Setting Standards Makes Mississippi Contractor The Southeast’s Top Choice
In 1947 when Ivey Mechanical of Kosciusko, MS, was founded, the business was very different. They were a small, one location business that primarily focused on residential service. But as the company grew, they quickly realized that focusing on the commercial sector would be their best way to sustain growth. And sustain it did. Today they have approximately 1,000 employees with locations dotted throughout the southeast, and plans to continue growing.
Diversification of Services
Moving from residential service and light commercial contracting to solely commercial contracting changed the game for Ivey Mechanical. It gave them the ability to set themselves apart from other contractors in the market area and it helped them move to the next level of success. It wasn’t necessarily easy.
“When we made the decision to go from residential contracting to commercial contracting, we took it slow,” said Denny Terrell, president of Ivey Mechanical. “We started by bidding on small commercial projects, then we moved to some government work, and then to healthcare. It was a transition. We took it slow to make sure that we were doing things correctly and building our name and reputation as a company that people wanted to work with.”
By diversifying their services, it prepared them for growth in different markets and created the ability to be profitable regardless of how the economy or other outside factors affected the market.
For example, in the past federal government contracting made up anywhere from 30 – 50 percent of their business, but now that the federal government has started pulling back on spending, so has Ivey Mechanical’s focus.
“Having a variety of service offerings is a little bit like juggling plates,” adds Keith Paton, vice president of service for Ivey Mechanical, “You get one going well, then you move to the next, but you always have to go back and check on the first one to keep it going, so it doesn’t fall.”
Growth By Trial & Error
Most contractors looking to grow their business look locally, but the team at Ivey Mechanical had a broader vision.
“In the late 70s and early 80s we had already built a solid company that was known for quality,” says Paton. “We began looking for places to expand and decided moving to a presence in the southeast and not just Mississippi was the best option.”
One of the reasons that expanding into a whole region, as opposed to just in their state, was their customers.
“We had customers that do business in multiple states and they wanted to continue doing business with us,” adds Terrell. “Whenever you expand, you have to go where the customers are and in knowing our current customers already wanted us there, encouraged us to make the bold expansion moves.”
So, with experience in light commercial, medical contracting, and government contracting; and customer demand already there, Ivey Mechanical began looking for locations where they could provide their services while growing their business. This was a bit of trial and error for the company. They opened locations in Miami and Houston, but could not generate and sustain enough business to be successful in those markets. However, in Nashville, they hit the mark.
“We learned a lot from the offices that didn’t succeed,” admits Paton. “We learned that to be successful we not only had to find good locations, but we also had to have the right people in place to make those locations work to the level and standards we have set for the company.”
Besides having the right people in place, Ivey Mechanical also looked for some companies that they could bring into the Ivey Mechanical family to grow.
The Ivey Mechanical Way of Doing Business
The biggest factor in their success though is their standards of doing business. One might think this would be tough for a company that has over 10 locations in the southeast region, but Ivey Mechanical has put into place standards that are backed by a diverse training program to make it work for them.
“Our goal is for every customer to see the same company, regardless of where they are in our service area,” says Terrell. “To make this happen we created the Ivey Red Book, which lays out the way we do business, step-by-step. We have had this book for over 25 years, and sure we have tweaked it, but it has pretty much stayed the same.”
To ensure that their employees are comfortable with “the Ivey way of doing business” they hold weekly training sessions that cover different areas of the book.
Terrell adds, “We understand that each employee has their own personality, but we have worked to create a strong regional footprint, and these standards help ensure that footprint will continue to stay strong in our market areas.”
To piggyback on the 25 year old Ivey Red Book, they are now currently working on the Ivey Blue Book, which will be a service standard operation book. This book will be used to strengthen their service operations and continue to assure customers in every area that they are “People you can rely on.”
Training Keeps It Going
Training doesn’t stop with the standard operating procedures. Ivey Mechanical uses a variety of training programs to ensure that their employees are up-to-date on information and are performing at the highest level possible.
“We do a mix of training for our employees, both in-house and off-site training” says Terrell. “We do weekly training and then we do company training workshops. That is where we take 25 to 30 employees offsite for three to four days and work on management related issues and training.”
Paton adds, “We try to do as much training as we can in-house, but we don’t hesitate to bring in trainers. The key is finding trainers that meet our needs.”
Ivey Mechanical also takes time to celebrate special milestones in the company by having regular company meetings where 150 to 250 management co-workers from all locations gather for 3 to 4 days of celebration, training, motivation and good old “family reunion fun.”
Ivey Mechanical sees no slowing down in their future. Part of that is due to having co-workers that work hard and have stayed with them for many years.
“We give our employees an opportunity to grow within our company,” says Paton. “Most of our senior managers started as estimators or project managers and moved up through the ranks. “
They also have created an empowerment culture, encouraging the employees to “do the right thing” by their customers, because it goes a long way in helping the customers understand that Ivey Mechanical is there to take care of their needs.
Terrell and Paton both feel that Ivey Mechanical has carved its path in the commercial contracting industry in the southeast. Both admit that their kind of growth probably isn’t for every company but offer a little advice for those who are looking to grow and expand.
“First, don’t sell something you’re not ready to provide. It’s much harder to repair the damage you cause by offering services you can’t do and do well, when you are trying to build your reputation. When it comes to quality and professionalism, you need to have a plan in place and not jump in.”
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