Editor's note: This month, in a slight departure from our Contractors to Watch column, Editor in Chief Bill Palmer talks with an important industry supplier.

Bill Palmer: When you took over at Soff-Cut, things weren't good. What was wrong?

Don Hinshaw: We both got there at the end of 2001. The owners weren't pleased with the financial trend of the company. So the first thing we did was hit the road for 30 to 45 days to visit our major customers, talk to our key employees, travel with our sales reps, and do what we call “the gap analysis.” That meant figuring out where the company was, then getting a handle on the market and where it was going, and then seeing how well we were doing as a company against where the market was and where we needed to be. That gap may be broad or not. In the case of Soff-Cut, the gap was rather broad.

Steve Chamberlain: Almost everything was wrong except the performance of the equipment. Soff-Cut saws do exactly what they are supposed to do. But the culture of the company was poor. It was as if the contractor and the dealer were enemies:

Far left, Don Hinshaw and Steve Chamberlain receive the Vendor of the Year Award for 2005 from Hub Construction Specialties at the 2006 World of Concrete.
Far left, Don Hinshaw and Steve Chamberlain receive the Vendor of the Year Award for 2005 from Hub Construction Specialties at the 2006 World of Concrete.

DH: Although I'm not a fan of buttons and banners, one of the things we did was make big banners that said “The customer fills out our report card; find a way to say yes.” Not just say yes, but find a way to say yes. This was a major change. Also, we had a weak dealer program. I came back at the end of that first month of traveling and told our people that if I were a dealer, Soff-Cut would not be high on my agenda given the dealer programs. We needed to wake up to that. These were people who literally said we hate your company.

SC: We don't make any money on your product and we think you are [expletive deleted].

DH: We later held a dealer council, and in order to gain some credibility, I told them the things we had heard during our travels. From that moment on, we had some credibility. That's when the fixing started. You can't just come into a company and start changing things. It's like having a car that's not running well and getting a 9/16-inch wrench and start turning bolts—no, first you try to figure out what's wrong, and then you fix it. That sounds like common sense, but when a company's not working well, a lot of people will immediately start changing things.

BP: How did the employees receive all this?

DH: When you come into a company, you have to know that the employees are worried. Is this going to be good for me or bad? So the first thing is to calm everyone down, get everyone to think that this guy is OK. I had a meeting with the employees on the first day, and other meetings during the time I was traveling, to tell them the things I was hearing. I told them that here's what our customers are saying about us, and we can't kid ourselves. And we had to start changing out some people who were part of the problem although most got on board with the new direction.