A Visit with Autologue’s Jim Franco.
Sometimes looking at how someone else runs their business can be inspiration in how you run yours—either you want to emulate them or do something entirely different. A visit with Jim Franco, CEO of point of sale programming company Autologue (Buena Park, CA), has him offering suggestions on how to keep both employees and customers happy. And if one group is happy, the other will likely follow. Not only that, but happy employees can be the answer to an issue plaguing many paint dealers—succession.
It’s well known that Queen Elizabeth the First didn’t name a successor until she had about an hour to live, but you might want to take care of that a bit sooner. But who, and how? If your kids, cousins, or nieces and nephews took a look at your business and thought, “nope, not for me,” Franco’s story might give you some hope. Today, Autologue is a multi-million-dollar company with POS programs designed especially for the paint industry among others, but as the name implies, Franco started in the auto parts business. His daughters, after a few years of counting automotive nuts and bolts, moved into their own careers. Jamie became a nurse who eventually managed a large ER facility, and Tiffanie, also in the medical field, managed a unit with over 40 employees.
Jim will tell you one thing they did share with him was a passion for their work and the drive to be successful. Family being family, they changed their tune about Autologue and now have been with him for more than a decade—Tiffanie manages the marketing department while Jamie heads up accounts receivable.
Other family members are also on board, but Franco feels one reason his company has been successful is that he treats employees like family whether he’s related to them or not. It’s paid off, as the company’s 90 team members average a tenure of 14.6 years and combine for 1,800 years of experience. It’s hard to get hired here simply because there aren’t a lot of jobs open. Once people come, they stay, Franco reports.
Employed and Loyal
While every company has its own economics, Franco shared some of the points that he feels keep employees sticking around. From a financial standpoint, this includes an employee stock ownership plan, so everyone can have a stake in the company, along with matching their 401K contributions.
Some other perks are simple: birthdays are a day of paid vacation bonused with spending money equal to $10 per year of employment. Team members get a VISA rewards card that gets loaded with bonuses for above and beyond performance. Franco provides free lunches on specified days, plus bonuses and gifts on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But there’s work to be done as well; team members are challenged to be on the lookout for ways to improve operations, including ideas to bolster customer service (which helps you!), new products (also helps you!), or just making things run smoother at the company (which helps you as well).
Another thing about treating your staff well, he says, is it makes them actually want to show up to work. If you’re all negative with nary a thank you, people will find ways to be sick, or they’ll find new employment. Not only that, he notes, but take some time help them grow both personally and professionally. At that end of the day, people have things they want to do to fulfill themselves, and it might not be selling a can of paint. Support that as well.
Also, he says, trust! The most important lesson he’s learned on the job is not to micro-manage. Hire people who can do the job, then empower them to make good decisions. It was tough for him, but he’s learned to delegate.
Do all this, and you’ll be confident your company will run smoothly, whether you want to take a week off, or be assured that after you retire your name will live on as a trusted store for generations to come.
Customer Service Tips
It’s often been said that if you treat your employees well, you don’t have to worry about how they treat your customers, and many of his customer service tips will transfer from a POS company to a retail paint store. For one, answer the phone! Then answer the customer’s question, or if you can’t, find someone who can.
Help your customers be profitable—if you can show your painters or designers how to make money in their business, it will come back to help you in yours.
Oh, and product. Make sure your company offers top quality products that help your customers achieve their goals. All this goodwill would be meaningless if Autologue couldn’t solve the problems it’s in business to solve. One way to stay on top of problems, rather than be buried by them, is to look out for that’s happening in your industry—read The Paint Dealer and other publications, and attend shows in your area, and see what’s new and improved. Then pass it along to your customers. Franco notes that with technology changing as fast as it does, Autologue keeps a close eye on what’s happening so they can help you grow and change as POS does.
After years in this business, Franco is still excited about coming to work. He sees himself as a race car driver rounding those curves as fast as he can, at his desk in the morning waiting for that green flag. In a business that’s geared to help people become more successful, Franco will tell you that his joy comes from seeing that success. Plus, the better your POS system works, the more time you have to do what you love to do—sell paint.