Building a bottom-line successful company during a recession

(Article was edited)
“…it was Monty’s open-mindedness which was the key to his success.”

Back in 2003, business was easy for Monty Kosloski, owner of Friend’s Plumbing. The housing boom was in full swing, people were spending money freely and Monty was growing his business by double-digit percentages every year.  But instead of just letting the rising tide of the economy lift his boat, Monty had the foresight to bring in help to build a strong foundation for his business. Monty realized that for him to grow, expand and survive over the long run, he needed to put in place the methods, systems, controls and incentives that are the hallmark of a wellrun company.

Like so many neopreneurs, Monty spent more time working in the business than working on the business. While building a successful business, Monty found himself overwhelmed by all the hats that he was wearing. As the owner, he thought he should be involved in every decision and answer all his employees’ questions to keep the business running on the course he had directed for it. However, this simple management structure in which everything went through Monty left him overworked. His key employees were being under-utilized and he felt overwhelmed by the lack of structure in his business. To Monty, delegation was a foreign word from a foreign management language.

In spite of being involved in every decision, Monty knew that he was leaking profits in his plumbing business because of the lack of organization and efficiency. However, he didn’t know exactly where he was losing money or how to fix it. Just as homeowners needed a professional like Monty to fix their plumbing issues, Monty knew he needed to bring in expert to help fix his profit leaks rather than trying to fix them himself.

Monty became excited about the prospects of making more money. However, he did not fully understand how the impact of putting organization into place in his business was going to dramatically change his company for the better.  From day one, they began to change the culture of Friend’s Plumbing, and Monty was involved in every decision. In fact, his open-mindedness was the key to his success. Without Monty’s commitment to alter the way he managed his business, there would be no hope for changing the broader operations of Friend’s Plumbing with all his employees. “Once I made that decision to move forward on day one, consultants presence was an incredible lift to my people,” he said.

Immediately, they went to each individual to take some responsibilities off Monty’s back. While making the organizational changes for Friend’s Plumbing, they worked very carefully to ensure that every employee was comfortable with the changes being made. “Even though they said some of the same things I said, it made more sense [to the employees] when he said it,” Monty said. One of the effects was that everybody in the company “got more excited—the way they drove, the way dressed, they way they did everything” he continued.

“From programs on computers, cash flow, raising prices 50 cents—it was a combination of hundreds of things” that brought about the overall changes to Friend’s Plumbing, Monty said. Books were changed and new systems were put in place from cash flow to cost controls to productivity-based incentives, which could be used over and over again to ensure the modifications to the company operations became lasting. “After that first week, we changed and have never been the same since,” Monty said proudly. Moreover, it gave him the opportunity to regain control over his business, with everyone in the company pulling together as a team with a new direction.

“Probably one of the most important things they did for me was to set up a financial tracking system, which is more than just the bottom line you get from the accountant,” Monty said. “It’s a daily thing—you can’t look at just one or two factors with the economy the way it is. I now have all the tools I need as we go along.”   Monty said that a variety of new financial and operational reports that gave him the ability to manage all the critical variables necessary for his success. “I think what it allowed me to do was track, not only on a weekly basis, but also on a daily basis,” he said. “Looking back, it has allowed me to notice something on the horizon—something going to go bad.”  Monty said it was a simple formula that could be adjusted on a regular basis according to his needs—daily, weekly and monthly. Monty indicated that one of his fears about changing was the “fear of the unknown, and falling back into old habits … not anymore,” he said with confidence. “The systems keep me on track.”

To improve productivity at Friend’s Plumbing, they developed productivity-based incentive plans to generate more revenue and profits, which could then be shared with employees. “One of the things about our business is that it’s a service business where we have a lot of opportunities to sell products,” Monty said.  Monty had sold service agreements in the past, but had stopped. “Hourly wages went up; incentives and Christmas bonuses increased,” Monty said. In addition, there was money to share with the administrative staff in the office and the dispatchers. “Money does drive people,” Monty said.

In organizing his business and creating an engine for growth through productivity-based incentives, Friend’s Plumbing grew from having six to seven vans on the road to currently having 25 vehicles. Monty said the key to gaining the maximum benefit out of a consulting experience is to be open-minded. “[The business owner] must be willing to make the changes, otherwise you won’t benefit,” he said. “If you do everything, you will make more money. Your people will make more money.”  The difference in his company before and after was dramatic. “It’s the total attitude,” Monty explains. “The employees are conscientious about how they look and how they treat everyone. The incentives and spiffs [have created] a different company. Everyone is more relaxed. Managers are now empowered to do their job, and everyone accepted that. Fortunately, I had good people to fill the positions outlined.” “Now they have the authority to make decisions,” he explains. “And that’s good for me to be out of the office. I can sell more. I don’t feel I am working as hard in the business as I am working on the business.”

Learning how to transform from being one of the workers in the business to becoming the master strategist of the enterprise is one of the fundamental changes. However, the business owner has to be open-minded and willing to change and accept the new way of doing business. Additionally, as Monty’s experience has shown, the results will mean greater success for the business owner. “It works,” Monty said. “We are different. We are a lot different for the better.”

Back in 2003, Monty was not concerned about surviving. He was concerned about getting his arms around a fast growing plumbing business where he was overstressed and overworked. Unfortunately, many neopreneurs believe these factors are simply the price one has to pay when owning a business. “When they came here in 2003, it was almost easy at times,” Monty said. “But last year in 2008, we had 10 percent less sales than the year before. Yet, it was the most profitable year I ever had. That’s kind of scary. So, as I look into this year, and we actually had two very bad months—January and February were very bad—but the changes that I was able to implement by going into my cost control system, and understanding my expenses and my profit and all the things that I have in how I am going to create a bottomline successful company, I am so optimistic about this year. I think this could be possibly better than last year, and sales may go down 10 percent. But I am going to survive. That’s the key—I have the tools to make the changes.” Monty has always had all the tools he needed to fix a plumbing problem. But he didn’t have the tools he needed to run his business successfully in both good economic times and bad, nor did he know what he truly needed.

Looking back on his experience, Monty has this advice for other business owners. “Once you have made the judgment call, you realize it’s something you have to do,” he said. “If you don’t make that move now, you will regret it. They are the experts. These people have the answers. We are definitely a more controlled, structured organization, and we now have more of an insight into all of our problems. Prior to this, our employees did not present themselves correctly. The organization of this company has totally changed. Everything seems to be better when you are successful; and, in order to be successful, you have to have a good system. That’s what they did for me.” As Monty looks at his business today, succeeding in the middle of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, he credits consultants for helping him not only survive the tough times, but also to thrive in spite of them. In a moment of sober reflection about his decision to bring in consultants to build a stronger foundation for his business when the tide was rising during the construction boom, Monty said, “I probably wouldn’t be here today if I had not brought them in.”