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Management Excellence Award: Dealer

Mobile Fixture, Mobile, Ala.

01/01/2013

Offices: 6, Mobile, Ala., Destin, Fla., Panama City, Fla., Nashville, Knoxville, Tenn., Plano, Texas
No. of Employees: 95
Sales: $33.6 million (2011), $39 million (2012, projected)
Company Motto: “Take great care of the customer and everything else will take care of itself.”

Customer needs are top priority at Mobile Fixture. The full-service foodservice equipment and supply dealership offers superior support by working closely with clients and taking a hands-on approach to each project.

The firm serves customers through its headquarters in Mobile, Ala., as well as offices in Destin, Fla., Panama City, Fla., Nashville, Knoxville, Tenn., and as of November, Plano, Texas. Four locations boast large warehouses with showroom floors that hold strong inventories of equipment and supplies. Two of those locations also feature full test kitchens where customers can preview equipment. Additionally, the company has two sales offices.

Not surprisingly, the dealership has earned the FER Management Excellence Award—Dealer (less than $40 million). Criteria for the award include the following: excels at communicating with customers, suppliers and service providers, provides exemplary after-sale support, demonstrates a commitment to ongoing training of sales staff, and commits to and maintains adequate inventory.

Mobile Fixture employs 95 individuals. The highly diversified dealership focuses on contract business, government sales, restaurants, hotels, resorts, hospitals, assisted living, schools, universities and Internet sales.

Walne Donald has served as company president since 1997. Before that, he worked in outside sales for 10 years. He also recently retired from the board of directors for the Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association (FEDA) where he was nominated for two, two-year terms. He currently participates on the association’s nominating committee and advertising committee.

At Mobile Fixture, Donald says, his staff offers an extremely high-level of customer service.

“We want the customers to feel so comfortable that they actually become dependent on us and they don’t want to purchase from anybody but Mobile Fixture,” he says.

Instead of just taking purchase orders, the sales team will often sit down with customers and find out what their needs are and what’s most important to them. They help customers with the initial project planning phase all the way through to installation. They recognize that customers have different needs, too. For example, some customers might want to purchase equipment based on price while others might want to spend extra money for durable, long-lasting equipment. As for after-sale support, the company handles all equipment warranties and, if needed, will lend customers equipment.

Donald recalls a recent story when Mike Slemp, manager of the Knoxville branch, jumped in his car and drove out to Charlotte, N.C., to visit a chain restaurant customer who needed reassurance that a charbroiler he ordered was the right application and would properly fit in the kitchen.

“Mike hopped in the car and just left,” Donald says. “He didn’t even set up a time. He said, ‘I need to get over there now.’ The customer really appreciated it.”

Donald manages Mobile Fixture as if it were separate businesses under one umbrella. He doesn’t micromanage. Instead, he empowers branch managers to make many decisions at their location.

“My management philosophy is to hire the most passionate, hard-working, talented people, provide them with all the resources they need to do a great job and then get out of their way,” he says.

Staff members receive ongoing training by attending equipment previews in the dealership’s test kitchens. Manufacturers will present live demos of equipment to the sales team, who will often bring customers along.

“We want educated customers so they can make informed decisions on the equipment they need to purchase,” Donald says.

Donald has created an honest, family-like culture at the business. The company has a low turnover rate and some employees have been around for more than 30 years. He makes every effort to let employees know they’re appreciated. If a branch manager reports that the installers did a superb job on a project, he’ll call them and tell them how much he appreciates their hard work.

“Every aspect of our business is vitally important to our success and we let all our employees know that,” he says.

Reflecting on his long career in the industry, Donald remembers a time when the purchase process moved slower. Mobile Fixture used to send orders by snail mail. Now, as soon as the sales team e-mails an order, they need to know when it will ship.

Another change includes the increase in competition among dealerships. Donald says the firm competes with more dealers now than ever before. Plus, they cover markets across the country versus sticking to one region.

“It has spread out I think because of the slowdown in the economy,” he says. “Dealers have had to go outside their markets to try to grab enough market share and volume to continue to operate.”

Looking forward, Donald plans to expand the Knoxville office into a full location with a warehouse and showroom. He also hints that the company will open more branches in new territories in the near future. Meanwhile, the company focuses on turning a profit and maintaining competitiveness.

Overall, Donald’s proud of the company’s growing success. “We’ve been blessed and we’re grateful,” he says.


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