PM's editorial coverage of its 2009 Wholesaler Of The Year continues by showing that exceeding customers’ needs is what defines F.W. Webb Co.

Readers may be familiar with a book called “Good To Great.” It’s sold millions of copies and still sells enough annually that the book remains in hardcover some eight years after publication.

Author Jim Collins took a look at 28 American companies that were just doing OK, but then dramatically and, more importantly, consistently outperformed their various com-petitors for years.

So how did these companies go from good to great? Collins finds the main factor boils down to what he terms the “Hedgehog Concept” - a combination of discovering what a company can be the best at as well as passionate about.

Jeff Pope, president of F.W. Webb Co., read the book and put in place a Good to Great Council in 2004. Ever since, 13 people, ranging from corporate and branch management to others in operations and sales, have met every other month. Initial meetings, of course, dealt with defining what Webb could be the best at and what the company was passionate about.

Webb’s hedgehog is this: “F.W. Webb can be the best at distributing products and service in a way that best meets and exceeds our customers’ needs.”

Webb has always put a high mark on customer service and even before the new Good to Great Council, the company had already enshrined seven customer service goals. As a result of the new council, however, Webb now has 10 customer service goals:
    1. Always have the top 150 items our customers need in each market we’re in.
    2. Always have deliveries that are on time.
    3. Always have complete and accurate orders for deliveries and pickups.
    4. Always have accurate prices on the invoices.
    5. Always issue credits in a timely and hassle-free way.
    6. Always make sure that the quotes are done on time.
    7. Always have the pickup and will-call orders ready when the customers arrive.
    8. Always make sure that there’s a minimal or no wait at our counters for our customers.
    9. Always answer the phones expeditiously so that people aren’t on hold for long.
    10. Always have knowledgeable inside salespeople available to solve customers’ situations.
“Customer service ultimately is the way to go,” Pope adds. “And when we say ‘customer,’ we don’t just mean the contractor.” That’s the external customer, but Pope says all of his employees are internal customers to one another and service among them is just as important as the service contractors get at the counter.

“With all the dots we have on the map,” he explains, referring to the company’s locations, “we have a lot of work that needs to be done to get the product the contractor wants to buy from one place to another. All our employees have to have the same sense of urgency to make that happen.”

Here are a few items on the council agenda that have been put in place:

New Phone System: Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, allows customers to speak with a company expert no matter where that expert is without the typical need to be waiting on hold.

“What the system allows is to put 1,500 employees working from 70 locations into one room, so to speak,” Pope says. That way a customer in Bangor, Maine, can talk with a particular expert in Syracuse, N.Y., without really even knowing that he’s talking with someone a couple of states away.

Related to the new system is a special call center put in place at the company’s Central Distribution Center.

“Those are for calls that anyone can take,” Pope says. “Because sometimes you don’t really need to speak to an expert; sometimes you just want to place an order.”

Webb University: One of the first results of the Good to Great Council was to identify new training for all Webb employees. And not just new curriculum, but new ways of providing the training.

As a result, Webb University lets employees go online and listen to professional training on many subjects. The company has partnered with a company called Blue Volt that essentially hosts the training site and takes care of all the paperwork associated with training, such as grades, attendance, etc.

Webb is also moving ahead on offering this type of online training to its contractor customers, too. One benefit of Blue Volt is something called Blue Bucks - a point system that customers can add to as they complete training and eventually spend at shops such as Cabella’s.

Customer Advisory Councils: These councils are located at the branch level and are comprised of eight to 10 customers, along with the particular branch manager and salespeople. At these meetings, local customers get to voice their opinions on various products and related services.