Growing the Business through Training - Best Practices
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Growing the Business through Training

By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 08-01-2009
Copyright(C) 2009 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Stephenson Equipment Inc. uses The AED Foundation’s professional education courses to fulfill its commitment to employees and customers.

The fabric of the construction equipment industry is a long, winding swathe characterized by distributors whose many generations often pass along ownership within the family, and it is not at all uncommon for a dealership to reach its 50-year mark. However, for such a company to achieve this milestone and still continue to be a growing, expanding organization is indeed something to be celebrated.

Stephenson Equipment Inc. (SEI), a lift equipment dealership founded by Paul Stephenson in 1957, has been named one of the Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies in Central Pennsylvania in 2006, 2007 and in 2008. The company expects to be named to the list again in 2009.

“We’ve grown the company by a little over 300 percent in six years,” said Dennis Heller, president and CEO of SEI.

Based in Harrisburg, Pa., Heller attributes his company’s ability to achieve such drastic growth to the company’s commitment to employee training.

“We work hard at our business plan, our business model and strategy,” said Heller. “So much of our effort is bent on our employees and the development of our employees to be the best in the industry.”

Developing Employees through AED

Stephenson Equipment aspires to have every employee receive a minimum of 40 hours of training per year via courses provided by equipment manufacturers, as well as professional education courses available through The AED Foundation.

“AED is a tremendous resource for any dealer,” said Heller. “It behooves a dealer to take advantage of the resources AED can provide, not only from a political standpoint, but also the training resources. I don’t know anywhere else where we would obtain more pertinent, focused training for our technicians that goes so far beyond the technical and specific training a manufacturer provides.”

Since 2006, the company has purchased or rented more than 50 titles from The AED Foundation’s professional education courses and self-study modules, including People Management, Financial Management and Service Management. All of The Foundation’s education programs, seminars and courses are accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) to ensure the highest quality content and structure.

SEI turned to The AED Foundation’s training modules to help the company refine its monthly performance sheets for parts and service managers.

“Whenever we provide a goal number, it’s based on AED standards,” he said. “You don’t know you’re doing a good job unless you know what the number should be.”

For example, the company was putting out labor reports every two weeks to measure the billed labor against paid labor to technicians. When Heller called one of his branch managers to ask him what he was going to do about his labor percentage, his branch manager replied, “Well, what is it supposed to be?”

“We were putting the data and the reports out there so they could measure their billable time, but we weren’t telling them the objective,” he said. “We thought we were so smart, but we didn’t tell them what was a good number. We gave them the number from AED standards, and it’s been right there ever since.”

Certification through The AED Foundation

The AED Foundation also boasts the industry’s only management certification program. SEI encourages all of its key managers to achieve management certification, a program that recognizes industry professionals for completion of required position-related training, their skills and expertise, and job performance at an exemplary level. The Foundation offers certifications for branch, service, parts and rental management.

Three SEI employees have achieved management certification to date: Heller, in branch management, service, parts and rental management; Dale Heiner, vice president of service operations in service management; and Mike Haas, vice president of parts operations in parts management.

“We use AED’s training programs and information because it helps our managers become better managers, and it helps us benchmark our business model against other successful dealers,” Heller said.

After AED publicly recognized managers who have achieved certification through The AED Foundation, SEI also held a small plaque awarding ceremony for Haas and Heiner.

“Now there are other managers who want to receive their certification,” said Heller. “We set certification out as an objective for all of our key managers. Dale and Mike should be proud to have received their certification. I think we all get caught up in the day-to-day, and forget to reinvest in ourselves.”

Haas achieved his parts management certification in February 2009. He says becoming a certified parts manager was a huge accomplishment.

“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge through The AED modules that I can apply in my everyday tasks,” he said. “Our business is ever-changing, and you have to stay on top of your game. SEI is very goal-oriented, and AED training is an investment in our people and our growth.”

Heiner received his service management certification in September 2008. His motivation for completing the certification program was to improve his managerial skills not only for himself, but also for his co-workers.

“Achieving management certification was challenging and took some commitment of my time to complete, but it was well worth the effort,” said Heiner. “I enjoyed being exposed to new ideas and turning them into a better and more efficient way to get my job done. Every day is a new challenge in this business, and without an understanding of how best to care for our customers and employees, our business would certainly fail.”

The Importance of Training

In addition to training its employees, Stephenson Equipment also hosts hundreds of training programs for its customers, an important dimension of the company’s value-added service, according to Heller.

“We try to pay attention to our customers and what their needs are,” said Heller. “We provide training courses for our customers because trained labor is one of the single largest challenges our customers have. Training sales is part of our P&L,” he said.

The importance of training both for his own employees and for his customers is akin to the medical profession, says Heller.

“Would you go to a doctor who graduated medical school in 1962 and never went back for further training?” he quipped.

“We as professionals, whether in sales, service or parts, need to continually sharpen our skills to be the best that we can be,” continued Heller. “You would never go to a doctor who never went back for training, so why would we expect our customers to return to us [without continuous training].”

With the changing market conditions, Heller says the importance of training increases.

“The business models have changed dramatically over the last five to 10 years, and competition has changed,” said Heller. “We need the latest information so we can stay ahead of the curve and meet our customers’ needs. The AED Foundation training is a great resource for us to navigate through challenging times.”

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