Derek Gregorek doesn’t have the typical story of how he got into the dealership business. He didn’t grow up on a family farm, and he didn’t spend his summers in high school sweeping up the shop of a local dealership. After about 10 years working in the insurance industry, he spent the next 3 or 4 years as “Mr. Mom,” as he puts it.
When his kids were school-aged and he was ready to reenter the workforce, he knew he didn’t want to return to the insurance world but wasn’t sure what to do. So, he went down to the State of Vermont Dept. of Employment and Training and took a job aptitude test. After hours of answering questions, it was determined that he was well suited for a job in either forestry or agriculture. With no forestry jobs available and not much luck with other dealerships in the area, Gregorek got in touch with CVE owner Brian Carpenter. After meeting a few times over the course of a year, Gregorek finally said, “I’ll come to work for $8 an hour for a month and see what happens.
Years with Organization: 13 — at the Middlebury location filling a variety of roles
“We go back and forth between my role as the inventory manager and then as a sales operation manager since it’s just not inventory that I manage. I have some responsibility making sure product is moving through the business on a timely basis.”
“At the end of the month he hired me, although not for $8 an hour. I had to get my foot in the door because I had no background in ag, but I had a background in people. I know machinery and I have a very strong mechanical aptitude, so for me it was basically just learning a new vocabulary,” he says.
Gregorek’s insistence, organization and clear communication, which he credits to his time in the insurance business, have helped improve the efficiencies of CVE’s inventory management.
Gregorek is responsible for making sure equipment is moving through the business properly and on a timely basis. A big part of making sure that happens is organization. One of his primary focuses each day is balancing inventory — determining what equipment needs to move between the stores for stock and retail.
“Through our business management system, we have been able to specifically breakdown which stores sell the most of what, so I have a pretty good idea that Derby sells more tractors in this horsepower range, or Berlin sells more in this range,” Gregorek says. “So, using those charts I try to balance what goes where.”
With the recent growth of the company, Gregorek had to up his game in terms of organization and documentation. “There was a time when I knew everything off the top of my head that was coming in, where it needed to go and who it belonged to. It’s impossible anymore to know or memorize it; it’s all got to be documented,” he says.
Since all 4 stores at one point were operating as independent businesses, they still have the people in place to help manage the inventory. The advantage of having it all handled centrally through the Middlebury location is being able to balance trucking and take advantage of manufacturer programs.
Organizing orders as a group puts Gregorek in a better position for negotiating. For example, in late fall he was working on a snow blower reorder, with each store only needing a couple. “But if I put them together, all of a sudden I have an order for 10. There’s a better negotiating position with the manufacturer when I need 10 of something.”
The organization keeps up as deliveries come in. Every week (and some times more often) Gregorek sends the sales team an updated list of the current inventory. “They know to a ‘T’ what’s coming and going because I send a price summary by inventory tag of every piece of equipment we have in the store under 120 horsepower. And then they get another one for the implements — what implements we have and how many we have of each,” he explains.
The list is color coded as well. Green means the item is in stock, red means it’s been discounted. Yellow indicates the item is aged inventory that is either near its due date or “just looks old and we need to focus on moving it,” he says. The implement summary also provides the retail price as well as CVE’s price.
To organize the summaries, Gregorek has created spreadsheets to calculate the final price. It starts with flat rates, and then takes into account diesel prices, manufacturer discounts, freight costs, set up, etc. “If the shop manager comes to me and says, ‘Derek the diesel fuel we bought this month is $3.20 a gallon,’ I can change the price at $3.20 a gallon, and it will recalculate right out to the end how much each tractor is because we fill the tractors up with fuel. So you have one tractor that holds 5 gallons, there’s $15 but another one holds 50 gallons there’s 150 bucks, that changes the price of the tractor right on through.”
As equipment deliveries are received, each item gets a blue tag with that item’s serial number on it. Each tag is to be placed on the left hand side of the equipment near the top, so whether it’s a clear sunny day or there’s 2 feet of snow on the ground it can be easily spotted. Those blue tags are the key to keeping track of what’s been sold and what’s been paid for when invoices come through. Blue tags and serial numbers rule Gregorek’s world and are mandatory in his communications with the sales team.
