Cisco-Eagle’s ability to identify market trends has helped them become an industry leader.
By Steve Guglielmo
Warren Gandall is a visionary. As the Chairman and CEO of Cisco-Eagle, Inc., (Dallas, TX) Gandall has overseen decades of growth and prosperity of one of the material handling industry’s leading innovators.
In 1970, Gandall was working as a material handling specialist for an industrial supply company when he decided to strike out on his own. Gandall had a vision of creating a chain of material handling distribution companies throughout the Southwest. The first step on that journey began with the opening of Eagle Material Handling in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In its first month of existence, Eagle Material had three employees and a handful of vendors. The company booked eight orders that month, good for slightly more than $8,000 in sales. However, the company stayed the course and within a few short years it started to thrive. Eagle opened offices in Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Arkansas.
In June of 1974, a group of employees bought Eagle from its original parent company. Warren invited his lifelong friend Bill Cupps to join the company. Warren told Bill, “I know you like to gamble. Have I got a gamble for you!” Cupps, who runs the financial side of the company, was right to take that gamble–today, Cisco-Eagle has 100 employees, 7 branches and in 2014 had nearly $40 million in revenue.
That growth didn’t happen instantly. One of the company’s defining characteristics over the years has been its ability to anticipate market trends and change to take advantage of those trends.
“Change is unavoidable,” Warren said. “You change or you stagnate.”
When Eagle first opened, it sold material handling equipment as well as industrial trucks. In 1978, the company decided to stop selling lift trucks and focus on its allied lines. By 1981, Eagle began selling conveyor equipment and Gandall made an important observation. He determined that in order to sell conveyor properly, the company would need to have systems and design capabilities to pair with a top conveyor manufacturer, which they had in Hytrol Conveyors.
Having made the decision to move Eagle in that direction, the company hired Victor Leonard. Leonard was Eagle’s first Systems and Design employee (that department is extensive now) and eventually became vice president of engineering. The company’s first $1 million integrated system project was a distribution center for the convenience store QuikTrip.
“That project caused us to hire full-time engineers,” says Darein Gandall, President of Cisco-Eagle and Warren’s son. “We didn’t have dedicated engineers before QuikTrip approached us, but we knew that customers wanted more sophisticated solutions. It just grew from there.”
The QuikTrip project was a springboard for Eagle Material Handling to engage in national systems and projects work for many of its larger customers alongside its local work.
As Eagle’s systems business flourished and its rack and storage business remained strong, the company began to expand. In 1985, Eagle formed a holding company and purchased Dallas-based Cisco Material Handling. Cisco had been in business since 1959 and was similar to Eagle in its product lines and philosophies. In 1995, the two companies merged to become Cisco-Eagle, Inc.
Through hard work and a keen sense of the shifting dynamics of the market, Cisco-Eagle has grown from a handful of outside salespeople to a company with scores of vendor partners, thousands of customers and a reputation in the industry as one of the most progressive systems integrators in the nation—along with a growing international customer base.
Adoption of the Internet
Nowhere is that progressiveness better illustrated than with Cisco-Eagle’s adoption and application of online technology. In 1990, the company hired Scott Stone to build catalogs, mailers, brochures, and other print marketing collateral for the company.
“For the first couple of years, I was one of a handful of people with a computer,” says Stone. “So naturally, when the Internet started to come around in the mid 90’s, they told me, ‘You’re going to use that because you do the other marketing.’ Early on, Warren saw the long-term potential of the Internet before most anybody else did and he really pushed hard for us to be better than everyone else at it.”
In the beginning, the company primarily utilized the Internet as an online brochure, which was the typical approach for most companies at the time. However, over time, the site evolved.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000s we began to realize the vast potential of it,” says Stone. “We were getting sales calls due to our web presence from areas far outside our core region. At the time it was just me working on the site, but we added people to the marketing staff to deal with the additional demands. Customers don’t use the Yellow Pages. They don’t use those old school Thomas directories. Many do not keep gigantic catalogs on their desks. They search online for their needs, so you have to be where they are with video, specs, information and priced equipment. That doesn’t mean we ceased traditional marketing—far from it. But we adapted to the reality of the web-based information economy.”
