Solid Traditions, New Directions
The second generation of Certified Slings & Supply® moves the company into its second half century. The second generation of wire rope entrepreneursand thoroughbred race horse breeders keep competing to win.
Written by Thomas G. Dolan — Once a family business has completed its purpose, and the founder either retires or dies, what often happens is that the business closes its doors, is sold, or goes corporate. If the business passes to the second generation of the same family, then there is a balancing act of preserving what is best of the old, while at the same time breaking with tradition to strike out in new directions.
This is the challenge now being successfully faced by the second generation of the Casselberry, FL-based Certified Slings & Supply®, as they move the company into its second 50-years.
Certified Slings & Supply® was started in 1958. The father of the present owners, Ronald J. Worswick, had already built a successful business from which he retired in 1976, staying on a year as CEO to help in the transition, while devoting more and more of his time to his avocation of raising thorough horses. But he soon tired of retirement. A friend suggested he buy Certified Slings & Supply®. So in 1978 he did just that, though for the first several years he was CEO. In 1992, when the president left, Worswick took over both roles. Meanwhile his two sons, Denny, now president, joined the company in 1986 and Doug, now CEO, joined in 1992.
When the elder Worswick purchased the company in 1978, seven people worked in a 3500 sq. ft. facility. Annual revenues were $400,000. At the time the focus was on marine hardware. The business was devoted to about 90 percent government defense contracting and 10 percent commercial. “Dad recognized that the growth of the company would be driven more by the commercial sector, so Denny and I worked to help bring about a 90 percent commercial ratio,” says Doug Worswick.
One of the main ways the company grew was through acquisitions, although the first Casselberry location also grew to about 25,000 sq. ft. with about 35 employees to include the branch facility, manufacturing and corporate headquarters. In the 80s the company began getting calls from Tampa, about 70 miles west. A salesman started traveling there a couple days a week, which resulted in the company buying three mom and pop companies which were having service issues, and consolidating them under one roof. This Tampa facility has about 15 employees working in a 30,000 sq. ft. facility. This first branch was established in 1984.
In 1986, Certified Slings & Supply®purchased two industrial supply houses to which were added rigging – in Fort Meyers, about 120 miles south of Tampa and 225 from the Casselberry headquarters. The space there has recently doubled to about 15,000 sq. ft. and has six employees.
The fourth location, in Miami, came about in an interesting way, Worswick recalls. It had previously been a family business, and both families knew each other. But then a foreign company took over. Some of the key employees were unhappy, so they, a manager and two salesmen, went to work for Certified Slings & Supply®. About 18-months later the foreign-owned company closed. This was not due simply to the loss of some of the key employees, Worswick explains, though that certainly didn’t help. Their philosophy was selling big equipment, so they were not focused on wire rope and replacement parts, where we saw an opportunity. This Miami facility now has about 8 employees in a 17,000 sq. ft. facility, located about 225 southeast of Casselberry. This branch opened in 1998.
The fifth and final location was acquired in 2002. It was a rental equipment store and, Worswick says, “it was a decent success through 2007, but we recognized the economy was changing so equipment rentals were not that good. So in 2009 we sold the rental piece off to a company that specialized in that industry, and kept the rigging and supply side in our area of core competency.” This location is in Ocala, in an 8,000 sq. ft. facility with four employees. Ocala is about 70 miles northwest of Casselberry. The branches worked out to be located 70 miles west, 120 miles south, 225 miles southeast, and 70 miles north of the main headquarters, so represented a good expanding market radius.
Today Certified Slings & Supply® has about 70 employees. Worswick reports that “last year our annual revenues were a shade under $23 million. We peaked in 2006 at $29 million.”
Ron Worsnick worked until the end, when he passed away on October 13, 2006. Denny and Doug, though they worked their way up from the shop, inventory control, sales, and so on, did not come from a business background. Both started training horses when they were about 20 and both made a radical shift in occupation when they were both about 35. Transitioning a business to the next generation can be difficult, as the younger family members try to figure out how to retain the best of the old while adapting to changing circumstances by coming up with something new. “It was about eleven years ago, I was in my early 40s and my dad had just turned 70, and I began to wonder, who’s going to take over?” Worswick recalls. “I don’t know if the light went on, but I realized I had to step up and prepare myself.”
Worswick got involved in leadership development. He says “I bought the whole concept of going from very good to great,” his mentor in this respecting being Jim Collins, who wrote the book, “Good To Great.” Even though his dad had vision and values, the younger Worswick felt he had to take it a step further. He did this, in the late ’90s, by developing a team of managers. There were four four hour sessions which articulated the company’s purpose and values. “I really think the results from this endeavor have been huge,” Worswick says.
