Employee owned 100 percent, cfm Distributors Inc. is celebrating multiple successes this year. Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., the company has five other locations across the United States. According to cfm, each is built on the same framework of honesty and integrity. Together this group has processed its millionth order, expanded one of its locations, added new product lines, and opened an e-commerce storefront. These are just a few examples of the company’s progression, and with the year winding down, cfm is gearing up for new trends, expanded customer service, and a further push into the HVAC distribution market. What is the company’s secret to success?
If you ask Lauren Roberts, vice president of marketing, cfm Distributors, she would say part of it is the company’s commitment to making its customers’ businesses successful. The other part, she might say, is the company’s mission statement, “cfm Distributors is devoted to delivering success to our customers, our employees, our suppliers, and our company with warmth, integrity, and spirit.”
When combined, this commitment to all-around success coupled with integrity is allowing cfm to set the tone in its marketplace.
Saying Yes to Customers
Established in 1969 by Amos Roberts and Bruce Huffman, cfm was built from the ground up. In 1993 Amos retired and Huffman became president. Eight years later, Huffman retired and the current president, Tom Roberts, took over the company. He set out in 2001 to continue the tradition of growth and integrity. In 2012, as Tom looked for a way to deliver even more opportunities for success to cfm employees, the idea of being 100 percent employee owned came to mind.
Having shared the business with its employees in the past, cfm was already 49 percent employee owned with 51 percent still retained by Tom.
“When considering retirement and the future of the business, I wanted to make a fair decision that supported not only the owner, but also the employee owners,” he said. “I wanted to pass along the ability to become the owner of a company.”
The process began in 2001, but Huffman and the Roberts began engaging the employees at the entrepreneur level long before then. On its website, cfm recounts that Huffman encouraged staff to behave like entrepreneurs and that the cfm staff was taught to consider the customer’s point of view in every situation and to make each situation right for the customer.
“There aren’t rules at cfm about squeezing every nickel out of a sale,” noted the site. “Rather cfm employees are empowered to do what is right to take care of a customer whenever possible.”
Lauren explained that employees of cfm don’t need permission to fix a mistake or satisfy a customer. In fact, she explained that in order to say, “No” to a customer, an employee had to have management approval.
“Our employee-owners can make decisions to make our customers feel better and to correct any issues we might have,” she said. “That makes our customers feel good about doing business with cfm and our employee-owners feel empowered to make cfm and themselves successful.”
In 2008 the company finalized the process to be 100 percent employee owned, but its success story wasn’t over then.
New Store, New Storefront
Rapid growth has been a hallmark of cfm Distributors from the beginning, according to Lauren. It is in the last 10 years; she explained however, that company growth has really started to accelerate. This year has been no exception to the growth. For example, the company is expanding its Lenexa, Kan., branch this month to open a facility four times its size. Located just a block down the road, the new branch features state-of-the-art advancements to make order processing and customer service more efficient. It also has more loading and dock space as well. According to Lauren, the features of this facility are like nothing the company has ever had at any other branch.
Along with its new branch, cfm Distributors launched an e-commerce storefront in early July 2013. Although it has only been in use a few months, the company is already seeing success with its investment.
The system was purchased from Infor as a bolt on to its current enterprise solution Infor Distribution FACTS. The storefront provides cfm’s customers 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to ordering, shopping lists, account history, and other account information.
“A customer of ours can place their orders in the evening after their business has closed for the day and their order will be ready for pickup or can be delivered from any of our locations, as designated by the person ordering,” explained Lauren. “Once ordered, both a cfm employee and the customer receive a confirmation email. The customer no longer has to call for every account or credit need, but we still welcome them to call and talk to our staff whenever they like.”
Cfm made a significant investment in both time and money for the success of this e-commerce system. According to Lauren, the company hired a full-time employee to build the store content and manage it on a daily basis. She did note, however, that one of its top customers had turned almost all of its orders into electronic ones.
“This has freed up a lot of our inside personnel and has made the ordering employee at the contractor level very happy,” she said. “It has helped us reduce human error from the mistranslating of orders over the phone and the contractor is getting exactly
what he wants.”
Other customers at cfm are using the system as well. Whether a few small orders or as a primary ordering solution, cfm is receiving positive feedback on its e-commerce investment.
Trends and Partnership
Looking at near- and far-term trends in the HVAC industry, cfm has seen a surge in its commercial HVAC business as well as with the ductless market. To compensate for the uptick in business, the company has increased its commercial equipment, parts, and support and has picked up Daikin as its new ductless product line.
“A lot of people are moving to ductless as this wave begins to hit the United States,” explained Lauren. “We wanted to catch the ductless wave before it was too late.”
Even with their eyes towards future trends, cfm’s residential business remains its bread and butter, and the company continues to nurture and grow that sector of its business.
One of the ways it is accomplishing this is with its commitment to extending the outside sales role to business consultant.
“We truly partner with our customers and want to make their business successful. We teach them accounting. We teach them how to sell themselves and their business offerings. We teach them how to advertise. We really teach all facets of business other than just how to sell our product,” said Lauren. “We want our contractors to feel comfortable running their business by taking advantage of our resources from when they first start buying from us, as well as years down the road. This is how cfm truly partners with its customers. We aren’t a company that just runs by and shows customers what we have to offer that week and then moves on to the next customer.”
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