Dedicated to Partners,
Developer of Processes,
Driven by Purpose –
Meet Denny Vander MolenBy Kim Phelan
Article Date: 02-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
AED’s 2010 Chairman is a Vermeer dealer committed to people and lasting principles.
A man's eyes are the windows to his soul, says an old English proverb with biblical origins, and that being the case, the twinkle of humor and the thoughtful eye contact Denny Vander Molen makes with those around him open a glimpse into a man dedicated to his faith and family, committed to continuous improvement in his equipment business, and humbly honored to be AED's 2010 Chairman.
On Friday morning, Jan. 22, Vander Molen, president of Vermeer MidSouth, was officially inaugurated the 91st Chairman of the association, but the ceremony was something of a first: He selected a manufacturer to be his inducting officer, Doug Hundt, vice president of Vermeer's Industrial Group. It was a visual which Vander Molen designed deliberately to portray his conviction that now more than ever, healthy partnerships will be the supporting beam for equipment dealers, manufacturers and all other industry suppliers and vendors. Communicating that view to dealers is, he says, his No. 1 objective as he takes the helm of AED volunteer leadership on a board of directors comprising 17 other distributor executives from around the country.
"I believe very strongly that however you may deem the word 'success,' at Vermeer MidSouth it comes back to how we've partnered with Vermeer the manufacturer," he said. "If manufacturers believe they can get out of this recession all by themselves, they're wrong. And if distributors think the same way, I think they're wrong, as well. Whether it's partnering with their finance company, whether it's a business system, or their manufacturers, whatever products and services they use, it's those partnerships that are going to get them through this thing.
"There are partners who come and go throughout your life, "he adds, but relationships always add to who you are."
An authentic respect for his primary manufacturer is evident when Vander Molen speaks about Vermeer, which, as a company, adheres to "Four Ps" as a kind of corporate moral compass: People, Product, Profit – all based on biblical Principles.
He says that he'd like to encourage more manufacturers to establish distributor councils, citing the effective and supportive network of the North American Vermeer Dealers Association. He also notes that Vermeer boasts one of the highest percentages of dealer AED memberships, a status which he contends is an absolute necessity, as well, not only for building and growing business partnerships, but – equally critical – for gleaning business education and know-how that is tailored to the equipment distributor.
"Manufacturers do great with product, but when it comes to business things, you can't just take the gospel from the vendor. You've got to look for other opportunities for learning," said Vander Molen. "I found at AED you can always take home things that apply to your business. The AED products help in the growth and knowledge of all the business principles, and that includes accounting, parts, service, sales, and more.
"If you only take what the manufacturer has to give you, they will consume you with product and sales; distribution is about relationships with customers and support; the day-to-day stuff," he continued. "Selling [the customer] a product is just the beginning of a relationship. What secures that is how you take care of them on a daily basis, not how you sell them a piece of equipment."
That emphasis on learning, striving, and stretching for better is another driving theme in Vander Molen's life and thus another primary objective he carries into his chairman's seat this year. He aims to model continuous improvement as a business lifestyle among his dealer peers, and in his own company he applies a Vermeer-adopted methodology of Japanese "Kaizen," a strategy that calls for never-ending pursuit of improvement from everyone in an organization.
He also has fully implemented a system known as Standardized Work throughout his seven-branch dealership, a complete web of written rules for all the departments and their myriad detailed processes, which are laid out in master three-ring-binder books at each location, as well as electronically accessible through the company's "GroupWise" e-mail network. Vermeer MidSouth utilizes Standardized Work to create consistency of business processes in accounts receivable, accounts payable, HR, sales, the way they invoice and execute work orders, track inventory, and much more.
For a company that administrates very centrally with a one-company, one-checkbook operational style, Standardized Work is an ideal fit.
Practicing what he preaches on orderly, uniform controls integrated with inter-branch cooperation, Vander Molen took a bold step in 2009 to hire a corporate parts manager who is responsible for reigning in Vermeer MidSouth's total parts inventories, removing obsolete inventory, reinventing methods for parts sales and inventorying, and developing a totally cooperative culture in which branch inventory is considered corporate inventory. Vander Molen says that in this way, his highly mobile oil, gas, and cable-related customers are served seamlessly no matter where their jobs take them. And the customer can always contact the branch with which he's most familiar.
Turning the principles of Kaizen into tangible outcomes within the branch locations is achieved, in part, through monthly conference calls among the seven branch managers, as well as quarterly face-to-face meetings that rotate between the branches, which are spread out among Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana. The frequent connection with each other provides good morale support as well as a place where inter-territory idea-swapping can freely occur. And because Vander Molen and his executive team have recently redefined and broadened the role of its branch managers to become business unit managers (in terms of sales and profitability), the consistent interaction between them and with the owners provides continuous reinforcement.