The purpose, “to grow through challenge and opportunity while benefitting team members and customers” turns out to be not quite as obvious at it seems. “It’s interesting, you get 18 managers in the room and you debate for hours who comes first, team members or customers, and you can come up with some surprises,” Worswick says. They didn’t settle on the cliche that the customer always comes first. After looking at all aspects of the topic, the managers decided that the company’s employees, whom they call team members, should come first. Insofar as their needs are taken care of and they are able to participate more and more in the direction of the company, the more they will take care of the customes with quality service.
While the purpose hasn’t changed over the years, the five core values that run the company, integrity, respect, teamwork, commitment and communication have gone through some variations of interpretation over the years. “Our biggest challenge has been struggling with the communications value,” Worswick says. “We’re still strugging with delivering clear messages to multi-locations and being able to listen openly and sincerely. Our biggest problem has been with email. Emails get misinterpreted, for there is no expression, just words. So we’ve learned that, for many things, if there’s a question, it’s better to just pick up the phone, rather than doing damage control after the email is misinterpreted.” A clear practical implementation which came out of this resolve is a new phone system, which, through the push of a button, connects to another branch. “It’s both a time and expense saver,” says Worswick. “And, every time a customer calls here who needs to speak to another location, we can switch him there very easily.” Along these same lines, Worswick personally travels to each branch monthly to facilitate communication, and incorporate team members’ needs and ideas into the direction of the business. “It’s a bit different than two or three guys sitting in an office and sending out orders,” Worswick says. Another reflection of this attitude is that, instead of a head of human resources, there is a director of team management. “We do different things to keep the awareness working at a high level,” said Worswick.
In terms of the current recession, Worswick says, “It’s ugly and has hit hard. But we’re aggressively and proactively going after business. We focus on whatever we’re doing that’s working to build from there. We’re working hard to build on small opportunities so that when the economy gets moving, we can move with it.”
At the start of the year, the company started a business development center, which already has started to improve revenues, Worswick reports. He has continually worked to provide the company with the most current and useful software. For instance, all sales personnel now have lap tops equipped with customer relations management (CRM) software. “It?s a very simple system which organizes customer information and makes the sales person that much more effective in the field. It expedites service, and also helps build a database from the field,” Worswick explains.
Looking for creative solutions to problems also helped the company make customers happy while getting rid of dead or overstocked inventory resulting from the recession slowdown. The company put these items on ebay for lower prices than customers got them for a few months ago. So, offering lowering prices at a time when most prices are going up has resulted in many pleased customers, says Worswick.
Along these same lines, Certified Slings & Supply® will implement an online store by the end of the year. Another initiative, Worswick reports as helpful, is joining an organization with six CEOs in central Florida, to meet once a month. “Even though we’re in different industries, the feedback we give each other has been very helpful,” says Worswick. “We’ve also added two members to our board of nine, both unaffiliated with the industry. But these seasoned individuals have provided very helpful observations to our day-to-day operations.? Also, Worswick adds, “For the first time we’ve written down a strategic one, three, and five year growth plan. This sets the direction of our vision with a lot of input from the 18 management team members.”
These new measures grow out of older, and sometimes old-fashioned traditions the founder started, and are still maintained. These include remembering birthdays, providing free turkeys for Thanksgiving, and handing out roses on Valentine’s Day. Team members are provided with uniformed shirts, which reinforce the quality image of service, images found on the trucks and catalogs. “My dad’s philosophy was to be very humble in himself but proud of his team, confident that if he had a good team which was treated well, everything else would take care of itself. At the same time we’re an entrepreneural business, we are still a family,” Worswick says. Certified Slings & Supply® also has Spanish speaking team members working there. Most can speak English, so that is not a problem. However, in Miami especially, many customers are Spanish-speaking, so Certified Slings & Supply® having a bi-lingual staff there really helps.
There are two other family members working for the company. Nicole Parkerson is vice president of procurement, and Eric Worswick is vice president and manager of the Casselberry facility. Denny, 57, and his wife, Barbie, have four children. Doug, 52, and his wife, Kathryn, have two children. Both Denny and Doug still enjoy breeding horses as a hobby.
When asked how it felt to make the transition from the very different occupation, Worswick replies, “It was tough at first. I don’t like sitting behind a desk. But, in some ways, training horses was a very good preparation, and I do have a passion for animals. You have to understand horses, and every race you win or lose. So you have to be a psycologist, and that can translate into a leadership role. You learn to work with people. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your company, have a good work ethic and work with people to try to bring the best out of them.” Keep optomistic attitudes. We’re going to win today.?
How do the two brothers work together as a team?
“Generally, we’re a bit different,” Worswick replies. “Denny was executive vice president of administration, and I was executive vice president of operations, he’s more into financial management and I sales. So we disagree a lot. I’m the offensive guy, and he’s the one asking how we can cut costs and save. But we balance out our disagreements, always end up in agreement, and maintain our agreements. We walk out arm-in-arm.”