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Taking the Long View

Bode Equipment Company’s history of long-term strategic planning
By Steve Guglielmo

Bode TrucksBode Equipment Company is celebrating its 40th Anniversary in 2015. From its inception, Bode has always had a strong foundation of family and close relationships. In 1975, Larry Bode founded Bode Equipment in his living room in Suncook, New Hampshire. For ten years, Bode operated as a two-person operation right out of the Bode family house. Larry sold the products and his wife, Dotty, did the billing and paperwork. The Bodes even went so far as to modify their driveway to allow access to 18-wheelers that would drop off equipment right into the garage. Today, with 19 employees and two locations, their modest beginning is ancient history.

While the Bodes were selling material handling equipment in Suncook, Steve Fawcett was working outside of the material handling industry. Fawcett had aspirations of one day owning his own business and confided that dream to his father, Dick, who happened to have a friend named Larry Bode who was looking to transition out of the material handling business. Steve asked Dick, “What is material handling equipment?” to which Dick responded, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Larry.” Steve drove up to meet Larry to discuss the company and future plans.

Undeterred by his lack of material handling experience, in 1985 Steve and Larry came to an agreement for Fawcett to purchase the business and move the company from Suncook to Manchester, NH.

Forging Business Relationships

Within a year of purchasing the business, Fawcett made the first of many long-term strategic changes that would come to define the company. He decided that working primarily through contractors provided too many challenges to succeed long-term and decided to shift the company’s focus to selling directly to the end-user. This dramatic change provided Bode with a new and unique obstacle. Bode would have to start building relationships with end-users where none had previously existed. To do that, Fawcett decided that the company must be aligned with the major suppliers in the market place.

“Moving our focus to the end-user was a milestone moment in our business,” says Bode President and Owner Scott Fawcett. “It was when we really started adding to our catalog and dealing with a variety of different suppliers.”

However, for a company making its first foray into selling directly to customers, it was not easy to get access to those major lines. For months, Fawcett pounded the pavement, helping customers solve their warehousing needs, all the while learning the industry and finding out who the major players were. During this time, a new rubber door line, M&I Door Systems, emerged and Fawcett was able to secure an exclusive agreement with the company to sell to the New England territory. That exclusive agreement opened up new customers for Bode and helped establish a more regional presence.

As Bode continued searching for business relationships, the company made the decision to join MHEDA in the 1990s.

“MHEDA has been instrumental in the growth of our organization,” says Scott. “There is a belief within our organization that MHEDA plays a very big role in our success. From a strategic planning standpoint, to a training standpoint, we would not be the organization we are today if we were not a member of MHEDA.”

Forging Personal Relationships

Scott and Steve FawcettWhile Bode, under the leadership of both Steve and Scott Fawcett, has grown immensely due to the business relationships the company has formed, its success can be attributed even more to the company culture the two have cultivated.

“At Bode, we feel very strongly about morals and ethics as well as a strong sense of family,” says Scott. “In fact, it was at a MHEDA Convention training session about company culture where the idea for our mission statement came from. The presenter asked ‘Does your mission statement truly reflect who you are as an organization?’ Steve and I went back to the hotel room that night and drafted a new mission statement aimed at telling people ‘This is why we’re in business and this is where we’re going.’”

Unlike traditional mission statements, what Steve and Scott came up with doesn’t fit on a business card. True to form, it is more of a roadmap that lays out exactly why the company has been successful and how it will continue to be successful long into the future. Specifically, a large portion of the manifesto is devoted to the internal culture of the company.

“We want Bode Equipment Company to be a great place to work for all of our employees. The company is a mutually cooperative and caring environment. Everyone will be addressed in a respectful and courteous manner. We constantly seek dialog from every employee to understand their needs and to hear their valued opinions. Everyone working together, seeking common goals and pursuing excellence will keep Bode Equipment Company a leader in the material handling industry.”

Says Scott, “We take time hiring people. One of the big things is making sure that they fit within our overall culture. It’s a small organization and we do family-oriented things throughout the year, with not only our employees but also their families. When you spend that much time with one another that family environment becomes a very important fabric of the organization.”

For Scott, character is as important, if not more important than an applicant’s technical skills.

“The human factor is more important to me than anything else,” he says. “Politeness is very much an important aspect of that. When we interview candidates, often we go out for coffee and I am looking to see how they interact with everyone. I can teach someone the industry, I can’t teach them character.”

That belief is one of the big reasons why Bode has been so successful over the past 40 years and why the company is poised to be successful for the next 40.

Strategic Planning

If relationship building made Bode successful, a manic appetite for devouring data has kept them there.

“We spend a great amount of time looking at data and letting that information guide our ship,” says Scott. “We spend a lot of time developing long-term strategies to make sure we reach our goals.”

With the rise of the Internet came a certain commoditization of many of the products that Bode offered.

“Just prior to the down turn, we as an organization realized that we had to change course slightly because we were dealing with commodity type products,” says Scott. “We knew that we had to get a little bit more creative and hands on and be more of a solutions-based sales company. It was very important to us that we move away from our general catalog. We wanted to stop being known as an equipment company and start being known as a solutions provider that is also involved in selling equipment, in addition to design, layout and installation.”

That foresight, combined with the opening of the company’s service installation department, kept Bode well positioned to assist clients even when new order business was not available. That emphasis on service was reaffirmed when, in 2010, Bode purchased Massachusetts-based Service Handling Equipment Company (SHECO). “

We wanted to expand our focus into the Massachusetts market and SHECO was a company with a 56-year history in the area,” says Fawcett.

While SHECO and Bode retain their own separate identities, they essentially function as two branches of the same company. Bode services New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine while SHECO takes care of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Around the same time as this strategic shift took place, Bode underwent a succession plan. In 2010, Scott transitioned from vice president to president and co-owner as Steve moved away from the day-to-day operations of the company to a more strategic role as CEO.

“For four years, we attended meetings at the University of New Hampshire’s Center of Family Business, learning how to communicate the transition and what steps would have to be put in place to ensure a smooth succession,” says Scott. “Steve was instrumental in getting the ball rolling on that process. He said it would be integral to the long-term good and stability of the organization to have a very thoroughly planned and executed transition. He really pushed the envelope on that and I’m so thankful he did because it created a tremendous foundation for the employees and the people we have hired. Having that vision and being prepared for the next generation has really helped out.”

As with everything Bode undertakes, this transition was meticulously planned and carefully executed. As Bode celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2015, the company is just scratching the surface of what is possible. With a committed crew and a long-term strategic vision in place, Bode is well placed to reach new highs on its path for the next 40 years.