBS Inc. Material Handling Equipment. With Claud Crosby leading the way and a company of individuals committed to “meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations,” dynamic things are ahead.