If you had walked into CVE's Berlin location a year and a half ago, you most likely would have heard a hearty laugh filling the store. If you followed the laughter, you would have found its source - a salesman in shorts and a T-shirt who would do just about anything for his customers, including making a stop on his way home to help with a repair on Christmas Eve.
While Tom Wood may have traded in the laid back look for long pants and a CVE branded shirt, his attitude and approach to serving the customer hasn't changed. When CVE acquired Riverside Equipment in October 2012, Wood was a salesperson for the dealership, but often filled the role of store manager while the owners were traveling.
"I was the de facto store manager because they were never around. So everyone would come to me for whatever they needed. I could make decisions if I needed to when they were gone but I didn't have a title per se; I was just 'the guy,'" Wood says.
"When I was hired I did my own sales and my own deliveries. We did sales, deliveries, some service as needed on the road if we could. I'm not a particularly great mechanic, but I can 'farmer' something up to get somebody going again," Wood explains. "As the years went by, my role never really expanded; they just felt more comfortable that I could handle things while they were gone."
Years with Organization: 10 - nine of which were with Riverside Equipment prior to the acquisition and 1.5 years now under the CVE name.
Role: "I'm the store manager. I'm responsible for the security of the buildings, the people and everything inside it." In addition to managing the Berlin location, Tom is also the marketing manager for all four locations.
After the acquisition, the role became official. Some days Wood still struggles to measure what he accomplished for the day, but he knows his role in the company matters. "While I may not be as important as electricity in this building, the fact is I've been doing this for 10 years and I know what it takes to keep people coming through the doors and happy. I'm familiar with this area and clientele, so my behind-the-scenes work, while not necessarily noted in the closing credits, is valuable to the company."
Growing into His Role
While Wood will tell you that the transition to legit store manager was a tough process for him, his actions and passion for the business would tell you otherwise. To Wood, being the store manager means taking responsibility for everyone and everything inside the building.
Listening to him talk, it is clear that he genuinely cares about his customers and employees alike. He wants his employees to do the best job they can, and he's going to do whatever he can to ensure their success.
"I make sure that any customer issues are handled, good, bad or otherwise. I help the service guys if they need something that they don't have and see that they get it. I support Rick Rusin and Alonzo Blackmore with any sales issues that they have, help them with trade appraisals, contact manufacturers if they need something extra to get a deal done. Basically whatever it takes; I'm more of a facilitator than anything, which is a tough role for me because I've always been a salesman first."
And while the majority of his day is spent supporting the rest of the staff, Wood still sells. "I have a pretty dedicated customer base - when they come through the door, I'm who they're looking for, and I'm happy to do that because I still love to sell," he says.
Wood recently added marketing manager to his role within CVE and spends about 20% of his time working on the company's marketing campaigns. He likes the creative aspect of marketing and an hour-long commute provides plenty of uninterrupted time to brainstorm. "It's the drive, I have so long to drive I'm always thinking of stuff. My wife bought me a digital recorder to keep track of my ideas and I've also got 10 or 15 notepads going with notes scribbled on them," he says.
Cultivating Brand Awareness
Champlain Valley's current TV and radio jingle came to life on one of Wood's long drives home. He had been pushing for creating some sort of jingle to replace the simple scripts they used for their radio ads for some time. "Some people think jingles are hokey. They may be hokey, but they stick in your brain and that's really what we're trying to do because we're really pushing for brand awareness," Wood says.
The benefit of a jingle is it elicits a response from listeners, whether they love it or hate it, Wood explains. CVE's latest jingle aired for 2 months to generate awareness before dropping in a special sales promotion at the end in November. In addition to creating brand awareness, Wood wants to make sure they are conveying that the 4 stores are a convenience, not a hindrance to competition.
"You want to make it so they realize that 4 strategically located stores make it more convenient for them. It's a positive. So that in conjunction with the brand awareness we're trying to build, is what we're going for. If we can sell a few things in the middle of it, all the better," he says.
Wood has been working to make CVE's marketing more mainstream and less "tractor marketing," in order to appeal to more than one customer. We don't want to use any labels when we're trying to market to people because a guy that's got five chickens and a horse believes he's just as much of a farmer as the guy who has 500 cows. So we do a lot of things with pictures and not print," Wood explains.
The creativity involved in marketing gives Wood a break from some of the other stresses of the business, he says, and talking about it makes his face light up.
"It's nice because it's the fun part of it. It's like being at the fair. When you're at the fair showing people equipment, you're not dealing with the tractor that's in two pieces out in the shop and you're not dealing with the guy complaining about the price of a hydraulic filter. It's the shiny part of the business. It's a good release for me to be able to have that because it kind of regulates all the other stuff," Wood says.
