SBJ: What has been key to your recent growth?
Drake Hughes: Aligning to our customers’ needs better with people, systems and technology. Those have been big drivers for us to retain customers and get new ones. Something that’s always been true, too, is creating a better buying experience. It’s an old industry that we’re in and they kind of missed the customer-service wave that happened in the ’80s, so we try to treat people the way they want to be treated.
SBJ: What has the company’s growth enabled you to do?
Hughes: We’re able to better align to the customer to create a good buying experience and deliver really good service. We can create better opportunities for our team ¬ add management jobs, new roles, quick advancement for people who join us. People are moving up [after] two to four months right now because there’s a lot for people to do. We’ve also been able to leverage with our suppliers and create better margins.
SBJ: What are your top issues when it comes to managing growth?
Hughes: Thinking about 2019-21, our biggest challenge was just managing cash. I think we knew the right things to do; we probably put a little too much emphasis on vanity metrics – new customers, top-line revenue. We had to make a little shift in how we thought about that in an increase in margin to increase cash in order to grow.
SBJ: Is your fast growth sustainable?
Hughes: We practice The Great Game of Business, so we’re pretty intimate with our numbers. I think current growth is very sustainable because we’re in a good place to produce cash.
SBJ: Do you think there is such a thing as growing too fast?
Hughes: I do. You either get money from somebody like a bank to grow, if you can’t produce the cash, or you earn it. If you can’t get the cash, you can’t grow. That’s the point where it’s happening too quickly. But since we practice GGB and practice profit sharing, it’s something we really focus on. Also, if you’re outgrowing your ability to serve customers well or employees suffer because of the growth, that’s the other side of the tipping point.
SBJ: Have your goals changed as business has taken off?
Hughes: Not from a value perspective. We wanted to create a great customer experience, a great place to work and have great financials. We’re in an industry that none of us is really from; we don’t have a really great passion for refrigeration especially, but we do have a passion for customer service.
SBJ: How have recent supply chain issues affected you?
Hughes: We’re supplying parts and equipment to the cold-storage facilities. We struggle to get stuff right now. But early on, we started stocking up, and that’s one of our better decisions. I think it’s created more opportunity than it’s taken away from us. Our leads come from the web, so if someone can’t get something from their normal supplier, they’re calling us.
SBJ: What is the best business advice you’ve received?
Hughes: We really like SRC and Jack Stack and the people at The Great Game of Business. A piece of advice I got from Jack was, “You can’t play the game if you don’t know your balance sheet.” At the time, we were tracking vanity metrics, so that was really good timing.
Once a week this time of year, roughly 150 men trade business suits and work attire for baseball uniforms – complete from caps to cleats – for the Grip N Rip Baseball league.