Marc Blaushild is a man who knows the value of brevity. Blaushild, president of Famous Enterprises Inc., has set a vision for his 75-year-old company that is only five words: To be a great company.
If it sounds simple, well, that’s the point.“By having a vision that is short and to the point, people can gettheir arms around it and believe in it,” he says.
Blaushild has a system in place to make that vision come true,and it’s based on five core values that he has instilled at thewholesale distributor of HVAC, plumbing, industrial and businessproducts. Those values are family, trust, communication, team-work and continuous improvement, and they are the building blocks for the company’s success.
By adhering to those simple values, Famous grew from $148 million in 2002 sales to more than $200 million in 2007.
Here’s how the five-value system helped Blaushild fulfill the company’s vision by making Famous Enterprises into a better company.
Earn their trust
It’s not that surprising that Famous’ first value is family. Blaushild is the third-generation leader of the company. His grandfather, Hiram, founded Famous, and his father, Jay, is still the company’s chairman.
Although Famous is a family-owned business, Blaushild says it’s important to let his employees, customers and suppliers know that no matter what their last name may be, they are all part of the Famous family.
“We try to do the right thing all the time by our people,” he says. Blaushild backs up his claim by creating initiatives like FamousFamily Night, a popular event in which the company reimburses its employees for spending time with their families. Whether it’s bowling, a movie or just a dinner out, Famous will pick up (or at least help with) the tab.
Blaushild also reinforces his emphasis on strengthening family ties by sending out McDonald’s gift certificates to the participants of a coloring contest for the children of his employees and customers.
Of course, it’s easy to be a big, happy family when things are going well. The key to maintaining this value is keeping everyone’s spirits high even when dark skies are on the horizon.
“When times are tough, we don’t get rid of a picnic,” Blaushild says.
His employees believe in that because of Blaushild’s second core value: trust. Blaushild says that earning trust is the simplest thing in the world.
“To gain someone’s trust, if you make a promise, you keep it,” he says. “If you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it.If you make a mistake, you apologize and you move on. If you’re doing the right things and you’re doing what you say you’re goingto do and if you do that every day, all the time, and you do it long enough, then you will earn their trust.”
Blaushild says earning the trust of your employees and your customers is critical to a company’s success and the benefits are far-reaching. For instance, say your company has an open position and eight interested internal candidates. That can be a problematic situation, but if you have been building employees’ trust by steering the company in a steady, consistent direction, explainingt o the seven employees who didn’t get the job why they weren’t chosen will be a lot easier.
“Instead of all of a sudden putting together their resume and going to look for another job, they trust us,” he says. “They know we’re doing the right thing for the company, and many times, the right thing for them and their career at that specific time.”
Work as a team
Blaushild says that once you have a family that trusts each other, the value you need to concentrate on is communication.To become a better company, you need to have open, honest,respectful communication.
“We’re not always going to agree with each other, but if we communicate and we understand each other and we understand where we’re coming from, we have a great opportunity to become better and to keep improving as a company,” he says.
One way Blaushild improved communications at Famous was by setting up the “lunch, listen and learn” program. As part of this program, the executive management team would travel to differentFamous locations and spend several hours discussing issues with their employees. He wanted to know what was working, what wasn’t working and what the company could be doing better.
Blaushild says the input from the sessions gave Famous plenty of ideas that eventually evolved into significant company changes.
“It wasn’t a management team discussing it in a boardroom and then telling our people this is what we’re going to do,” he says. “It was truly a dialogue with our people, and there were a lot of things we learned from our associates about what we needed to do to become a better company.”
Some examples of ideas that have been developed with help from employee input are an associate orientation program, an online, real-time Web marketplace and the integration of all ofFamous’ product groups into its central distribution center.
Of course, not every idea is a slam dunk. Blaushild goes off-site with his management team to talk strategically and sort through the input they’ve received. The team tries to determine which ideas align best with the company’s priorities and goals. The group doesn’t always reach consensus, and that’s when Blaushild’s fourth value, teamwork, becomes important.
