The High-Tech Dealer
© 2000 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2000
Author: Tom Wadsworth
The High-Tech Dealer
By Tom Wadsworth
The Overhead Door Co. of Providence/New Bedford
Founded...................................... 1973 by Jim Grace
1999 Sales............................................... $6 million+
Fleet......................................................... 23 vehicles
Some door dealers hesitate before jumping into high-tech business solutions. You know the reasons. The cost, the learning curve, and the potential glitches all make you think twice before investing the time, energy, and the cash.
Jim Grace and Jon Goldman of Overhead Door Company of Providence/New Bedford take a different approach. Their company not only uses the new approaches, it invents them.
Garage Door Business Software
After several years of testing and development, Jim Grace and Jay Delaplain produced their own software that automates many business functions of a garage door dealership. Banner Solutions, the name of their software company, is now mass-producing their software product, Global Quoting System (GQS). The success and performance of the system attracted the attention of Clopay, who has now bought the rights to sell GQS to the garage door industry.
Grace’s Overhead Door dealership was the first to implement the program, and it is now an integral part of their daily operations in all departments. “GQS has allowed us to focus on the more profitable jobs rather than just churning sales dollars without any net income,” says Grace. The program allows Grace to track any quote at any time from submission to completion, with accurate pricing and profit assessment.
Much more than a quoting program, GQS integrates all of Grace’s key business functions related to a quote, such as factory ordering, inventory management, invoicing, scheduling installation, determining job profit, monitoring receivables, and more.
Satellite Tracking of Trucks
Besides GQS, Grace also has GPS, or Global Positioning System. In other words, he not only tracks his quotes, he tracks his trucks using the Internet-based FleetASAP GPS from @Road (www.atroad.com).
“I know where my vehicles are at all times,” says Grace. “I spend the money for the vehicles; I have a right to know.” Added in 2000, the system serves up a full plate of practical benefits.
Since most of his trucks travel in a heavily populated metropolitan area, the system enables efficient use of vehicles by easily directing them to the closest emergency calls and job sites. “If they get lost on the way to the job site,” adds Grace, “I can easily give directions.” Accessed online, the system lets Grace track his 23 vehicles from home, the office, or even from Florida while on vacation.
GPS automatically keeps a record of the maintenance schedule of each vehicle, and it keeps a record of the vehicle’s every move. Grace: “If a customer questions if we actually came to their house, I can say, ‘Our man was at your address on the 11th from 8:35 to 9:54 A.M.’”
The complete system cost $300 per truck to install and then $35 per month for the service. Besides the efficiency benefits, the system also qualifies his business for a 10-15 percent reduction in auto insurance rates. With a fleet of 23 vehicles, Grace believes the service is affordable and cost-effective.
Cell Phones Instead of Radio
Like many dealers, Overhead Door of Providence had a Motorola two-way radio system that worked off a repeater. But the system had a problem of dead spots and missed communications. “When you couldn’t get a hold of someone,” explains Grace, “it was frustrating for the office and for the technicians.”
Two years ago, as cell phone costs became more reasonable, Grace scrapped the radios and bought cell phones for everyone in the field. The initial cost of the phones was less than the cost of the full radio system, but the monthly phone charges are a little more. (See related story on pages 30-31.) “But the gain in productivity justifies it,” says Grace.
As a cost-saving measure, Grace had all these phones programmed so that only a limited number of phone numbers can be called, such as the office, warehouse, other technicians, and key manufacturers. Whether on the side of a road or at the top of a ladder, the technician can speed-dial any of these resources for quick assistance.
Technology also helps Grace with the task of hiring good employees, an ongoing challenge for all door dealers. A couple years ago, Grace began paying a professional firm $250-$300 for a full background check of each prospective employee.
“We first ask the prospect to sign a release that authorizes the background check,” says Grace. “If they’re willing to sign, that’s a good indication.” The service checks everything, including driving record and criminal history. Everyone gets the background check so there’s no discrimination.
“Since we view our people as assets, we feel it’s money well spent,” he explains. Using the service, his Overhead Door distributorship has hired more than 20 people. “Our insurance and bonding company loves to see us do the checks,” adds Grace. “It affects our rate.”
The Employee “Board of Directors”
Viewing employees as assets has generated another leading-edge idea for this door dealer: the Employee Council. Six employees, two from each department, are elected to the council. Each member is then paid $50 to attend a monthly meeting after work. The council discusses employee ideas and concerns, votes, and then brings the issues to management.
“It gives all employees a voice in the company,” explains Grace. “It stops the complaining in the back room, because they now have a vehicle for their concerns.”
The council is one of several reasons why Overhead Door of Providence has low employee turnover. The average employee has been with the company for about nine years, while some have been around for as much as 25 years.
Are there drawbacks to having an employee council? “None I’m aware of,” responds Grace. “It helps open up the lines of communication between management and employees. When you get people talking, I can’t see where it would ever be a problem.”
Other dealers may not be as quick as Jim Grace to embrace technology and new ideas. Some may find his approaches too expensive or too aggressive. But you have to admire his courage, his commitment to communication, and his thirst for more information about his trucks, his employees, and his business. If better management springs from more information, Jim Grace has plenty.
If you have questions, contact Jim Grace at 401-467-3041 or email@example.com.