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Before the start of a two-hour interview, Chad Hollabaugh, president of Hollabaugh Brothers & Associates, showed us pictures of his great-grandfather Roy Hollabaugh.
The first picture showed Roy’s days as head purchasing agent for Marshall-Wells Hardware Co., dealing in not only hardware, but saddlery, paints, and mining and railroad supplies.
Another showed him alongside other reps after forming a partnership that stretched from California to Alaska.
Finally, in 1945, Roy stands in front of what would become the rep agency we know today that’s based in Portland, Oregon.
“We have a great appreciation for where things started,” Chad adds, “and if it wasn’t for having the courage to branch out on his own, we wouldn’t be here.”
As these things typically go, Roy Sr. begat Roy Jr., who took over the business in the 1950s, and who begat Brad and Chris, who both ran the agency for close to 30 years starting in the 1970s. Brad begat Chad and Casey Hollabaugh, vice president, who have been a part of the business for decades, but formally took over after their father’s retirement two years ago.
Proud of its heritage, the 70-plus-year-old, fourth-generation rep agency, however, isn’t stuck on the old ways of doing business.
“The company has always been built on trust and innovation,” Chad says, “and we are always looking for the next investment in technology that can deliver that trust and innovation to our customers efficiently.”
Chad and Casey, along with Jeff Woodard, vice president of operations and a partner in the business, have made decisions in the past three years designed to provide a seamless integration between its personnel and the product and project knowledge its customers demand, more times than not, RIGHT NOW.
“With many of our customers using smartphones and tablets,” Woodard adds, “the way the customer relates to the market has really changed.”
Five years ago, maybe a customer would be content to leave a voicemail and wait for a call back. No longer.
“We have to stay in front of the game and keep as cutting edge as possible,” Woodard explains.
As a result, the agency has invested in, for example, a $30,000 Switchvox phone system, and a new Salesforce.com CRM with an incorporated ISQ quotation system for accurate price and active spec sheet links.
Also, the agency has fine-tuned its inventory management for its stocking warehouses in Portland and Seattle for its lines of plumbing, heating, irrigation, water works and fire protection products.
A new phone system sounds a little basic to lead off a feature on technology until you learn a few things about the agency.
The first item to keep in mind about Hollabaugh Bros. is that it covers a huge Pacific Northwest territory including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and then up to Alaska. And while the headquarters is in Portland — where you’ll find Casey — there’s also a larger operation in Seattle — where you’ll find Chad and Jeff — serving a market twice as large as Portland’s.
Plus, the two offices also are 180 miles apart.
Consequently, the agency was operating almost as if it were two different companies with phone calls going into two different inside sales operations from two different area codes.
Meanwhile, the inside sales crew was fielding as many as 300 incoming calls each day with too many — although no one was sure exactly how many — going to voicemail.
“The real question for us was how do we pool our resources and put two very strong operations together,” Chad adds. “In order for us to achieve the level of success we wanted to achieve, we needed to become, truly, one company.”
While the major sales hubs are in Portland and Seattle, Chad also thinks about business outside these two major metros. (In addition, the company staffs a branch in Spokane, Washington — which is almost 280 miles from Seattle.)
“I’m always looking at how we’re viewed, especially in the medium-sized and smaller markets,” Chad explains. “As reps we always want to ask for more business, but we can run into a road block if we’re asking but not getting it done in those markets. That can slow us down, and our big challenge has always been, how do we cover a region as big as ours?”
With no central hub for inside sales, the No. 1 frustration heard from the agency’s customers was not getting a live person on the call right away.
“The reason any rep is in business is that we are local and we are accessible,” Casey adds. “We aren’t all the way on the other side of the country or in a different time zone. And customers aren’t patient enough to wait for that return call so they just go to the next rep.”
To provide timely information over the phone, the company integrated all its calls through a VOIP phone system, which just means that anybody in inside sales can stand ready to field a call.
Also, from management’s perspective, the new phone system provides some much needed metrics on this important aspect of the business. Not knowing how many calls were going to voicemail wasn’t the half of it.
‘“We also didn’t know much about the duration of the call and how the call was ended,” Casey explains. “But with the new phone system, we are able to pick up the phone more often and create increased quality of customer service, and the results have been staggering.”
Based on the new data, the agency figures as many as 50 calls a day had been going to voicemail or were, one way or another, dropped. In other words, lost opportunities.
“So utilizing technology and maximizing on the resources of both offices, this phone system really enabled us to pick up almost at a 100 percent rate,” Chad says. According to stats covering the previous 10 weeks, the pickup rate was 97.9 percent.
“This was a huge flip of the switch for us,” Woodard says. “Instead of wondering if someone said or did this, now we have the same mentality and same shared base of information.”
Woodard used to do a daily “roll call” thanks to the data — basically, a 10-minute phone call to all inside salespeople covering items like the previous day’s phone stats and loose ends on someone’s desk that could use assistance from others.
In the near future, Woodard says new fiber optic cables will make the phone system even more user-friendly, providing that much more information to the inside sales team about the incoming calls.
Echoing Woodard’s sentiments, Chad says a collective system of calls and information makes everyone proud of the team effort shown in picking up practically every single daily call.
“Having a transparent operation puts peoples’ minds at rest,” Chad explains. “Everyone knows everyone else is working hard to provide the optimum amount of customer service.”
A portable CRM
If the inside sales team was dropping calls, then meanwhile, the outside sales team may have had its own version.
“There was no cohesion,” Casey explains. “Everyone had their own small way of doing things.”
Casey marked off four basic steps in sales workflow for us — order inception; order process; order completion; and order file. Four processes that each salesperson did slightly differently, and then only to have all those notes, reports and other paperwork dropped into a master filing system for someone else to dig through.
