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In 1978, Wayne H. Gey started Wayne Automatic Fire Sprinklers, a subcontractor in Florida’s construction market that designs and installs fire sprinklers. The business has six locations and also includes inspection, service, underground, site, and alarm divisions.
As long as there have been buildings, there have been fires. But Wayne Automatic Fire Sprinklers (WAFS) has continued the tradition of making commercial and residential buildings safer with their automatic fire suppression systems.
The company also has a long tradition of playing the Great Game of Business, which began in the early 1990s. In fact, they were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. “The Great Game of Business is engrained in our culture,” says Clark Gey, Wayne’s son and the company’s president, who started welding pipe in the business at the age of 13. But Gey says it was the devastating recession that began in 2008 that became one of the biggest tests in WAFS’ history.
A before and after snapshot reveals that the company generated more than $80 million in revenue in 2008 – with about $10 million in profit. By 2009, revenues plummeted to $48 million with an 80% loss in their profits. The pain didn’t stop there, as the firm was forced to let about half of its 600 team members go as well.
“We had always shared the numbers with everyone whether they were good or bad,” says Gey. “But we needed to redefine who we were as a company.” Gey says that WAFS had always been a new construction company, who happened to also perform inspection, service, and alarm services. From then on, they decided to become a recurring revenue company who also took on the right new construction work when the market allowed.”
Today, the company is back on track to its pre-recession growth track. In fact, it’s been breaking its own records that have been in place for 39 years, with revenue on track to top $100 million in 2017.
“But just top line growth isn’t my goal,” says Gey. “You can’t buy groceries with revenue. Our real focus is on growing our bottom line. It’s so easy to chase gold nuggets in construction, and overlook all the variables and risks. But by teaching everyone how painful it is to take on a bad job, we’ve got everyone looking for low-risk, high-return types of projects instead. Our goal is to find predictably profitable work, and it’s been awesome for us.”
“I am proud of my ability to take personal ownership of the business and to know exactly what we do and how it impacts the business. It’s hard to describe the WOW Factor you get when you hire an employee and open the books to them for the very first time! It’s incredible to see how a team member becomes more vested when you teach and share all information with them, part of something more than just themselves. Opening the books and showing the team that there are no secrets creates an invaluable trust!” ~ John Duffin, Southeast Branch Manager
One of the hallmarks of WAFS gameplay is its bonus system, which they call Performance Incentive Pay or PIPs. They have continued to evolve how they pay out PIPs at different levels of the company.
For example, on any multi-family apartment projects, the foreman could earn 50% of the labor dollar savings as compared to the budget for that project. Traditionally, the PIP would be paid out at the end of the project – which could take some time. if it involved a dozen or more buildings. So WAFS changed the system to pay out PIPs a week after the completion of each building, which led to an immediate spike in morale, productivity, and ultimately profits.
Another change, made early in the company’s entry into the Great Game of Business, involved how the sales team received its commissions. It used to be that they would receive their full commission after closing a sale. But now, the commission is paid in two parts: half when the deal is closed and the other half when the project is completed. But there’s also a catch: to receive their full commission, the project has to earn at least the same margin as the salesperson estimated it would when they made the sale. If the project is less profitable, the salesperson takes a hit on their next commission. “It’s been a huge turning point for us,” says Gey, “because it’s eliminated that strife that existed between sales and operations. Now we have sales guys going to our ops guys and asking, ‘Do we want this sale?’ Everyone is now pulling on the same rope.”
“Without the long-term dedication to the concept of open-book management and the Great Game of Business, we likely wouldn’t be at the extreme high level that we are today.” ~ Ryan Peterson, Ft. Myers Branch Manager
Gey says that his team is re-energized in playing the Great Game of Business, and has created an internal committee to help identify ways they can all take their gameplay to the next level. “It’s become who we are,” says Gey. “Your business takes on a whole different dynamic when people understand the numbers and how they can impact them.”
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