HOW CULTURE AND SERVICE MEET AT A HEALTHY BOTTOM LINE
Rudolph’s Office & Computer Supply, Inc.
Rudolph’s Office & Computer Supply has more than 70 Baltimore-area employees and more than 3,000 customers in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Since it was founded in 1980, Rudolph’s has continued to expand its services and build a loyal clientele.
When Christina Ensley took on the role of president of the company in 2011, she not only recognized an opportunity to take Rudolph’s customer service to the next level but also the chance to create a rewarding company culture for employees. This culture also helps Rudolph’s retain the type of talent it needs to stay competitive with big box office supply retailers.
Here, Ensley discuses the customer service that distinguishes Rudolph’s in the crowded office supply space and the company culture that fosters employees capable of providing that level of service.
Q: Why is customer service so important to your company?
A: It may sound cliché, but customer service truly is what sets us apart from our competitors. When competing against large big box stores like Staples, Office Depot and Office Max, we have to ensure we go the extra mile to provide the best customer service in the industry. We are large enough to be competitive in price and provide all of the same offerings that our large competitors can, yet still small enough for management to have a hands-on approach to customer satisfaction.
Our employee’s know my motto is “the answer is always yes” — if a customer needs it, we can do it. Our account managers perform reviews with all of their customers on a regular basis. These reviews provide opportunities for cost savings, new products or offerings in the industry, educational opportunities on a variety of subjects whether it’s green products, toner recycling programs, ergonomics, safety and sanitation products, etc.
Our account managers, drivers and customer service representatives are dedicated to specific accounts so our customers have the consistency of dealing with the same representatives at Rudolph’s and long-term relationships are created. These relationships help us understand each customer’s needs.
Q: How do you stay price competitive in an industry with so many big box competitors?
A: Rudolph’s belongs to TriMega, one of the largest buying groups in the country, which provides us with the purchasing power of over $15 billion. That means low, competitive prices for all of our customers. In addition, Rudolph’s is one of the top 50 largest independent office supply companies in the U.S. and we utilize our relationships with our manufacturers and our individual buying power to ensure we are competitive in our market. We are constantly working on creating partnerships with manufacturers that have products that our customers need and want whether it’s a new furniture line, cleaning and break room or janitorial supplies, technology or promotional products.
In addition to our local presence, Rudolph’s is competitive on a national level through our partnership with American Office Products Distributors (AOPD). AOPD was established in 1978 and is the world’s largest network distributor of office products providing next-day delivery by local independent office supply companies throughout the U.S. including Puerto Rico as well as Canada, Europe and Australia. As a member of AOPD, Rudolph’s can provide the same great pricing and the benefits of a local delivery company throughout the U.S.
Q: As a leader, how do you motivate your employees? Why is that important for the bottom line?
A: As leaders, we try to motivate our employees in a variety of ways. First and foremost, our internal motto is Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM), so it is important that we highlight, recognize and reward all of those who buy into the TEAM attitude. With that, we are not only a sales organization but we are also a customer service and fulfillment organization so we have to motivate each group (commissioned versus non- commissioned employees) to be the best in their role which ultimately reflects the company’s ability to meet its overall goals.
For our non- commissioned employees, we have quarterly company meetings in which we formally recognize their successes by reading the “Kudos” that we receive from our customers. These Kudos are also emailed to the entire company and printed and hung on a wall for everyone to see. We offer cash awards, gift cards, tickets to the Ravens, Redskins or Orioles or extra vacation days on a regular basis to employees who go above and beyond their job responsibilities and who display a positive attitude and TEAM mentality. We regularly provide breakfasts or lunches as a way to thank the TEAM for their support. We have a yearly bowling outing in the winter to create camaraderie among all employees and a 4th Quarter Kick Off (football themed tailgate party) to get the TEAM geared up and focused on reaching our yearly goals. We have customer service and driver contests in which they can earn cash and prizes and recognition among their group. Last, to promote the importance of their support and personal contributions in reaching our company goals, all of our non-commission employees can earn a 2 percent to 4 percent year end bonus, which is based on meeting and exceeding the company’s gross profit goals.
For our commissioned employees (sales teams), we have monthly sales meetings in which we recognize the superior performance from each of our two sales teams (account managers and new business development). The sales representatives of the month get an award and they get to sit in the back of the sales meeting on a comfy couch with foot stools during the sales meeting (rather than at the conference table). In addition, our sales team is motivated and rewarded with many contests and opportunities to earn cash, prizes, iPads, extra vacation days or trips from our manufacturers. Last, all sales representatives are eligible to earn entrance into the President’s Club by meeting specific yearly goals that are aligned with the company’s direction. Last year’s President’s Club was an all-expense paid trip for the representative and a guest to South Beach Miami and almost half of our sales team won the trip. This year’s trip is to Las Vegas.
Last, as a former educator, I believe all employees should continue to grow personally as well as professionally. With that in mind, we reimburse employees for continuing education and college courses, hopefully motivating them to continue to grow and learn. My personal philosophy is that if an employee leaves Rudolph’s, I want them to have grown and developed and leave as a better employee than when we hired them.
Q: How do you create an open relationship with employees?
A: Having an open relationship with employees is extremely important to me as a leader. I want every employee to truly enjoy his or her role at Rudolph’s. Each employee completes a job responsibilities worksheet and these are reviewed during yearly reviews. If there are any duties that the employee truly dislikes doing, we try to find another employee who will enjoy these duties and swap job responsibilities. I think it is important for each employee to understand what they like and dislike and to align them with duties that they really enjoy performing. We all have strengths and weaknesses and I am a firm believer in capitalizing on strengths. That’s not to say we can develop or improve their weaknesses, but focusing on their strengths generally gets better results and happier employees.
The job responsibilities worksheet is also used by employees to add all responsibilities that they’ve taken on in blue type. When we do our yearly review, they see how much they have grown (or conversely remained stagnant) and generally they ask for a pay increase that is in line with their growth.
In my experience, many employees perform the duties they enjoy first and procrastinate on the duties they dislike. If I can align them with the duties they enjoy and are most likely innately better at performing, performance levels and job satisfaction greatly increase.