'Do Whatever You Do'
Of all the store managers, Wood is the only one who is not an owner. And while he says that fact hasn't added any pressure from above, he puts the additional pressure on himself. "That is something that I take very seriously because for the other guys, it's their money. The decisions they make involve their money. The decisions that I make involve their money.
"I used to have the same authority, even though I wasn't the store manager at Riverside, but it didn't seem to have the same stress that it has now. In other words, when I was hired as the store manager here, they said, 'This is your store, these are your people, do whatever you do.' And I'm like, 'OK, but what's the catch here?'" Wood says.
There's been no catch and Wood has been trusted to run the store as he sees fit. And while he's not an owner, he says he still eats, sleeps and drinks CVE. "It's just something in my head, but I feel that I'm being held to a different standard, albeit self imposed. The guys are all looking out for the business because it's their business. I'm looking out for the business because it's their business and my livelihood. But I've never gotten a harsh word from any of them, so it's a good deal," Wood says.
Managing with Respect & Gratitude
While the store has a service manager and a parts manager, ultimately Wood oversees all 10 employees at the Berlin location. Since taking over as store manager, he has had to alter the way he leads. "I used to say you just kind of lead by example and everyone will pick it up," he says. "My new role doesn't allow for that in the respect that it has to be this way; thingshave to happen this way. The train comes in at 7 for a reason, don't be there at 7:15 looking at the tracks because the train won't be there."
The change has been an adjustment for everyone at the store because prior to joining CVE, everyone was on a level playing field with each other. "I think, over time they've realized that I have certain things that I have to answer for and that they have to answer for. I try to treat them as well as I'd want to be treated," Wood says.
Wood finds small ways to show he appreciates the hard work the store's employees put in each day. For example, during the summer at least once a month he will treat the whole store to lunch. Or cooking a gourmet meal on the grill. "That's just my way of showing them I appreciate the fact that they do what they do. Because there isn't a one of them that I couldn't ask at 5 minutes to 5 to jump in a truck and go 3 hours one way to do something for me. And they would do it because they know I need it done and I wouldn't ask them if it wasn't important. I try to reward them for that," he says.
When it comes to measuring employee performance, Wood says it varies by department. For instance, he doesn't like to measure mechanics by output. "When you measure by output, you run the risk of people feeling rushed and making mistakes," he says.
"I do it more by rework, how many times that a problem shows itself. Once it's too often for a problem to occur, beyond that, then we take corrective action. So I'm not nearly as concerned with his speed as I am accuracy. And sometimes that means it costs you a little bit because a lot of stuff is paid on flat rate and they may exceed flat rate, but if it's gone after the first time, then it's kind of a moot point."
Wood isn't keeping track of any specific metrics personally, leaving that to owner Brian Carpenter. Instead he says he's "more of a line-of-sight guy. I record what I see, and I see close rates. I see the guys on the phones doing what they're supposed to do to keep their job going."
For the parts department, he measures their productivity based on what's going across the counter and the fact that they are in his office regularly asking him if they can start selling certain items and showing initiative to increase their business.
"I want everyone to feel like they have a stake in what's going on. I want them to know I'm open to suggestions, because I've worked places where there's no suggestion box."
Out with the Old
While there is a store directive to achieve a 3 times turn, Wood's personal short-term goal is to sell off the entire remaining Riverside inventory. "They absorbed a humongous Riverside inventory. I call that my tab even though it's not," he says.
CVE inherited "maybe $3 million worth of stuff, and it was a lot - we had 8 or 10 of everything," Wood says. While the inventory was dispersed among the 4 stores, some of it remains in Berlin and was part of Wood's original orders under the previous ownership. As a result, he takes personal responsibility in getting that product moved.
Now that the Berlin location isn't competing with the other 3 stores, Wood has had to adjust how he views the store's success. "The fact that my store isn't the leading Kubota store in the state anymore bothers me because I think that I'm not carrying my own weight. But I can tell you that the way that Champlain Valley runs its business, if I weren't carrying the weight, you'd be talking to somebody else right now. So that's something that I'm always mentally adjusting is that it isn't going to be like it used to be - because it can't be," he says.
He's still trying to figure out how he'll make the Berlin store stand out among the others. "I don't think it'll ever be the biggest earning store because we don't have the customer base that the other stores do. So I've got to find another way to distinguish this store This store will have to be known for something else and I have yet to determine what that'll be," he says.
Over the next 12 months, it's Wood's goal to get customers, and potential customers, to recognize the Berlin store as a place for ag equipment.
There's not much room for growth in the compact tractor business, he says, "but the agricultural business is where we have the potential to have the biggest amount of growth. We can really expand our markets if we go into different products."