Nashville-based Comfort Supply, an $8-million wholesale distributor for the HVAC industry, proudly serves the building contractors of central Tennessee and beyond. The company’s 18 highly skilled business people help contractors and dealers become more profitable and successful by providing them with tools, training, marketing solutions and other value-added services that save time, energy and money.
“In 2005, we were facing a serious financial situation,” recalls president and owner Clay Blevins. “Our biggest customer had just gone bankrupt, leaving us with a $300,000 bad debt. Our credit line at the bank was inflating faster than we had ever expected. If we didn’t get the company under control we could have been out of business.”
Great Game Solutions
Blevins worked with a Great Game coach; together they taught everyone how the business makes money: sales, expenses, margin, profit, key ratios, line-of-sight issues, what-if scenarios and so on. They developed scoreboards to track the critical number (a twist on gross margin), set up a quarterly incentive plan, played MiniGames and began a series of huddles: 10-minute dailies for managers and forecasting weeklies for everyone. “There was this immediate, positive change in attitude throughout the entire company,” notes Blevins. “Publicizing what we want to achieve makes us more accountable to each other for those results. Our employees don’t stand by quietly and fail because a colleague isn't pulling his weight.”
In 2006, everyone at Comfort Supply learned more about the business and earned more bonus money. During huddles front-liners calculated answers to tricky questions about the financials, and those with correct responses became eligible for cash prizes. Forecasters received lottery tickets for making better “educated guesses,” and everyone learned to make more informed decisions about cash flow, expense control and hiring. They took the high-involvement approach to planning for ’07 and delivered an aggressive sales target and a solid budget. “My staff’s ingenuity continually surprises me,” says Blevins.
Today, company debt is very much under control, the profit line is stronger than ever before and voluntary employee turnover is at a new low. The team finished off its winning year by capturing the National Distributor of the Year Award, given by its main supplier, for the second year in a row.
“Since we started using the principles of open-book management, employees have become much more involved in the business, bringing intelligent ideas to the table,” concludes Blevins. “One of the greatest rewards of teaching the financials and bringing employees inside the business is to see someone who never had a shot at an education show you how smart they really are. I have a middle manager with a GED who can tell me the current ratio of my business. I’m more proud of that than I am of anything else.”
- Sales: Grew by 38% in a single year. Forecast for ’07: up 18%.
- MiniGames: Greatly increased business acumen and forecasting accuracy. Winners received cash prizes and lottery tickets.
- Financial-literacy rate: up 23% to a record high. “Employees bring intelligent ideas to the table.”