Running a tight ship has not, however, bred a staff of mechanical sober-suds at Vermeer MidSouth, thanks to the nurturing leadership Vander Molen brings to his company, demonstrating deep concern for individual employees and their unique worth as people.
"One of the things I am particularly proud of is our culture," he said. "It's about how you do the right things at the right time with everybody that's involved. Our employees don't have an attitude of 'what's in it for me;' they have a culture of giving, in that they go over and above what really is expected of them."
A Changing Landscape
Reflecting on the troubling economy of 2009 that plunged construction equipment distributors into a quagmire of sour business conditions that still remain to the present, Vander Molen expects most of 2010 to look very similar to the year just finished. His own company reduced its workforce from 70 down to about 60 employees through a combination of layoffs and normal attrition last year, but he says some gas field opportunities in his Arkansas and Louisiana territories will have a positive impact on his dealership in '10.
However, the recession of 2009 will leave lasting scars and will result in a new landscape for construction and a new business model for equipment dealers. Take suburbia as an example – he says Suburban America is going to become more European in appearance, looking the same from one decade to the next.
"It's been one of the growth areas we've had over the last 20 years, and I think that's going to slow down a lot," he said. "Our opportunities are going to be focused on different kinds of energy that will go more into rehabilitation rather than new construction." He projects that theory even beyond residential construction, too. "I think it's going to be a matter of how do we support current infrastructure that's in place, whether it's roads, utilities or buildings. Our business models are going to have to adapt to dramatic changes in government support and in private investment."
Because suburban build-up spurred such an enormous volume for dealers over the last few decades to the point of supply exceeding demand, its halt will have long-lasting effects, he believes. And just as people work hard during the week and then take a break on the weekend, Vander Molen says the economy, too, must stop and catch its breath every so often.
"Only this isn't going to be a normal breath," he added wryly. "It's going to be more like a month sabbatical!"
A Higher Calling
Unruffled by the economic turmoil around him, it's clear that Denny Vander Molen is anchored by a peace that can only be partially explained by his own business acumen and confidence in his team and systems. The real grounding that you recognize when you talk with him has origins quite separate from just pure business. He speaks of faith, of learning, of having work with a purpose – all of which create inner satisfaction, he says. He advocates integrating faith with all areas of his life rather than compartmentalizing it into a mere Sunday ritual. And this, of course, is much easier to accomplish as a privately held company – he says he tries his best to live out Christian principles in all his relationships, whether with employees, vendors or customers.
"It's not always about the money," he said. "Money is a byproduct; inventories and facilities are all byproducts of living out your purpose and calling in life.
Denny’s ABCs of AED Participation
A. In 1999, Vermeer MidSouth became an AED member company, but “for a period of time,” Denny said, “we were Country Club members – we had the membership but we didn’t take advantage of any of the products or services.”
B. Then came the AED convention of 2002, Denny’s first Annual Meeting, and it was the catalyst for his further, deeper involvement with the association. That spring, former AED president Tom Wilson “grabbed me by the collar and brought me to Washington,” he said, for AED’s Government Affairs Conference, after which he became firmly entrenched in AED’s advocacy efforts. “As AED Chairman, I’d like to carry that message – I’d like to help develop more support for our public policy initiatives,” he said.
C. In 2003 Denny became an AED director, and, following a year’s reprieve from that two-year assignment, joined the Executive Committee as an AED officer in 2007, thanks to encouragement (or arm twisting) from Les Bebchick and Dale Leppo. In addition to serving on the board of directors this past decade, Denny also worked on its Finance Committee and has served as Board liaison to the AED Foundation board of directors.
Denny is His Name, Vermeer MidSouth is His Game
You make choices along the way. No one is born with a road map. You just get on the road and start driving. – Denny Vander Molen
A career Vermeer man since 1973 in Pella, Iowa, Denny Vander Molen had been stationed in Columbus, Ohio, from 1981 as Northeast sales manager for the company’s agriculture products – he became a Vermeer industrial distributor in February 1987, taking on a newly created territory in Mississippi and Tennessee with his then brother-in-law, Wendell De Vries, who headed up the Memphis location, while Vander Molen set up shop in Jackson, Miss.
Over the years, De Vries and Vander Molen went separate ways, and the company also took on partners Harv Vander Weide (now retired) and Mel Beyer – his son Shawn is the company’s CFO, and his son Jason manages the Springdale store. Today, Vander Molen’s son Corey, a recent graduate of Mississippi College, has joined the business, managing inventory logistics, improving the company’s Web site, and supporting the company’s CRM training.
Vermeer MidSouth has grown to seven locations: Memphis, Tenn; Jackson and Gulfport, Miss.; Jonesboro, Russellville, and Springdale, Ark., and Shreveport, La. The company employs approximately 60 people.
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