As the Internet became more ubiquitous, Cisco-Eagle.com added E-Commerce and other capabilities.
“We hired a great young programmer and built online configurators where customers can get information in their browser that they can’t get anywhere else,” says Stone. “By 2007, we had such a volume of phone calls and inquiries that we founded a call center for our Internet. They’re busy all the time with the volume of calls and inquiries.”
The call center, called the Web Sales Team, has two roles. First, it executes orders from customers across the nation. Secondly, it distributes leads to Cisco-Eagle’s outside sales associates for both local and national—or even international—projects.
Part of the reason for the volume of calls is the marketing team’s devotion to build the site. Aside from its extensive e-commerce capabilities, Cisco-Eagle.com features engaging thought leader blog posts, technical articles, white papers, scores of videos, a strong social media presence and a collection of case studies showcasing previous solutions.
“We have two complementary businesses going on,” says Darein. “We’ve got our way to go to market through the web and the way we go to market through our sales group. We’ve passed leads on to our sales group but when it comes to our relationship with our vendors, we go to market with our core vendors. Great companies like Hytrol, Steel King and Penco are just a few vendors that have been with us since almost the beginning of the company. We value those relationships tremendously. The web, on the other hand, also showcases products that aren’t part of our core lineup. We want to satisfy our customer’s needs but we aren’t pushing every product that we have in our portfolio with our sales guys because that’d be more than 40,000 different products. It’s two distinctly different customer bases.”
And while online customers may not have the same profile as offline customers, Cisco-Eagle strives to make sure that they have the same great experience.
“There are people half my age who are running big industrial facilities,” says Stone. “They’ve never lived in a world where you couldn’t get what you need online—information, products, video, anything. They have never used a phone book. We have to be there for them in the formats they use. We want to deliver a consumer-level experience for an industrial business customer.”
Investing In People
While a keen market outlook and a strong website have been two important components to the long-standing success that Cisco-Eagle has enjoyed, the secret ingredient has been the employees. While not every employee has the longevity that Darein has (he has been working at Cisco-Eagle in varying capacities since he was in 6th grade), dozens of employees have been with the company for 10, 15 and even 20 or more years.
“I’m not into the turnover game,” says Darein. “I don’t want to have a revolving door. I want people to come here, and stay here and grow and perform. When they retire, I want to them to have something to retire with.”
Part of the reason that employees stay so long with Cisco-Eagle is the sense of pride they have in working there. Since 2001, Cisco-Eagle has been an employee-owned company, with employees owning 70% of the company.
“Once you feel that ownership, you tend to want to take care of it and grow it more,” says Darein. “You’re not just coming in and punching a clock every day. This company is yours.”
Another reason for high employee retention is the culture of learning and growth that Cisco-Eagle fosters.
“Unfortunately, during the recession we went through some hard times and financially we had to cut back on a lot of our training opportunities,” says Darein. “But now we’re back on that train hardcore because we’ve seen that our best revenue-generating years came in years where we did the most training. I want to offer an opportunity for my employees to grow personally as well as professionally. I think the way things are going now, people are really buying into that culture and thriving in it.”
One other change that Cisco-Eagle has reverted back to recently after moving away from it in the past is a flat organizational chart.
“When my dad started the company, the org chart was pretty flat,” says Darein. “If you needed something answered, you could go right to that person instead of having to go through 3 or 4 people and get second or third hand information back. Through the years, we had gotten away from that philosophy, but we’ve found that wasn’t the right model for us so we’ve flattened the org chart back out. It’s nice if you need to talk to the CEO or President, you can just go right to their office and get your question answered. It saves time and it saves money.”
He continues, “We hired these people to do a job. They don’t need to be micromanaged. They know what they’re supposed to do and they are free to make those decisions without constantly looking over their shoulder. We may stub a toe or two here and there but we learn from it and move on.”
It has been that ability to adapt that has led Cisco-Eagle to where it is today. With a firm company culture of ownership, creativity and empowerment, the company is poised to continue that tradition of innovation and progressiveness into the future.