Flagler Construction Equipment: Breaking New Ground

Tue July 20, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Jennifer Conway

In its first divestiture of LB Smith North America territories, Volvo Construction Equipment (CE) sold its Florida marketing area, with the exception of Tallahassee, to Flagler Construction Equipment (CE), a newly formed company that began operating the former LB Smith branches in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa on May 1.

“Flagler CE was formed to be the new company to operate this Florida dealer network,” said Mark McDonell, Flagler CE executive vice president and one of three founders. McDonell joined Tom Holmes and former LB Smith regional vice president Chris Wilmot in creating the company.

“We’re approaching this endeavor with a blank sheet of paper. We’re not encumbered by the past,” said McDonell, noting that Flagler CE started with 100 percent of the same employees, locations and services carried over from LB Smith. “Our goal is to be Volvo’s premier dealer in North America, and we’ve told [Volvo] this.”

To achieve this goal, Flagler CE is putting fresh emphasis on its people, its technology and its customers, which all ultimately support one another.

McDonell explained, “We are rebranding the company, but with that rebranding we are also creating a new company culture.”

Core Values

When a customer enters one of the five Flagler CE locations, one of the first things he or she will notice is a sign highlighting the company’s 10 core values:

• Honesty with each other

• Be personally responsible

• Mutual trust and accountability

• Be fully committed

• Teamwork

• Act like an owner

• Commit to continuous improvement

• Solve problems and avoid surprises

• Recognize performance and achievement

• Have fun!

“It’s how we will operate and work together everyday,” said McDonell. “They’re the overriding principles that guide the company.”

The values are a compilation of more than 50 years of collective business experience among the three principals. “These are Flagler CE’s values. Tom and I bring some from our prior experiences, which we combined with Chris’s insight and input specific to our team,” noted McDonell.

“We have been very specific with our folks. This is about building a company that long outlives all of us,” he said.

However, working to become Volvo’s No. 1 dealer in North America requires more than 10 company values.

“And how we’re going to do that,” explained McDonell, “is by supplying the appropriate tools to our people.”

An example, he pointed out, is through product support. Vice President of Product Support Howard McNeal, a 30-plus year industry veteran, is shepherding the adoption of these tools.

The company currently has five service locations in Florida. Each has in-shop service and complete field service customer support, noted McNeal.

Company-wide, there are a total of 60 service technicians, 40 field service trucks and six lube service trucks. All operations offer complete service, repair and maintenance contracts.

Additionally, all the service technicians are members of the Volvo Master Guild, which provides complete training and evaluations for its technicians. All technicians are trained on a regular basis with local seminars, Internet-based training and Volvo factory schools.

“We have a huge commitment to training,” said McDonell, pointing out that the technician training enhances the customer’s experience. “When we have the most skilled person working on a customer’s piece of equipment ... it only makes their experience with us better.

“We also recognize it [the equipment] is a huge investment the customer has made. It’s a very important tool for them to conduct their business, and we want to have the very best people in the industry helping them keep that equipment running and efficiently performing for them,” he noted.

Customer training also is offered by Volvo on a limited basis at the Asheville, NC, facility. Plus, all the mechanics are trained regularly on all the products offered by other manufacturers.

All five Flagler CE locations have full service parts departments, added McNeal. Each parts department is linked to the Volvo computer system as well as several other manufacturers. This provides immediate information to the customer on parts availability, pricing and delivery.

Flagler CE has an in-stock parts inventory of more than 17,000 line items valued at more than $4 million, McNeal said. The over-the-counter availability exceeds 85 percent with more than 98.5 percent available within 24 hours.

McNeal added that complete parts support is provided for Volvo construction equipment, Liebherr scrap handlers and excavators, Gomaco pavers, Cedarapids paving equipment, Brose brooms, Mauldin paving equipment, Donaldson filters, BTI hammers and attachments, to name just a few.

All parts and service personnel communicate by a statewide Nextel phone system to provide immediate customer response. Emergency “after hour” service is offered on nights and weekends by use of a computer night-call system. Depending on the nature of the emergency, the call message is directed to a member of the branch staff to provide support to the customer, noted McNeal.

The latest technology is key when integrating parts, service and sales, and, added McDonell, Flagler CE is substantially upgrading.

“We are in the process of considering how we migrate to the appropriate new dealer management system,” he said. “We intend to distribute as much technology as possible and practical, and put it in the hands of all the people who need to use it.”

McDonell added that delivering the right technology tools is often a challenge, especially in a fledgling company.

“It can be a double-edged sword in that it gets the tools in the hands of our folks quicker, be we as a new company, it forces us to make a pretty substantial change in the business process from the get-go,” he said.

As Flagler CE continues to add personnel, tools and training will be individually tailored around an individual’s needs, said McDonell.

“For example, we have a new salesman who is relatively new to the industry. The training he is going through includes direct involvement with his branch manager and other sales personnel as well as online training that he’s doing through Volvo. He’s also going to Asheville for some direct product training,” noted McDonell. “He’s receiving the tools he needs to be successful.

“For us, training depends on where you come from and what we need to give you to be successful. We’re not going to turn you loose in front of our customers until you are prepared to properly service their needs,” he said.

Flagler CE also will be doing some work on its five branches. “And we certainly have in our plans to have more branches in the market,” said McDonell. “We are studying where we need to fill-in with physical points of presence, and we will take some of our existing branches and make them work better.”

He noted that this may include renovations or new locations in a market, “but it is all about making the branch better equipped to serve the customer.”

Despite the many changes Flagler Construction Equipment will be undergoing in the next few months and into the future, the people and the relationships are the same.

“Our branch managers are the same, our salesmen are there, our product support people and mechanics are there, Chris Wilmot is here,” noted McDonell. “So we have the same people who now are free to have the tools to better serve our customers. We are focused on this market, and we are going to give folks what they need to be successful.

“They’re not going to see a personnel change, per se, but they’re going to watch our folks get better and better at meeting their needs. And, hopefully, they’re going to see our folks live our company values day in and day out, which is really important to us. They’ll see that change and it will have a positive impact on a daily basis.”