Brothers Steve and Jeff Sliter, president and vice president, respectively, of Cincinnati-based Commercial Parts and Service (CPS), are co-winners of Foodservice Equipment & Supplies' 2016 Top Achiever — Service Agent Award.
The brothers took over leadership of the family business in 2007, when they were both in their mid-20s. Assuming leadership of business with three locations (Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton) and 85 employees (now 100) would be a big task for anyone in the early stages of their careers. Taking over on the cusp of the Great Recession made it an even bigger challenge. The brothers, however, guided their firm through those turbulent years and have since built their business and their reputations in the E&S sector by being good partners to everyone in the channel, from manufacturers to dealers to operators.
Steve and Jeff describe themselves as having complementary strengths. As president, Steve is better at handling the business side, including strategic planning and financials. With a degree in mechanical engineering, Jeff focuses on the operational part of the business. This includes overseeing service and training (he's a CFESA-certified master technician and electrical trainer) as well as IT initiatives.
Stepping into these roles at the time they did was certainly difficult, says Steve, but the two did have some advantages. First, the company has always been very conservative with its finances. It held no debt at the time, nor does it today. Second, from top to bottom, the company was strong enough to operate smoothly throughout the transition.
"When I took over, I was scared to death, really," recalls Steve. "I had some things I wanted to do and goals I wanted to accomplish, but I didn't want to rock the boat too much. For the most part, I wanted the transition to go as seamlessly as possible. I was very fortunate to have a good management team to help lead and navigate through that process."
For Steve and Jeff, a big part of navigating through the process — and the difficult years that followed — involved taking steps to elicit as much business as possible.
CPS, for example, worked to become an authorized service agent for as many manufacturers as it could, getting certified by about 12 new factories during the recession. This not only brought more work to the company, says Steve, but it also made life easier for customers by increasing the chances that it could be a one-stop shop for all their equipment work, including install, warranty and refrigeration work.
Seeing that operators were limiting their capital expenditures during the economic slowdown, Steve and Jeff also urged CPS employees to emphasize the importance of planned maintenance agreements to customers. Fulfilling its commitment to partnering with operators, CPS uses this service to help end-users make informed maintenance decisions.
"We go out and meet with our customers to discuss their wants and needs when it comes to extending the life of their equipment. We offer our professional opinion to get their equipment running like new, but we keep our preventative maintenance agreements tailored to meet the needs and demands of our customers," Jeff says.
CPS re-upped its commitment to customer service in more basic ways as well. The company stressed to field technicians that they should take the time to help customers understand their equipment and answer any questions that came their way. If the tech didn't know the answer, customers were told to call one of CPS' branches, which could put them in touch with a service manager or even one of the owners.
This approach, Steve stresses, worked because of the quality of the CPS team. The employees are ultimately responsible for the success of the company, he adds. Given their importance, the firm made sure to take care of its people through the downturn. "We were fortunate enough to stay profitable during the recession, which gave us the luxury to continue to generously compensate our employees and provide them with benefits and profit sharing programs without any reductions or burden on the company," he says.
Of course, not every move Steve and Jeff have made has been in reaction to the Great Recession. They've also grown the business through investing in CPS' physical and online presence. As of press time, the company was on the verge of signing a lease on a new headquarters and warehouse in Cincinnati. At 17,000 square feet, this new location is more than twice the size of CPS' existing Cincinnati office.
The extra space, says Steve, will allow the company to pursue more installation work, which often requires service agencies to store new equipment until the actual install date. In addition, the company will have a training facility mirroring the training area in CPS' Columbus branch. The company will not just use the space to train its technicians. It will also allow dealers and reps to come in and host training and demonstration sessions — a move that supports CPS' supply channel partners and helps build strong working relationships, Steve notes.
The larger facility will also allow the company to add more branch offices, Steve adds. "Right now, we can't expand because we don't have the office support, but at the new building, we'll be able to accommodate all those needs."
The company bulked up its web presence, too. In addition to e-commerce, a more robust site allows CPS to serve as an educational resource for people in the foodservice sector. Its blog offers cleaning and maintenance tips for foodservice equipment. The site also has schematics and diagrams for hundreds of different pieces of equipment. This can help foodservice operators understand how to maintain their equipment and even perform minor repairs.
Their reason for making this information available, even if it could end up costing them a job, sums up Steve and Jeff's approach to serving customers. "None of that information needs to be held back," says Steve. "If it can help someone out, we try to share it. I think that's the way we can improve not just the industry, but also make [ourselves] stand out."