One-On-One: SMS Distribution Honored For Its Customer Service
For some people, it’s a dream come true to start their own business. For others, like Randy Bowers, it comes out of necessity…and maybe a little spite. A change in ownership at his previous employer forced Bowers to resign from his job of 20 years, despite consistently being the top sales producer. He and his wife Henrietta sold their dream house, cars and “toys,” and moved back in with his parents at age 48 in order to establish SMS Distributions in 2009.
Before starting his new venture, Bowers’ former employer — and now competitor — told him, “No one who had ever left had ever amounted to anything.” Bowers uses this statement every day as motivation to make his Shreveport, La.-based distribution firm a success. He is hands-on with his customers and always willing to answer a call for help (in fact, he took my phone call while installing a chemical cabinet). His sheer determination to succeed has definitely been paying off: In his first full year of business, SMS earned nearly $2 million and the company doubled that in 2011. Bowers projects this growth to continue in 2012 and 2013 based on customer relationships. Bowers says 99.5 percent of his old clients followed him to SMS.
The efforts of Bowers and SMS were recently recognized by the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce with a Forum 2011 Small Business of the Year Award.
Q: To be in business for two years and earn this award is quite an accomplishment. What sets you apart from other local distributors?
A: We went to the market and started to do business in a different kind of way. No. 1: customer service. We’re available 24/7 and we answer our phones 24/7. And there’s a market out there, whether its healthcare, law enforcement, oil fields…they don’t shut down at 5 p.m. They run 24/7 like we do. We went to the market with that philosophy.
We also broke all the rules — even the little things. My previous employer would never break cases — we break cases. We want to do anything we can do to win a customer over and make it incredibly easy to buy from us. We have an attitude of total facility supply; we’re not just jan/san. I often make the statement, ‘Anything from baby wipes to bulldozers, we can get it for you.’ And we do. Just the other day we had an order for half a dozen toilet seats. I’m not talking about toilet seat covers, but toilet seats. I went and found it and got them a deal on it. My clients come to me for anything and that’s the relationship we have built with them.
Q: What attributes earned you the award?
A: One of my clients had nominated us. They were contacted for a testimonial and we had a dozen clients step forward and wrote letters of recommendation citing examples of things that we had done for them that were out of character for somebody in our business. One in particular was an assisted living facility and the director wrote a letter of testimonial that said, ‘I’ve never seen a CEO in a suit and tie come to my facility and show me how to get the hard water stains out of a shower.’ And I did that for her. Things like that got their attention.
Our growth also got their attention. We’re in an incredible growth spurt. We’re acquiring new, substantial clients literally every day. And it’s not just through market penetration of our sales reps going out into the marketplace, but it’s also customer referrals. People say, ‘I heard this about you guys, can you help us, too?’
Q: Why do you think customer service is the best way to earn new business?
A: I’m trying to get away from the word customer. It denotes someone who buys from you. Our clients understand that we focus on solution selling. We go to the marketplace not asking, ‘Hey, do you want to buy anything today?’ We go to them asking, ‘What’s broken?’ And consequently, when we show them we can fix what’s broken — and many times you have to show them something’s broken — but when you have a client understand you’re there to help them and not sell them stuff, you go from peddler to consultant.
And with that, we get involved with a client’s life, not just on a business level, but on a social level. Our clients are our friends and in many cases they’re like family. We’re invited to weddings, we’re invited to funerals. They truly are family and I’ve got a lot of clients that I have consulted for many, many years that would give me the shirt off their back. And likewise, I’d do the same for them. It goes back to the adage, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ And that’s what we’re all about. I know it sounds corny, but that’s our mentality, that’s our focus, that’s what we do. And I think we do it pretty well.
We’re not perfect. There are things we have to refine everyday, but I think we’re doing it better than our competition. And our growth is a reflection of that.
Q: You sold your cars, home, etc. Once you became established, what was the first thing you purchased?
A: Our first purchase was a home, which we moved into back in March 2011. My wife says I can’t buy another motorcycle until she gets a pool.
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