QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION
An old English proverb states, “A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.” It was anything but “smooth sailing” for Cheryl Heller and her two partners when they started General Industrial Supply INC in December 1986. Less than two months after starting, her partner with the most experience in the industrial services industry died of a massive heart attack. Then, six months after regrouping and moving forward, her remaining partner also succumbed to a heart attack. As Heller states, “I found myself alone, inexperienced, and without any real plan for the company’s future. However, despite the loss of my partners, quitting was not an option.” It was that can-do attitude and willingness to move beyond adversity that helped GIS adapt and become a successful small business that, for over 25 years, has been providing quality industrial products to businesses around Ft. Wayne, IN and beyond.
Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) was a relatively new technology when the company first began. EDM uses intense bursts of electrical current to precisely cut hard metals and other surfaces according to exacting specifications. For example, it is commonly used in the tool and die industry for mold making. Under Heller’s leadership, the company took advantage of this emerging market niche in the greater Ft. Wayne area, and has since expanded their portfolio of products beyond EDM supplies to include filtration systems and products, cable management, electrical systems, and motion control. “Finding a consumable product that could be sold, used, and sold again seemed to be a better solution because the company needed continuing and repeat business to sustain growth.” writes Heller. The growth and success of GIS testifies to the wisdom of that strategy.
LOYALTY AND COMMITMENT
GIS is a small shop with 5 full-time employees and 3 resident cats. “Cheryl likes to take in strays. She has a big heart.” says Renee Dragan, the director of Business Operations and Development. It is this same ethos that pervades the entire GIS organization and has cultivated several years of loyalty among both staff and customers, enabling them to carve out market share despite having larger competitors. According to Dragan some of the staff has been with the company for over 17 years. Dragan herself has worked at GIS cumulatively for over 10 years. Having left a few years ago to move out of state, she returned in July 2012 and was surprised to discover how many GIS early customers were still active clients. She attributes this in large part to the standards of customer service Heller put into place from the very beginning. “Cheryl is the heart and soul of this company. She has very high standards and sets the standard.” For example, GIS has cultivated a reputation as a company that will do everything possible to help their customers find a product, even referring them to a competitor if necessary. And if a customer is unsatisfied “we’ll make it right or give them their money back, even if it means getting the manufacturer involved.” says Dragan.
Of course, in today’s competitive environment, every company offers “customer service” but at GIS, this is a core value, not marketing schtick. One of the ways they embody this is in their voice mail system—there isn’t one. The phones are always answered by a real person, although not always the receptionist. According to Dragan, most employees are cross-trained and able to help one another with their responsibilities, which embodies the company’s team spirit. “We know our customers and our customers know us.” Dragan mentioned that, after taking a recent order, she offered to deliver the products personally because the client’s workplace was on her way home. At GIS that is not “going above and beyond” so much as standard procedure. “Finding new customers is difficult,” says Dragan, “but people like doing business with us.”
GIS AND COUGAR MOUNTAIN
For a company that values personal relationships, it is not surprising that GIS was first introduced to Cougar Mountain Software from the personal referral of a satisfied Cougar Mountain customer. However, their company’s success was built on more than just relationships. From the very beginning, Cheryl Heller determined that her company was not going to go into debt; sustaining cash flow was very important. “We needed [software] that we could afford but still had the inventory control we were looking for,” said Dragan. “a system we could grow with and add different modules like receiving and order entry.” In keeping with GIS’ core value of customer relationships, the Cougar Mountain sales representative (Dragan still remembers her name ten years later) took great time and care educating the GIS staff about their software. They have been particularly pleased with how Cougar Mountain software systems have streamlined their processes, such as inventory reporting, physical accounting, and order entry. According to Dragan, “It makes life a lot easier than a big, bulky system. It’s really grown with us. We are a small company but have a lot of products. Cougar Mountain Software has been able to handle whatever we needed.” Product quality, customer service, and affordability are three reasons GIS has continued to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace, and three reasons why they have continued to rely upon Cougar Mountain Software to help give them a competitive edge.