“The dealers are truly independent business folks,” Studenic says “They went into business for themselves for a reason, because they didn’t want to be managed anymore. They didn’t want to be told what to do. They wanted to make their own way in the world.”
Studenic says there’s not much Cornwell can do to exert traditional managerial pressure on its franchisees. So instead it coaches and mentors its dealers via field managers who, through experience, know the tricks and traps, what works and what doesn’t.
“It’s really the district managers’ job to try to help build the franchisees’ basic understanding of business and business discipline,” he says. “As a microcosm of us, they are responsible for ordering, stocking the shelves, making sales, collecting cash, doing all the various cycles of business that we do, just on a smaller scale. So the district managers have to help them understand, ‘Yeah, that’s a really cool box. I want 10 of those. How are you going to pay for it?’”
Cornwell also spends a significant amount of time investing in the training of its franchisees on the front end. And through its Ironman Business Network, the software on which franchisees run their business, franchisees and district managers have information that measures performance on a week-to-week basis — whether they have enough cash, too much inventory, how well they’re managing their receivables, etc.
And there’s a healthy feedback loop from customers back to Cornwell. Some comments come casually through the company’s social media, while others are more formal to the company’s product management team, which fields requests or comments and funnels them to the appropriate Cornwell contact for a response. Franchisees also have a chance to talk with the company at its annual national tool rally, a two-day event with educational seminars, meetings and product exhibits.
The company’s product management group also meets with vendors virtually on a daily basis, where they pitch new wares — an important component to the automotive market, where new cars bring new tool challenges to be overcome. Studenic says Cornwell can introduce as many as 50 new items every week.
Try not to think about it
Looking ahead, Studenic says the next 10 years present particular challenges for Cornwell.
“I’m not so much worried about how the business is going to continue to grow,” he says. “It’s finding good people to fill the gaps.”
Particularly, Cornwell struggles at all of its locations to gain traction with its entry-level positions, even though Studenic says the company promotes employees from warehouse positions into administrative duties, and then into management roles when the right fit is found.
“We attract good people, they do a good job, and we’re able to let them shine and advance,” he says. “It’s a unique opportunity. We pulled probably a dozen people out of a warehouse over the last year and a half, two years, who have rolled into not only product management but customer service, purchasing, sales administration. And we really try to promote from within wherever possible because they already have a unique understanding of our business, and they’re able to bring that and continue to grow.”
Succession and passing the baton to the next leader has been important to Cornwell. With its 100-year history in the rearview mirror and the baton firmly in Studenic’s hands, whether it will survive future recessions to be in busines for another century is largely up to him.
“We have a great organization. We have great employees. We will just continue to work our plan, not get distracted by the periphery and keep doing what we do best, which is work together, sell tools, train our customers and just have a good time,” Studenic says. “I don’t try to think about, ‘Well, am I going to be the guy that screws up 100 years?’ No. Failure is not an option.”
» Prudence can bring prosperity in tough times.
» Success can be found at the intersection of opportunity and necessity.
» Build the bench for business continuity.