Honesty & Integrity in a Changing Industry
By Larry Ciptak
VP, Big Dog Warehouse, Inc.
I’m not exactly sure how to broach this topic without potentially poking someone in the eye. My goal here is to define how Big Dog Warehouse conducts business in a manner that lets us sleep well at night, and that’s hard to do without juxtaposing our ethos with some others in the industry who don’t share common values.
A while back I took a much-needed break from the business world and spent several years in human services, working with children with developmental and/or emotional disabilities, then with the mentally ill street homeless population. After that exhausting but life-changing experience, I re-entered the business community and found out that perhaps the only difference between the two industries is that one is primarily on some type of medication while the other isn’t but sorely needs to be.
Human nature being what it is, you can probably say this about anyone, anywhere at any time. But I do know that at Big Dog—though we too could possibly benefit from some friendly pharmaceutical assistance—we are straight-shooters and despite our human frailties never lose sight of our commitment to total customer satisfaction.
Sometimes we fall short of this goal. When we do, we admit our mistakes and do whatever it takes to correct them.
We’re a tight-knit team—like a family, really—and when a project goes sideways, we work together to rectify situations quickly and efficiently. It’s amazing to watch our sales crew collaborate without any prodding from administration. They’ll work together to problem-solve as well as to come up with creative solutions for our customers. Like any family, they can get a little dysfunctional, but sometimes that provides much-needed levity in an extremely competitive and cutthroat industry.
Using words like “honesty” and “integrity” are fundamentally meaningless—even insulting—when you don’t live up to them. I was recently asked what our mission statement was. Interesting question but I didn’t have an answer, because I always presumed that if you took care of your customers and stepped them through the entire process while providing back-end support, you really didn’t need a mission statement—just a mission. Taking care of our customers and going the extra mile is our mission. Who knows what our mission statement is, and really, do you care? Mission statements are simply clever strings of words some marketing schmuck gets overpaid to produce. I should know—I’ve been that schmuck before in my marketing and writing travels.
When we started Big Dog, we decided to incorporate a policy of truth-telling, even if it caused a few ripples in the industry. The reason we did this was two-fold: first, it was the right thing to do, and second, there was a dearth of useful information about how to do business with our industry. We set out to fill that void, and we have. If you’re researching our market for accurate and pertinent information in order to make educated decisions, you’ve come to the right place—Big Dog Warehouse.
In the old days—say, five years ago—you’d go to a stocking distributor who carried lockers, shelving, pallet rack and other material handling products. Some of these guys have been in the industry for decades, and really know their stuff. A few of them took advantage of technological advances (the internet) and have done well adapting with the times. Most haven’t, and have since been systematically losing market share to companies like ours. It’s a shame, because when it comes to product knowledge and boots-on-the-ground support, they can’t be beat.
What we’ve been attempting to do is tap into their wealth of knowledge and experience by utilizing them when we need a walk-through and/or professional on-site assembly and installation. Some of them are wonderful to work with, and we look forward to developing more strategic partnerships with these firms around the country, to best meet our customers’ needs.
There is some resentment against web distributors like ours and some sentiment that perhaps we don’t know our products well enough to service our customers. We have factory training every week. One week training might be on plastic lockers, the next week various bleacher configurations, storage cabinets or our quick ship network. What we don’t know we seek out and learn. We’re very proud of our sales crew and their hunger for product knowledge.
We’ve sold thousands or orders ranging from single lockers to complex six-figure projects, and everything in-between. Every customer gets the same commitment to service. This business isn’t about margins and profits—it’s about customer service and doing as many things right as possible. When you consistently take care of customers over a period of time you build a good reputation and a client base, like we have. Word of mouth and referrals are a big part of our success. Margins and profits are by-products of running a tight, fair and hard-working company dedicated to customer service, and not vice-versa.
We’re hard-working, blue-collar Joes who happen to be very technologically literate with a modicum of common-sense and a good degree of humanity. I don’t know if large firms can maintain this attitude with all their layers of corporate bureaucracy. We’ve avoided these corporate trappings thus far and remain free to be ourselves and to speak frankly about our industry as well as ourselves and our unique capabilities.
Staying right-sized and doing what we know we do best—servicing our customers—is the Big Dog way.
Don’t expect a mission statement from us anytime soon. You can, however, expect the best service available in our industry and a straightforward and honest approach to doing business—Big Dog Warehouse, doing it better than anyone else and going the extra mile for you.