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No Substitute for Experience

National Lift Truck Service’s stability gives them a leg up

According to recent studies, the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times during his or her career. That number is much lower for employees who work at National Lift Truck Service (Pompano Beach, FL), where average employee tenures above 10 years are more the norm than the exception. As with any company, National Lift’s leadership starts at the top. Robert Siano, CEO, has been with the company since 1975, when his father, Jerry Siano, founded the company. There’s no substitute for experience and National Lift Truck’s employees have it in spades.

Jerry began his career in the industry as a technician for Caterpillar in New Jersey. Eventually, he and a partner left their technician positions to become entrepreneurs and opened Jersey Lift as a material handling repair shop. In 1968, Jerry relocated his family to South Florida, temporarily returning to work as a technician before opening National Lift Truck Service Inc. in 1975 as a White dealer.

“The Siano family has been involved with material handling for almost a century,” says National Lift Truck Corporate Vice President Diane Hauter. “Our current CEO, Robert, has been working in the business since he was 18. I have been with the company for 26 years. Our VP of sales, Eduardo Alvarez has been with the company for 15 years and our senior parts manager, Rick Hamilton, has been with us for 35. That kind of tenure provides a lot of stability.”

Though the company has gone through several transformations and line changes, its philosophy and the guiding influence of its founders have remained constant. In the 1980s, National Lift transitioned from being a White dealership to representing the TCM line, earning multiple industry awards over the following decade. In the 1990s, after Jerry turned the company operations over to Robert, the company accepted a growth opportunity to represent the Yale line for the next 25 years, again earning Dealer of Value, Merit or Excellence every year. Today, National has proudly joined the Hyundai and Clark network for its Florida operations and has already been recognized as New Dealers of Excellence and “Top Hitters” within the network. The company continues to represent Yale in Latin America and also represents Advance-Nilfisk sweeper-scrubbers in the U.S.

“Line progression, physical locations, added services and corporate business plans have all contributed to the growth of National,” says Hauter. “But most important has been keeping an eye on the needs of our ITA market, adding value and striving for fast quality sales and services.”

National’s Board is comprised of Robert Siano, Diane Hauter and Eduardo Alvarez.

“The next generation of family has entered the business and is working to plan and expand the continued growth of the company,” says Hauter.

Today, National continues as a full service dealership offering sales in new and used equipment, rental, service, short-term and long-term leasing, road and shop, aftermarket products, parts, allied lines and operators training.

“We have progressed from the early days as a repair shop to a full dealer distributor and material handling provider and continue to plan and research growth areas and opportunities,” says Hauter. “We consider ourselves to be flexible based on customer needs.”

The company has five branches: Pompano Beach, Miami, West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie, Florida as well as Puerto Rico, and 75 employees, including 35 technicians.

Culture

“The stability of the company and the fact that we’ve never changed hands is very important,” says Hauter. “But none of that success happens without a very qualified and stable staff. And not only do we have that, but their tenure with us is exceptional. Team National is a group that we admire and count on daily.”

For more than 40 years, National Lift Truck Service has operated with a simple mission statement: Customer Satisfaction, Professionalism, Respect and Teamwork. Many companies sell top-of-the-line products. Far fewer succeed with the kind of longevity that National Lift has. And the differentiator is culture.

“Culture, education and morale are all extremely important at National,” says Hauter. “Companies do not survive in poor atmospheres or without a strong leader.”

But it’s more than finding great employees. Once you find them, you have to be able to keep them. And while a great culture goes a long way, National ensures that they’re enticing employees to stay with some of the most competitive benefits packages in the industry.

“As far as compensation, we pay based on the MHEDA Compensation Survey studies,” Hauter says. “We participate in those studies and are using them as a guideline. Currently, we still pay 100% of our employees’ health, vision, dental, life and disability insurance.”

The company also offers graduated, accrued time off for employees. They earn two weeks’ vacation and a week personal time from the day they start. At ten years, that goes to three weeks. At 20 years, that goes to four.

“We offer incentive programs to our parts department based on volume. To our technicians on upsells,” says Hauter. “When we have special projects, be it physical inventory or warranty reconciliations, we offer employees the ability to come in and work those projects on the weekends for per diems and additional time off.”

“We try to keep our stability, our tenure, our growth and our compensation packages very high in the industry,” she says. “It seems very attractive to recruiting, especially the 100% benefits and a matching 401k program.”

To find the most qualified candidates, National Lift has begun using industry head hunters and services.

“Recruitment is pretty much online in today’s marketplace,” Hauter says. “In addition to head hunters, we use online ‘career builders’ and trade schools and colleges. Many schools are starting to offer lift truck training.”

National believes it is important to offer very detailed and explanatory job descriptions, so that applicants know exactly what they are signing up for.

“If we’re hiring a technician, during the hiring process we actually give them a basic aptitude test,” Hauter says. “Different manufacturers have different tests, but it’s basically a four hour test that lets us know that their skill set and mindset matches the jobs we’re training for.”

Once an employee is hired, National makes sure to give them all of the tools they need to succeed and thrive.

“We encourage heavy participation in online universities,” says Hauter. “We actually have them log into the manufacturer systems in their evenings and weekends and pay them wages to do that. We also use classroom trainings, boot camps, technician trees and mentor programs within the dealership. Our next generation of leadership is onboard and training by working through the positions at National, completing a circuit of each and every department and each and every position.”

Technology and a Changing Industry

Technicians currently make up more than 45% of National’s workforce. In the last several years, there has been a massive shift in the way technology impacts a technician’s day-to-day work.

“The industry today is much more advanced in nature,” says Hauter. “The industry is heading high-tech. I believe that in the future, the machines being sold will be highly computerized. In the service area, you’ll have diagnostic technicians who will hook up into computerbased programs to run tests to diagnose problems. They’ll identify parts through that system and order them. Then, the secondary level of technicians, who are more the classic wrench turners, will come and actually fix the issue.”

This shift has already begun in the industry and at National. Currently, for new employees and employees who are not within 5-10 years of retirement, those technicians are undergoing training and education on the new technology and equipment.

“Our approach has been to look at the skilled labor force that we have and determine who doesn’t want to progress to that next level, if they’re close to retirement,” says Hauter. “We’re taking the new incoming and mid-tenure employees and educating them to the new technology that is out there. And we’re allowing our tenured, very skilled mechanic to continue being the ones who turn the wrench. So our approach has become two-fold. When the call comes in, if it is a newer generation machine that requires benchmark testing, we will send out our new technicians who hook up to the computers. They run the diagnostics, identify the problem, give the customer a quote, source the parts and then when the part arrives, we send out our highly-skilled tenure mechanic to put it in in the most efficient amount of time possible. So we’re blending two worlds.”

But shifting technology is impacting more than the technicians. It has changed the way business is done throughout the company.

“The industry remains highly competitive and customers are much more educated on options,” says Hauter. “For either good or bad the Internet has eliminated a good amount of personal contact. The speed of communications and competitiveness in the industry has increased because of that.”

Going Forward

Five years down the line, Hauter projects to remain a double-digit market share, as well as add products and services, all in preparation of becoming a superstore where the customer can come for all industry needs. The target: turnkey operations.

“We will continue expansion in the online markets and up the challenge of becoming an all-in-one global provide,” Hauter says. “We’re constantly shifting. I think we have a very strong leadership group, a very loyal employment base and we will continue to keep our packages high and better than the competition to continue to attract top talent. And we’ll just strive to get to that superstore point where we can be an all-inone provider.”