From file "062_pss" entitled "PSdnaFTR.qxd" page 01
From file "062_pss" entitled "PSdnaFTR.qxd" page 01

Since he began working at Tindell's 13 years ago, Tim Bryant has held almost every front-line job imaginable at the five-yard, Knoxville, Tenn.–based independent dealer. Starting out as a yard hand, he quickly began driving for the company before moving inside to counter sales. From there, he rose to sales facilitator, coordinating between outside salespeople and customers to ensure orders stayed on track. Then, two years ago, he moved up to his current position in outside sales. “To me, it's a real positive because I've had the chance to learn so many aspects of the business,” Bryant says. “It's a great company to work for.”

Ask Bryant how his life has changed since coming to work for Tindell's, and he responds in the vernacular of his own success: The size of his home and salary have nearly tripled over the years, and while he had never been out of the Southeast when he took the job, he and his wife have now traveled as far as Austria and Hungary on company trips with top customers. But ask him why he's stayed at the company so long, and his answer is strikingly different: “I feel like they value and respect me,” Bryant says. “I'm more than just an employee. They make me feel like I'm part of the family.”

Tim Bryant, outside sales associate, Tindell's. Year founded: 1892, Headquarters: Knoxville, TN, Number of locations: 5, Number of employees: 255, 2005 gross sales: $65 million, Pro sales percentage: 99 percent.

Indeed, in an industry stocked with family-owned businesses, engendering that feeling of inclusiveness among the team is crucial to retaining good employees over the long run. At Tindell's, listening to employees and making them feel valued by the executive suite has garnered a turnover rate of just 8 percent last year, compared to 28 percent nationally for the wholesale trade industry, 55 percent for retail trade turnover, and 41 percent among all businesses, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tindell's has been able to keep the metric low by focusing on retention as part of its business philosophy.

“Turnover is expensive,” says Johan van Tilburg, president of the $65 million operation. “First, you go through all the pain and agony of retraining somebody, and then there's the gap that results from the guy who left. There's just a huge expense in losing people, and we've tried to minimize that.”

The company starts by seeking out input from its employees about company improvements and then acting on it. For example, when Bryant started as a driver, customers and employees zoomed through the yard as loads were being built. He suggested posting speed limit signs. Tindell's did, and the problem eased. Bryant says other input from employees, such as more efficient ways to build loads or what to stock, also has been acted upon by Tindell's brass. “They might not always say yes to a suggestion, but they always respond,” he adds.

Management strives to be attentive to employees' personal lives, too. When Bryant's son fell ill last year, the dealer's human resources department bought the child a gift certificate to Toys ‘R' Us. “When I see Carl Tindell, the owner of the company, out at the store, he asks me about my son. That really makes a difference,” Bryant says.

Finally, Tindell's makes sure it pays well. The company conducts a semi-annual salary survey in the industry, and then pays above-average wages to help ensure employee retention. “We pay top dollar for those positions,” says Lori Riding, Tindell's vice president of human resources. “That's what's going to bring them in, and that's what's going to keep them, because if they can go down the street and get more, they'll do it.”

The combination of good pay and a team atmosphere is working for employees like Bryant, who for 13 years, given his own success and the value he feels Tindell's places on his contributions to the company, has been happy to stay put.