(L-R, seated): Tim Houser, president, and Jake Kuchera, senior vice president. (L-R, standing): Sue Ansel, marketing; Mike Kernan, vice president of sales; and Larry Smith, product support manager.
Plasterer Equipment was founded by two brothers as an agricultural company in 1912. This year, the Lebanon, Pa., company — now in its fourth generation of family leadership — is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Construction Equipment Guide recently sat down with five key members in the Plasterer organization who shared their thoughts, memories and predictions about this family-run business.
Construction Equipment Guide (CEG): How has Plasterer maintained both its family atmosphere and its reputation for high quality services as it has grown over 100 years?
Tim Houser, Plaster Equipment President: I think it starts at the top with an attitude that you lead by example, and by that I mean not only the principal but also the management team, as well. I am very fortunate to have a good management team around me and I know that my father would say the same thing about the management team that was around him when he was president of Plasterer.
Jacob Kuchera, Plasterer Equipment Senior Vice President: The Plasterer business culture has always been to keep the customer satisfied. Open communication between the customer and the company team members, including the senior managers is a top priority. Our internal communication process helps to keep the management team fully aware of any customer-related issues and gives us an opportunity to follow up with a quick response.
Larry Smith, Plasterer Equipment Product Support Coordinator: Employee turnover is very low at Plasterer. There are sons of retired employees working here, and there is one employee still here that worked for Elmer Plasterer. Large investments in property and equipment and personnel by the company have enabled service capabilities to meet or exceed our competitors.
Mike Kernan, Plasterer Equipment Vice President of Sales: Family atmosphere and quality service is the core of Plasterer’s company vision.
Sue Ansel, Plasterer Equipment Marketing Coordinator: As a child, I learned a valuable lesson from my Dad in customer service. At the time, in addition to being a construction dealer, we were also an Ag dealer. Cornfields surrounded the neighborhood we lived in. I can remember late one Saturday afternoon, a farmer drove to our house unannounced. The farmer’s corn picker had broken down and he asked my Dad if he could help. Without hesitation, my Dad drove the farmer to our dealership and located a part to fix his machine. That Saturday afternoon I learned the importance of good customer service.
CEG: What do you like about being in the construction industry?
Houser: I don’t want to generalize or paint everyone with the same brush, but our industry consists of professionals with a “working person’s attitude.” They want a relationship with their dealer, honesty, and a sense of urgency. In return, you can expect direct feedback and loyalty over time, if you do what you say you are going to do.
Kuchera: There are many things that I like about the construction industry, but there are two items in particular that are on the top of my list. The first — and what I feel is the most important — would be all of the relationships that have been formed over the years. It has been a pleasure dealing with customers, manufacturers, vendors and employees. Having the opportunity to work with industry people and form relationships that eventually turn into friendships has been a lot of fun. Establishing true relationships has certainly helped to grow and strengthen our company.
The next on my list would be the passion and dedication that everyone in our industry exemplifies. Those of us that are involved in the industry have a true passion for what we do. Whether it’s a contractor wrapping up a huge project, a sales representative finalizing a deal or a technician completing a difficult repair on a machine, everyone is fiercely driven toward success.
Kernan: Business relationships with customers, employees, and manufacturers are all very important, but it is the long- term sustainable customer relationships that I am particularly thankful for. Earning a customer’s business trust is very rewarding.
CEG: Plasterer has always made employee satisfaction and qualification top priorities. How is the company working to keep employees happy and equipped for their jobs?
Houser: People generally enjoy doing something they are good at and hopefully you can find a job doing that one thing. We put a lot of energy into the hiring process, trying to identify people that are good at that one thing. We then go through an extensive interview process at multiple layers to make sure there is a good fit. A satisfied employee will reflect that to a customer in the quality of his or her work.
Smith: Training at Plasterer has always been a way of life. Employee benefit packages have been reviewed and revised periodically and are as good as or better than any in our industry.
Employees are always included in special celebrations such as our 100th anniversary celebration this year. Other traditions, such as an annual Christmas party and years of service bonuses, remind employees that the company cares and recognizes employee loyalty.
Kernan: Employee satisfaction is achieved by offering and delivering training to gain additional skills, a safe and pleasant work environment, respect for all employees, competitive wages and benefits, acknowledging work that is done well, and being truly thankful for each employee’s efforts.
Ansel: We have been fortunate to have employees who have been with Plasterer 20-plus years. Quite a few of them I worked with in my teens. My family strives to make sure our employees feel like a member of our family. This was demonstrated this past year as we celebrated our 100th year in business. During anniversary celebrations, our employees took great pride in showcasing our business and enjoyed talking to our customers about Plasterer’s history.
