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When last year’s pandemic sent most office workers home to do their jobs, Oatey Co., took advantage of that change of pace and turned what had been a space reserved for financial administration and warehousing into Oatey University.
“We actually were planning to do this training space last year,” says Matthew Rodgers, vice president of customer and technical support. “But it made it easier to do when everyone was working off site.”
The 20,000-square-foot facility located in Cleveland, right across the street from one of the company’s plants, offers full-sized mockups of various jobsite settings.
And when we say, “full-sized,” we mean it.
“One of first things we brainstormed during our meetings about building out the space was, “Well, what if we had a house,” Rodgers adds.
So a house there is, with rough-in plumbing, including supply boxes, flashing, arresters and air admittance valves.
There’s also a “two-faced” bathroom that features a finished room on one side with a mirror image of all the behind-the-wall products on the other side of the display. Another full-sized hotel bathroom highlights commercial drains and shower systems.
“We wanted to make the space as interactive as we could,” Rodgers adds, “so that contractors and sales reps could really see, touch and install our products and be able to use them against competitors’ products, too.”
In addition, the facility houses two interactive labs, one dedicated to solvent welding and another, situated in the building’s working mechanical room, that offers a chance to better understand heating and chemical applications for boilers and tankless water heaters.
There is also a large classroom on site designed for lecture-style learning, virtual and in-person meetings, community outreach events and more.
While Oatey U is certainly meant for the return of traditional in-person learning – in fact, the week we took our tour, the company was welcoming back staff to its offices – Oatey has had to pivot to beef up its remote learning options.
“We are set to welcome people into Oatey U,” Rodgers adds. “However, at the same time, the pandemic has forced us to work differently. And I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away.”
Thanks to a partnership with BlueVolt, a pioneer in the eLearning industry, Oatey U students have a wide variety of virtual training courses to help PHCPPros to expand and reinforce their skills without the worry of traveling during the pandemic.
A revamped portal is mobile-friendly and offers easy-to-use navigation to access more than 20 educational courses, covering a wide range of categories such as plumbing, irrigation and waterworks across Oatey’s family of brands.
The courses are self-guided and each include a variety of different content, such as detailed product information, demonstration videos, real-life application examples, supplemental reading materials or quizzes, developed by the company’s expert team of application specialists.
“We have to be able to support digital learning,” Rodgers adds. “This year we’ve also had weekly training sessions with rep agencies across the country to discuss a product or two and also introduce them to the facility.”
To hear Rodgers describe it, Oatey U is just as much for Oatey employees to also learn about the company’s namesake products, and also all the lines under the Oatey umbrella, including Cherne; Dearborn; Harvey; Hercules; Keeney and QuickDrain.
“Off the top of my head, there’s probably 50 to 75 core versions of our major product lines on display,” Rodgers adds. “And I think the important thing is that it covers all our channels since we have such a variety of customers and sales reps that can have the opportunity to come through here.”
Keeping in step with all those different voices is key to Rodgers’ service and support operations.
“What I really want to focus on with our team is our day-to-day blocking and tackling,” Rodger explains. “It’s crucial that we handle that because we are in the customer relationship business and need to answer their questions whether that question comes through as an email or a DM. With all that has gone on in the past year and a half, it’s paramount that we be able to adjust to the needs of our customers and engage our employees and give them opportunities to do more.”
In time, Rodgers says his entire technical support team will work out of Oatey U to master product and installation knowledge and create its own “technical center for excellence, so to speak.”
“Whether it's a virtual visit,” Rodgers says, “whether it's someone walking around Oatey U with the regional sales manager, our team can answer questions, offer day-to-day support and grow as individuals.”
While Oatey U is just getting started, Rodgers doesn’t see a finish line in sight.
“I think that’s the beauty of this facility,” Rodgers adds. “It’s never going to be finished. We’re always going to evolve. Whether its new products, new acquisitions, new technology, new ways of doing business, we’re never going to be done since there will always be new things to learn.”