Recipe for Dealer Success is a Blend of Ingredients - Best Practices
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Recipe for Dealer Success is a Blend of Ingredients

CED Magazine, March 2009

Article Date: 03-01-2009
Copyright(C) 2009 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Ditch Witch distributor practices servant leadership style to build morale as well as better managers and employees.

It’s not unusual to find Gary Bridwell in the kitchen of his Edmond, Okla., dealership cooking up a feast for his employees. Bridwell, owner of Ditch Witch of Oklahoma, Ditch Witch of Tulsa and Ditch Witch of Arkansas, finds that home cooking for his employees is just one of many ingredients that have made his dealerships a successful operation.

“We’re a close knit group and any opportunity to build camaraderie means an opportunity to build even more teamwork within our dealerships,” noted Bridwell, who started out running Ditch Witch of Tulsa more than 30 years ago and has held the reins of his other dealerships for more than a decade.

“I’m a big proponent of servant leadership, and I’ve worked to instill that same approach with my managers, service techs, salesmen and support personnel throughout our dealerships,” said Bridwell, a hands-on owner who strongly believes in employee empowerment. “When you work with an attitude to serve others – whether it’s the customer or your coworkers – the efficiencies improve and everyone wins.”

Real Solutions
So what are some of the tactics that Bridwell has put into place to spice up the productivity of his dealerships that encompass a two-state area and include more than 70 employees?

“Probably one of the most tangible successes we can point to in recent years was our adoption of providing equipment service built on the premise of hard quoting and offering an incentive pay system for our service techs,” said Bridwell.

Hard quoting basically means that the dealer holds to the original customer quote for machine service and the quote is the amount the customer is charged on his invoice.

“This was one huge area that previously caused turmoil both internally and with customers,” Bridwell said. “A contractor would bring in equipment for service, we would put together a work order, complete the job and hand the customer a bill. And many times, the customer was caught off guard. The customer had one expectation, but the time to complete their job might have taken much longer.

“In our industry, there was no standard cookbook for how many hours it would take to perform certain service tasks. We realized that if we could develop our own book of maintenance performance hours, we could increase our service tech efficiencies while having a more satisfied customer,” Bridwell noted.
Chris Jones, director of parts and service for Ditch Witch of Oklahoma, worked together with Bridwell to make their hard quote and service incentive ideas reality. As a result the concepts have been standardized across all of the Oklahoma and Arkansas dealership operations.

“With hard quoting, we have been able to provide customers with a work order up front so they know exactly what to expect. No work is done until the customer gives the approval, which has resulted in less conflict and a happier customer. And our service techs are also reaping the rewards,” Bridwell said.
The proof of success lies in the bottom line. Since the program’s inception in 2006, the Ditch Witch of Oklahoma dealership in Edmond has seen a 42 percent increase in service income. The Tulsa and Arkansas dealerships are showing solid increases as well.

“Our service techs love this new approach. They appreciate working in an environment where there is less customer conflict and where they as service techs are empowered to deliver quality service while better controlling their incentive pay. At the end of the day, everyone wins. The customer gets a high quality maintenance job on time or ahead of time, and our service techs are well compensated,” said Bridwell.

“I have to give a great deal of credit to Chris Jones for seeing this project through and for motivating his team to see the vision and embrace the idea,” said Bridwell. “And Mark Taylor, the president of Ditch Witch of Arkansas and Dru Bridwell, manager of the Tulsa site, have integrated the concept into the Benton, Northwest Arkansas and Tulsa dealerships, making this a truly blended product service throughout our operation. 

“In our current economy, we believe more and more contractors are going to be looking to get the longest life possible from their equipment,” Bridwell added. “If we can help them make that happen with quality service provided on time at a price they are aware of ahead of time, we are walking the walk when it comes to customer service.”

An Outside Perspective
Bridwell says he and his management team are constantly looking for blind spots where sales and service can be improved. He believes that servant leadership goes beyond what he did to serve a customer today and requires searching for how he can do more both internally and externally that will ultimately create a better dealership for customers tomorrow.

“When it comes to our customer, many times it just takes some simple common sense. I think about how I like to be served when I’m the customer. It goes back to doing the right thing and being willing to put yourself out there and face up to what you can do better for your customers and your employees,” Bridwell asserted.

“We decided to put it all on the line and hire an outside consulting firm to help us better locate any areas that needed attention,” said Bridwell. “We wanted to make sure that we’re continuing to offer a ‘no-surprises’ approach to customer service and that our internal operations are at their highest efficiency.”
Steve Uible and George Wacaser of Time Service Consulting based in Ohio were retained by Ditch Witch of Oklahoma to help Bridwell and his management team identify their strengths and any areas of improvement from an outsider’s point of view.

“They helped us with freight recovery, business system training, service reporting, management and accounting accountability, preventive maintenance program development, parts inventory management, development of a company dashboard report and enhancement of communications among dealership departments and across all dealerships.

Part of the communication improvement encompasses a weekly meeting among the heads of Bridwell’s sales, parts and service departments at Ditch Witch of Oklahoma.

Consultant Steve Uible commented: “They really do support each other and work to make each one successful. Their weekly meetings help make sure they are all pulling together.”

  “We had improved our blind spots as much as we could internally, but realized that an outside consultant could help us take it to the next level,” Bridwell said. “While we were doing a lot right, there are some areas we have now further enhanced. Today, we’re more confident and more empowered in our operations. It means our dealerships can better ride out the economic curves ahead with a stronger handle on efficiency and cost control. And hopefully, by making an investment with an outside consultant to do this sort of dealership ‘soul searching,’ we are continuing to offer every team member within our dealerships the best of working environments and our customers the highest level of service.”

In addition to the help gleaned from Time Service Consulting, Bridwell also makes a habit of genuinely mentoring and educating his young managers, says Uible, bringing in professionals to teach them about financial education, insurance, management skills and more.

“Gary develops them as people, said Uible, “not just as managers. That seldom occurs in dealerships; some give it lip service, but there are few examples of it.”

One thing is for sure: Bridwell understands that no matter what he’s cooking up – whether it’s a Friday noon meal for his employees or a new way to improve their efficiency to better enhance the customer experience – he has a knack of seasoning all of his efforts with a healthy measure of leadership generously sprinkled with common sense.

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