Traditionally, an outside salesperson could be content making calls three days a week and then filling out call reports a couple of days a week. If someone else needed a quick update, well, it was right here in a folder inside a file somewhere. At least it was yesterday.
As a result, the agency was at the mercy of whatever written sales reports it received from the outside sales team about events that could have happened 30 days in the past.
“Now sales reports can be updated right away — right after the call,” Casey adds. “No more recall. No more wondering. Nothing is left to chance.”
Customer relationship management databases aren’t anything new. Who remembers ACT? It’s still on the market, but CRM systems changed considerably after Salesforce.com introduced a cloud-based CRM system to help salespeople find, track and close deals from wherever and whenever.
The company pioneered the so-called “Software as a Service,” or SaaS, sales model in which software is delivered to customers over the internet. In the intervening years, you name it and nearly every software company of any type has rushed to embrace and mimic that model.
Thanks to the web-enabled interface, the outside sales crew can update progress right away on any web-enabled device, be it a laptop or smartphone.
We talked to a few outside salespeople for their thoughts.
“The CRM gives us knowledge that we can always access,” says Will Johnson, Seattle sales manger. “It just saves so much time since everyone can very easily see what’s happened and what needs to still happen with any number of projects.”
While the CRM’s benefit is largely driven by outside sales, Steve Christiansen, Portland sales manager, believes it helps the inside sales, too.
“It’s just a quick and almost flawless process now,” he adds. “Time was we all needed to access a 150-page document that could have been in three different filing folders.”
Meanwhile, Terry Maxey mans the Spokane branch along with his wife, Eileen Maxey, and Richard Breedlove.
While he’s somewhat isolated from the hubbub of Portland and Seattle, the demands for information and time aren’t any less.
“It just helps immensely to plan activities and answer customers’ questions as quickly as they expect them to be answered,” Maxey says. “That typically means right away. We can always share what we are doing, and knowing we can always find information about our accounts, we can go out and make our sales calls.”
Above Casey’s desk is a 50-inch monitor with what he calls a “living database” that can easily update everyone on information gathering for various accounts and contacts and set up action plans for the opportunities ahead.
“With this CRM we can track opportunity to an activity to an account,” Casey explains. “It’s a great way to see the process and plan on how we are going to go after the business.”
The system has information on thousands of customers and projects with more data populated every day.
“It helps manage outside sales efforts from specific job tracking needs,” Chad explains. “Click a specific project, and we can all see everything about it from the day we started talking about it to now. It also helps ensure that company-wide sales initiatives are properly launched across our region.”
For Woodard, the routinely updated information turns into proof that the agency is getting its job done.
“We know we are getting more information out there to the right people,” Woodard explains. “We know it was done, and we know it’s traceable. At the end of the year, I can use this data to talk with vendors. For example, we sent out a campaign, and we had 1,500 interactions with engineers as a result. The bottom line is that we showed a net gain in sales and we believe — and can show — it was a result of that campaign.”
“We have a very efficient quotation department,” Casey said after we mentioned to him that we’d heard the agency has a “great” quotation department.
“If a bid day is the tenth we’re hitting that four days before,” he adds. “We do that regularly.”
The three-person quotation department does a lot of block quotations where the RFP may spec back flow preventers at 2 ½- to 10-inches for this and ½- and 2-inches for that.
“Basically, large diameter and small diameter back flow preventers,” Casey says. “But they don’t give you the amounts, nor do they ever give you the exact sizes, so you have to quote blocks.”
It’s a common demand for all reps, and nothing new. But Casey says what is new is a streamlined ability to update price changes simply by uploading a spreadsheet into the ISQ quotation software.
“One button, one Excel spreadsheet,” Casey adds.
When price updates are imported, the ISQ software produces multiple reports to be reconciled that help identify which items are new to add to the database; which items are old or discontinued to be removed; and all the items with price changes (or not). New items must be formatted with the correct price and quantity, but, once formatted, anyone at Hollabaugh Bros. can produce an accurate quote for a particular customer and item in seconds.
Reid Pacific acquisition
Before upping the game with technology, Chad candidly told us that the old days at Hollabaugh Bros. could be a bit chaotic and, sometimes, overwhelming.
Sure, plenty of good things got done that built the rep agency. After 70-some years everyone must have been doing many things right. Still, there was a nagging thought that there had to be a better way, particularly with customers demanding more and more, and right away.
“But chaos can turn into insanity,” Chad explains. “This business is still very much driven by relationships, and we can still all have fun. But it’s the 21st century and we had to have organization, efficiency and structure.”
To sum up the gains afforded by the investments in tech, Chad ended our interview by discussing last year’s acquisition of Reid Pacific, another well-established Portland rep agency founded in 1958.
In particular, what came out of that acquisition was three new lines — Bradley, Fluid Master, and TracPipe.
“There was no way that we’d have been able to include those lines in a happy chaos situation,” Chad explains. “It would have just created more chaos and mess.”
Hollabaugh Bros. wasn’t just taking on three new lines either; they were shouldering a strong track record of success long earned by the efforts of Reid Pacific. Bradley and Fluid Master were with Reid about 40 years, and Track Pipe more than 10 years.
“So everyone was used to a certain level of service,” Chad says. “For us, that meant delivering that same level of service right away.”
That’s typically not the case when reps make a change with such significant lines as these three. There are usually a couple of years of bumps before everything settles into a routine again.
Chad says there was a month of, we’ll just say, “typical” chaos (our choice of words), what with training, setup and everyone learning something different about the new lines.
“But our foundation was strong,” Chad explains, “and that meant our foundation was something that we could build off of. We were able to include those lines right into the flow and integrate very quickly. It was almost like they were always a part of our line package.”