Grinding out results Featured

8:00pm EDT October 25, 2006
 Like her grandmother before her, Georgia Dutro is fearless in the face of a challenge.

Following World War II, Dutro’s grandmother, Dollie Dutro, gave up her job as a stunt pilot and wing walker to start a tool sharpening company. D&D Saw Works thrived following the war, but by 1989, when Georgia Dutro took over the company, it was struggling.

She wasted no time implementing a strategy to turn around what is now D&D Tool & Supply.

“We expanded our markets, we expanded what we offered, and we also began a systematic buying or merging with key competitors,” says Dutro, whose San Diego-based company serves customers from Los Angeles south into Mexico.

Under Dutro’s leadership, revenue has grown from $2.5 million in 1989 to $38.4 million in 2005, and she expects it to surpass $40 million this year.

Smart Business spoke with Dutro about how she creates a company that is responsive to customer problems and that empowers employees.

How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
We help the customer solve problems. We don’t just hand them a catalog and say, ‘What do you need?’

We’re looking to see what else we can offer them, and offer them more. We want to say, ‘Where are you experiencing bottlenecks? Where do you have problems? Where have you had safety issues? Where have people been hurt? Let’s look at those bottlenecks in your production or those safety issues or places you might have liability, and let’s help you become more profitable.’

The No. 1 part of our mission statement is, let’s increase our customers’ profitability. That doesn’t mean we’re going to try to sell you this drill bit 5 cents cheaper; we’re going to try to show you how to drill more holes — faster, cleaner, safer.

How else do you build customer loyalty?
You’ve got to be able to help the customer out of a bind, which is more than just saying, ‘Yeah, I can sell you a drill bit.’

Things happen in manufacturing. Machines go down. They have a rush on things. You’ve got to go that extra mile. I don’t care if it’s running over to Arizona and picking up stuff from another distributor, basically losing your shirt on that order, but you help the customer.

It’s that willingness to do whatever it takes to help them. We’ve built long-term, loyal customers out of that.

How do you motivate and empower employees?
Our goal is to allow an employee an opportunity to have a career, not just a job. They can look around and they can say, ‘Well, right now, I’m a receptionist. Where can I go from here?’

We have a goal-setting session with each employee. We don’t call it a review. We’re sitting down and we’re talking about goals — your personal goals, our company goals, how can we get those in alignment? Where do you want to go from here?

We try to show where we are going, not just where we are today, and where there’s going to be opportunities. We also try to convince employees that maybe don’t have self-confidence, but we see that they have the ability, and say, ‘Come after this job’ and ‘Here’s what it takes.’ We actually call that, ‘Come take my job, please.’

Then we have what we call the ‘no harm, no foul’ period, meaning you can take [a different] job. You can come try it. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to your other job — no harm, no foul.

We’re trying to empower people to help themselves to the knowledge that’s here. We’ll help them. We’ll give them the classes and the knowledge. And if they’ve got the skills and the ability and the drive, there’s no stopping them in this company.

How do you merge employees from acquired companies into your culture?
You’ve got people that have worked profitably for many years, either for the people that you’re merging with or maybe they were the owner. Getting them to enjoy doing what they do well and giving up what they don’t enjoy has been our key. We sit down with a prospective merger partner and we say, ‘We want you to design your ideal job.’

Generally what you find out is these entrepreneurial people are really into sales, they love customer service, they really know the product, and what they want to give up is accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, wages, HR. And we say, ‘Great. Perfect match. We’ll put you out doing what you do best, and we’ll take over all the stuff that you don’t like and that has been a real headache for you.’

If you can help them design their ideal job with their personal goals in mind and see how that aligns with the company, you’re going to have a great team.

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