There are three 250-foot-long drive-through lanes at Besco Supply Co.’s facility in Tulsa, Okla. (Photos by Stephen Holman.)
Many, if not most, McDonald's and White Castle fast-food restaurants now accept plastic. The minimum standard for air conditioning systems will soon be 13 SEER. Martha Stewart is scheduled to host her own "Apprentice"-type TV show when she completes her house arrest.

Geez, what's next? Drive-through HVAC distribution facilities?

As a matter of fact, yes.

At Besco Supply in Tulsa, Okla., you can drive your truck into one of the six bays in the 250-foot-long drive-through service area and have your truck loaded in a matter of seconds. For the larger orders, of course, it will take longer, as this is not exactly like Burger King. Rather, this is an innovative HVAC, plumbing, and electrical distributor, owned and operated by brothers Steve, Paul, and Mark Bender.

"We view our drive-through service as just an extension of our business and total commitment to customer service," said Steve Bender, president and director of sales.

"If the winter months were any indication of the success of our drive-through, then we have certainly made the right decision. It has really improved our top-line sales during an otherwise dismal time of the year.

"Everyone we have talked to has indicated that we have taken a convenience store philosophy and adapted it to the HVAC industry, due to the way we have our facility set up."

In the Benders' estimation, the configuration of the drive-through allows for speedy service. And with the size and layout of the area, "we have mitigated the chance of traffic congestion," said Steve Bender. "When pulling into the drive-through, our customers and the products they are buying are protected from the weather."

The Benders initiated this unique service shortly after purchasing a 50,000-square-foot building last year that had been owned by a beverage distributor in south-central Tulsa. Besco currently serves the northeastern Oklahoma market in approximately a 100-mile radius around Tulsa.

"The single most important issue with our customers was to get their crews in and out of supply houses fast. We took that to heart and made it a reality," said Paul Bender, who serves as vice president-operations.

"On average orders, contractors can be in and out of our facility in three to five minutes, whereas in the past it took at least 15 minutes if not more."

The drive-through’s center lane is dedicated to load out, and the two outer lanes are reserved for call-in business that is already pulled and staged for loading.

Taking Supersized Orders

Prearranged pickups are earmarked on the six drive-through bays. Identification boards mark each bay with the customers' names and the bay number. When an order is called, faxed, or e-mailed in for a pickup, it is processed and two copies are printed from one of the two dedicated printers in the drive-through area - one for equipment and one for accessories.

The print orders specify whether the product is for pick-up, delivery, or drive-through. Counter and warehouse personnel pull the products and put them in one of the staging areas where they are held for the contractor. When the contractor arrives, he is directed to pull into a specific bay, where his truck is immediately loaded.

Watching this take place, you feel like you're observing a pit stop at a NASCAR race, only in a covered environment. Instead of changing tires, people scurry about all over the place, as if precious seconds count to get orders in and out.

"We ensure customer orders are correct by checking them twice, once when being pulled and again as they are being loaded. This is done against the original pick ticket," said Paul Bender.

Besco has over 900 SKUs in its 50,000-square-foot warehouse. It is set up in a rather unique offshoot configuration, designed to offer easy accessibility to the drive-through staging area. There are three 250-foot drive-through lanes, with the center lane dedicated to load out, and the two outer lanes reserved for call-in business that is already pulled and staged for loading.

"As you know, in this industry weather is always an issue. If we can make it more convenient for our customers during rain, sleet, and snow and keep them cool during the hot summer months, we've hit a home run," said Steve Bender.

Looking over some plans are Steve, Mark, and Paul Bender, owners of Besco Supply in Tulsa.

Options Are Available

While the Bender brothers pride themselves on their company's unique drive-through capabilities, they are proud of their entire operations - period.

The threesome, who bought the original business in August 2003, invested a lot of time, money, and effort into their purchase.

Prior to moving in, the brothers gutted the huge warehouse. It does not have the feel of a typical supply house. For instance, employees were given a choice to select the color they wanted for their own offices, along with the décor and furnishings. The showroom décor has the feel of a coffee house, in addition to a high-tech and cutting-edge appearance.

Besco Supply, founded in 1967, was originally known for its vast array of accessories. One of the key factors in Besco's early growth was its purchase of Carco, which carried Janitrol and Goodman. As a result of this move, Besco's sales doubled rather quickly, making it a force in the Tulsa market. In addition to Goodman, Besco also carries MetalFab, Atco, CertainTeed, Fujitsu, Rinnai, Diversitech, Selkirk, and AirGuard. And with its recent acquisition, Besco now carries Heil, Tempstar, and ICP commercial equipment, along with an array of Heatilator and Napoleon fireplace inserts.

"When we came on board, we wanted to make some positive changes," said Mark Bender, who is the company's chief financial officer. "Our idea was to improve on existing operations by bringing in more options to the customer and expanding our services.

"When we evaluated our move to a new facility, we had a vision of being the first in the industry to challenge existing paradigms. The drive-through, coupled with the state-of-the-art showroom, facilitated this process."

Even with the addition of its drive-through service, the Benders still want to maintain the personal relationship that Besco is known for. There are 400 companies on its active customer list. They still en-courage contractors to visit their 3,500-square-foot showroom, at-tend their training classes, and place orders through their salespeople or at the counter.

In regard to on-site training, Besco has a dedicated room, which can seat up to 100 and is equipped with the latest in audio-visual equipment. In fact, the Benders bring in nearby Vatterot College instructors, local city inspectors, and various manufacturers to teach various subjects.

"We know our customers have a choice," said Mark Bender. "We want buying from Besco to be convenient. Whether customers want traditional delivery or counter service, or they want to use our drive-through option, we're ready to serve them."

Publication date: 04/11/2005