Communication is Everything
Coordinating what’s coming and going among 4 stores can be challenging if everyone is not on the same page. “Not one of us can survive with all of us doing our own thing. We all need to be on the same level working together, and we’ve set some basic rules down about how to communicate,” Gregorek explains.
While the rules are simple, they’ve helped by keeping things organized and moving along efficiently. For example, Gregorek says multiple customers can’t be included in one email, because he wants a clear paper trail that can be easily searched. In a similar vein, it’s expected that new emails not be started as a reply or forward of an unrelated email.
“I want an email chain to be consistently about one subject. That way, when I need to go back later and look something up, I don’t hear ‘Well, I attached that to that email about such-and-such’ that was completely unrelated to what I needed to know,” he says.
Gregorek pays special attention to subject lines, too. They need to have specific, key information included. Simply saying “invoice” isn’t going to cut it for Gregorek. “I can’t look that up later because that subject line is what you’re searching. If a salesperson says ‘I need a Kubota BX24’ or whatever the model is, I want to know the tag number they’re looking for. If I don’t know the tag number, I could send them one right out of the yard that doesn’t have the options they want. It’s just paying attention to the little details.”
While it may seem like Gregorek has high standards for email communication, the system ultimately simplifies the process. “Our goal here is not to need a phone call to follow up. The information that’s there should be enough for the person it’s directed to make a decision about what needs to be done. Cut down on the phone calls; just make it simple,” he says.
“Communication is everything. The lack of it causes our biggest headaches and when there’s enough of the correct information you can figure out what’s going on,” Gregorek says.
Training for Efficiency
To help get everyone on board with the communication guidelines and other procedural issues, Gregorek has been working on putting together a few in-house training programs now that the dealership has a year under its belt as being a 4-store operation.
“After the first 6 months of seeing how all the stores worked and looking at the resources each store has in terms of a physical plant and people, we started to put together something to manage them a little bit better,” Gregorek explains. “It’s not always about training them how to sell, but training them how to manage their documentation.”
Gregorek first focused on training the staff who handles the receiving. If everything is being done correctly with receiving, he knows that he’ll be on the same page as Cheryl Gordon, sales accounting specialist. “We needed to know what comes in and when it gets here and where it is. If it’s sitting in the yard at one of the stores and I don’t get documentation saying it’s here, I don’t know it’s here until Cheryl comes in a couple weeks later and says, ‘I have this invoice, where is it?’” he explains.
The focus of that training has been on speeding up the process of identifying where equipment is and getting it to the right place. “That whole process begins with the packing slip landing on my desk. It shows me the stuff is here and that it needs to be added to the inventory,” Gregorek says.
He hopes to have a formalized operating guide completed within a couple months. “We’ve been working on some rough drafts on how to check in deliveries and how to receive equipment, but I’d like to have a formalized guide where there’s really no doubt in anyone’s mind what they need to do.”
On the sales side, the training is focused on communication. Gregorek has created a document he calls “Follow Up,” that he sends to each salesperson to ensure they’re providing all the necessary information. If they miss anything, he’s sure to let them know.
“When they make a mistake, I send this back to them and say ‘see item number 5.’ Or see number 6. And then I won’t give them an answer until they give me the correct information. I force them into doing it.”
Even when he can figure out the missing information, he still tries to make the salespeople stick to the guidelines because a day will come when Gregorek is sick or on vacation. “What if I’m not here one day and somebody needs to know something? They can’t get it out of my head; it needs to be in writing,” he explains.Gregorek’s persistence and insistence — or belligerence as he puts it — on sticking to procedures have been integral in helping the dealer group run smoothly. “At this point, I have a pretty good sense how things are going to fall into place. I’m not just looking at what I want to do, I’m looking at how everybody’s doing at all the stores, putting a program together that works for everybody,” he says. “And then sticking to that program like the procedure guide, sticking to it for a couple months to the ‘T’ to see what works and what really doesn’t work. It’s belligerence to a point, but, at the same time, understanding that it may not work in the end and being adaptable.”