It is the most common answer to the question: “What differentiates you from everyone else?”
It almost sounds trite to hear every business, from the smallest frozen yogurt shop to the largest Walmart Superstore, tout excellent customer service and its own outstanding workforce as the reasons for success. However, walking around the Famous Enterprises 28th Annual Tri-State Expo brought that message home loud and clear before even speaking to a Famous employee. Contractors and manufacturers in attendance all said essentially the same thing when asked why they come to the show and why they do business with Famous — customer service.
Famous Enterprises is comprised of Famous Supply (HVACR), J.F. Good (industrial pipe, valves, and fittings), and Pittsburgh Plumbing Heating and Industrial (plumbing), to name a few that most people are familiar with. The company also has divisions that handle building products such as doors and windows, kitchen appliances, and cabinets, and even has a successful education group known as Famous University®.
If customer service is No. 1 on the list of best practices at Famous, then putting on a trade show might have to be a very close second. For a variety of reasons, people come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to attend the Famous Expo, held at the International Exposition Center in Cleveland. Some people come for education, some to buy products, and some to sell products. But, it all comes back to customer service from the people at Famous.
The Famous Expo affords buyers and sellers the opportunity to get together and do more than just kick tires. John Riley, vice president sales and marketing of Skuttle Indoor Air Quality Products , a manufacturer in Marietta, Ohio, said, “I’ve been at this expo for 13 years. Our rep firm MCS [Miller Component Sales] supports us very well and so do the people at Famous. Where else can we go to meet so many contractors in one place? I could never make this many customer calls for the price it takes to be on the show floor. We can even sell from the floor and can promote our new products.” Pointing to a pleated filter air cleaner, Riley said, “For example, this year we’re offering a Famous show floor special for one of our new mechanical air cleaners.
“This is a great place for new product introductions, and Famous makes it work for us. We appreciate their support. We all joke about the long show hours, but Famous knows what they’re doing when it comes to putting together an expo,” said Riley.
The Famous Expo is estimated to be one of the top regional distributor trade shows in the HVACR industry, with approximately 4,500 attending during the two-day event.
Famous has caught the attention of national industry leaders, as well. According to Talbot Gee, executive vice president and COO of Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), “Famous Supply is a great, aggressive distributor so it’s no surprise that they host such a successful event focused on maximizing the time of their contractor customers and vendors.”
EDUCATION AT FAMOUS U
During the expo, Famous University hosted State of Ohio certified courses along with free special interest seminars. Contractors who are licensed in Ohio are required to earn 10 hours of continuing education annually. The expo provided ample opportunity for a contractor to earn all 10 hours during the two days of educational programs. Famous University V.I.P. members could take any of the 24 expo courses for free, and any person earning CEU credits could gain entry to classes free of charge. In addition, 38 free special interest seminars were available which ranged from education in oil furnace service to utilizing social media in the business environment.
HVAC & Building Product Showcases are also provided during the year to enable most customers an easy access to new product technologies and education. However, in the interest of customer service, the larger expo offered free round-trip bus transportation from participating branches. People came from near and far, and from a variety of HVACR-related industries.
Anthony Weaver has been enrolled at Vatterott College, Brecksville, Ohio, for almost six months. He started in the building maintenance curriculum and is currently studying HVACR controls, which brought him to the Parker booth at the Famous Expo to examine a few gadgets on a display table. He expects to narrow his focus to one industry discipline as he becomes more familiar with each trade. “My instructor said the best way to learn more about HVACR controls was to go to the Famous Expo show,” said Weaver.
Clark Beckman works for Professional Property Care in Cleveland, Ohio, a facility management company. “I come here for the training,” said Beckman while looking over some Delta faucet boxes on the second day of the show. Beckman stayed at the expo from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the first day when he attended seven courses.
Bruce Beckwith, from Akron, Ohio, owns Beckwith Heating and Cooling, a company that his father started decades ago. “I often come for the classes, but this year I’m looking for a ladder,” said a smiling Beckwith. “I recently bought two more trucks because business is looking good right now and all the way through January of next year. We have been buying from Famous Supply for 40 years; my dad started buying from them when I was just a kid hanging around the business.”
Vicki Feola, Famous Enterprises marketing manager, said that the most obvious best practice shared by the approximately 700 associates in the company is customer service — no small surprise coming from the mouth of the marketing manager given that Famous customers had already validated that thought on the show floor.
“Definitely our No. 1 strength is our customer service. All distributors provide the same products to their customers, so what differentiates us is the service we provide. We strive to provide excellent service, and our expo is definitely one of the ways that we differentiate ourselves in providing service and value to our customers,” said Feola.
According to Feola, manufacturer attendees have told her that the Famous Expo is by far the largest regional distributor event in terms of square footage and in the number of attendees that she is aware of in the industry. “It’s a buying show. The main purpose is to sell products, something unique in that many shows do not allow product sales from the floor. Not only are manufacturers taking orders here, but we are also taking orders here at the show; these are immediately being entered into our ordering system for shipment the next day if the customer desires.”
The first expo was held in 1984 at a hotel in Akron, with 61 booths and three seminars. Now, the expo hosts more than 210 booths and nearly 70 educational sessions.
Feola said, “We empower our associates to be able to make decisions immediately so they can take care of our customers in the most expedient fashion possible.” Evidently, that originated with Hyman Blaushild who empowered himself to start Famous Supply in 1933 in Cleveland when he found that he could not get the service he was seeking as a sheet metal and HVAC contractor. From 1933 to now, things look quite different in the company. Jay Blaushild, his son Marc, and now his son Brian, carry the family tradition on through 24 warehouses, 10 kitchen and bath showrooms, and 17 classrooms that provide training through Famous University.
Marc Blaushild stated, “We respect our heritage and our tradition, but the reason we are going to be successful in the future is because of our people. Our people care and they’re working as a team, and as they continue to do so we’ll continue to get better, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
As with any distribution business, change is inevitable. Sometime in the mid-1990s, Famous became computerized which later led to more automated processes. Today, the software system integrates with everything from inventory control to accounts payable. Just about every employee works in the software system at some point in the customer experience. Even customers are able to enter orders directly into the Famous software system. Famous sales people can go to the customers’ place of business and perform BIN stock management programs with hand-held devices, and customers have the ability to order on-line through Famous’ website.
Since Hyman Blaushild, an immigrant from Russia, opened the first doors in Akron, everyone has been treated like family. According to his son Jay, “He respected the people he bought from, the customers he sold to, and obviously his employees. He treated everybody like family and wouldn’t ask any of them to do anything that he wouldn’t or didn’t do himself.”
Family is the first core value on a list of five that every Famous associate carries with them all the time — and if they happen not to be carrying the core values card, they can get their hands on one within a few seconds. Adherence to the values that drive customer service at Famous Enterprises is more than a career for the people at Famous, it is a way of life.
Beckwith summed it up when he said, “Our Famous rep is great to work with, and provides great support, but I also come to the expo to meet with some of the Famous people that I don’t get to see as often. They are good people — and good family.”
Publication date: 10/03/2011