CEG: Discuss the new technology that is being utilized at Plasterer, such as JDLINK, and its importance.
Houser: JDLINK is John Deere’s proprietary telematics solution. In its simplest form, it is the communication conduit between the machine, the customer and the dealer. It allows all three parties to share information regarding machine health, productivity, utilization, location and more through a secure Web portal. It is constantly evolving and improving and I don’t think we have fully realized its potential. It may not be for everyone, but I believe it has a benefit for everyone, even if that simply means the dealer can access machine information remotely, which can reduce diagnostic time and, consequently, downtime.
Smith: JDLINK is still in its infancy, but it is already making an impact, particularly with large fleet owners. They integrate this system with their business systems to monitor fuel usage, equipment utilization, equipment location and maintenance scheduling. JDLINK has already advanced and has given service departments the capability to diagnose problems with a machine remotely, only limited by the ability of cellular phone signals. Satellite communication with JDLINK is also now available in certain areas and is expanding.
CEG: Where do you see machine technology, such as integrated grade control, heading in the future? Near future?
Houser: Plasterer has pro-actively developed relationships with the local Topcon and Trimble dealer and regularly stock machines in our rental fleet with both technologies. Our sales manager has developed a real expertise in this area and it is driving incremental business. When customers realize the time and material savings by having a stake free job site with closer grade tolerances on fewer passes, the system almost sells itself. We are fortunate that John Deere has taken an open architecture approach (factory configured for Topcon or Trimble) and produce some of the finest grading dozers and motorgraders on the market.
Kuchera: At present, the industry is fully engaged in laser-guided technology. It has become a large part of our company and will continue to grow in the future. Contractors are always looking for ways to control their material costs, improve accuracy on job site preparation and get more production from the operator. Laser equipped machines can help with these concerns. This technology has proven itself by providing the contractor with cost-saving solutions for problems that they face every day.
Smith: Large contractors have already embraced this technology and Plasterer is recognized as the leader in our territory for supplying and servicing this technology. The time and materials saving on surveying and staking out a job add to profitability. Operator error involved in grading and filling on jobs is greatly reduced and again, it allows companies to lower costs and be more competitive.
CEG: Plasterer has a new internal communication system. What is this system? How will it improve customer service at Plasterer?
Houser: At Plasterer, we have a real time communication system based on simple e-mail and message rules that disseminates information across the branch regarding customer contacts. The information is unfiltered and spread across all departments and read daily by the management team and employees at the branch. We have become so disciplined with this process that when a customer concern arises that puts the relationship at risk it is almost always being addressed by the time I pick up the phone to make a follow up call.
CEG: John Deere has expanded into the Brazil, Russia, India and China (or BRIC) countries. How does this expansion help John Deere dealerships, such as Plasterer, and their customers over the long haul?
Houser: First of all, a more global and diversified John Deere is a healthier company with long-term sustainability. That is good for the dealer network. Second, a more globally diverse C&F division will eventually lead to a more global secondary market, which stands to reason will only help resale value on the long run. Lastly, the products produced abroad are market specific and reduce currency risk. When you combine additional manufacturing capacity and flexibility globally with the possibility of new product ideas for North America, I see a bright future with lots of possibilities.
CEG: What do you consider to be good leadership qualities? How have you employed these qualities to ensure Plasterer Equipment remains successful over the next “X” number of years?
Houser: I think you start by leading by example and understanding that your lowest standard is the highest standard you can expect from anyone -– that is what my father taught our family. I am convinced that in order to be successful in a family business you need to have a passion for the business, competent ability and no small measure of humility. There are plenty of people that work for you that are smarter than you in a specific area so you better be willing to listen. I can tell you that I am blessed with department managers, branch managers and senior managers who feel much the same way. A big ego is not going to last long at Plasterer Equipment.
CEG: If you could see the future of Plasterer Equipment, say 20 years or so from now, what do you think that company would look like?
Houser: I can’t say I have a specific goal in terms of size, but I hope that the culture will remain intact and that we will successfully transition into another generation with satisfied customers and employees. One-hundred years is a pretty solid foundation, so I am bullish we can get this accomplished.
Smith: It would definitely have many new faces, as there are numerous current employees who would be retired. The faces may change, but I do not believe the philosophy and reputation would change at all.
I am sure there may be some location changes as there definitely has been a change in key market areas for the company. I would also think I would see some expansion into new territories and additional lines of equipment.