“We value everybody’s input, regardless of what the discussion is about because everybody has knowledge and experiences to bring something to the table,” Blaushild says. “Because we value it, they offer their thoughts. We try to listen and treat each other respectfully. Even if we disagree, the more we talk, the more information we have to make an informed decision.”
Blaushild has several keys to improving teamwork in an organization. One of the biggest obstacles to creating a great team is making sure you have the right people in the right roles. Blaushild says the first step is evaluating the skill sets and attributes of your employees.
“Everybody’s got strengths and everybody’s got talents,” he says. “It’s up to us to identify the great strengths that each person has.”
Once you know what they can do, you need to find out what they want to do. An employee could have a passion for working at the counter and greeting customers, or the employee may be better suited for taking incoming calls or soliciting business.
“We’ve moved around a lot of people.” Blaushild says. “We’ve let people try different things. Some have flourished in those new areas; some decided to come back to the area they were in. They realized they missed it or that they were very good at it.”
However the results turn out, Blaushild says you should be flexible with your people because if you can get them in the roles that are optimal for them, your company will prosper.
The fifth core value at Famous is continuous improvement. Blaushild says complacency can kill a business without making a sound. To combat the status quo, you need to ensure your employees always have new goals on the horizon, just out of reach.
“Whatever level we’re at, we’re always striving to get better,” he says. “We don’t expect perfection because we don’t believe perfection is something you can ach ieve. But we do strive for perfection, and even if we do fall short sometimes, as we are striving for that, we are reaching our goals and achieving various levels of success.”
The first step to creating a performance-based culture is empowering your employees.
Without the empowerment to make decisions or go after new business, your employees can feel reined in like their potential is limited. You need to give them the freedom to work independently. Even though much of Famous’ business strategy is centralized, Blaushild distributes empowerment to the company’s branches where the associates are closest to their customers.
“In order to do well in our company, our people need to feel empowered, that they have the ability to take care of customers,”he says. “We want our people to perform, and that’s why they have control over their destiny, over their goals and objectives.”
The next step in creating a performance-based culture is establishing a performance-based mindset. Blaushild developed a three-level mindset at Famous. So, in everything they do, his employees have a minimum objective, a business plan and a stretch goal.
Then, Blaushild applies the three levels in areas of the businesslike sales, gross profits, inventory accuracy, service levels and productivity.
The next step is encouraging everyone to strive for the higher performance level. Positive feedback and rewards for hitting targets reinforce the system, and as the company performs better,management must continually raise the bar.
“We’re constantly raising our sights a little bit higher on a regular basis and trying to help work with all our people to develop individuals in their respective areas to get to the next level,” he says.
For a performance-based culture to work successfully, you must have processes in place to ensure that each employee’s performance is graded accurately. Anything quantifiable must be measured.
For example, three years ago, Blaushild instituted a program inFamous’ distribution center that measures everything from productivity to damage rates.
“We are measuring more of what we do now than we ever have,in terms of performance,” he says. “Because everything is in our system, every transaction we do, we’re able to measure things on a daily and weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.”
Blaushild even has metrics in place that measure the lines per hour of labor that each employee is shipping. Now, with that amount of information at his fingertips, Blaushild knows exactly how Famous is doing, and he has a much better idea about how high the bar should be raised for the next goal.
Blaushild says creating a winning culture starts with a vision,but it ends with the people you bring into the company. If you want to be successful, you need to spend time communicating with them, and don’t leave anything out. Open-book and open-door policies are necessary to show your employees that they are truly linked with the organization.
“To create that culture, it takes years, if not decades, to get it right,”he says. “The real lesson is that you never really get it right. You’re always striving to make it better.”
Back in the 1930s and 1940s, his company’s tagline was “Famous for our service.” Blaushild wants to make sure no one forgets that commitment to excellence.
“Whatever level we’re at, I think we have a terrific culture,and the people in our company understand that because they feel it, they live it, they breathe it,” he says. “As good as it is,we want to get a lot better.”
HOW TO REACH: Famous Enterprises Inc., (330) 762-9621 or www.famous-supply.com