PODCASTS

Cultivating An Empathetic And Passionate Manufacturing Company

Cultivating An Empathetic And Passionate Manufacturing Company

 

Kip welcomes Mike Wolfe of Delgado Stone to discuss his company’s innovative ways they approach manufacturing and distribution, and the way Mike has helped drive an empathetic and passionate workplace.

 

 


 

 

Podcast Participants:

Graham Product Director Concora
Kip Rapp: CEO Concora
Mike Wolfe: COO of Delgado Stone

 

Graham:

Hello, everyone? And welcome to the Concora Corner, a podcast dedicated to bringing you interviews with folks working in the AC and BPM industry. I’m one of your hosts, Graham Waldrop, a director of product here at Concora. Today on the show we’re talking with Mike Wolfe, who is COO of Delgado Stone. Mike’s passion for his company, his employees and stone based products comes through in full force in this interview with Kip. Mike discusses the importance of ensuring that every employee he hires fits into the Delgado Stone family and commands a high level of diversity and quality that Delgado Stone puts into the products they manufacture and distribute for both commercial and residential projects. Hope you enjoyed today’s interview with Mike. But before we begin, here’s a quick word from our CEO, Kip Rapp.

 

Kip Rapp:

I wanted to thank everyone again for listening to our podcast. And if you’re interested in knowing more about Concora, we help building product manufacturers get specified and purchase more by providing a great web experience that’s bolted onto your website. It makes it easy for your architects, engineers, and contractors to do business online with you. We sum it up as three things. It’s providing a good web experience, good content, and good tools. And we have some great tools such as submittals, sustainability, project showcases, or anything else needed by our design community to specify and purchase products.

We’d be more than happy to show you a quick demo and you can go to concora.com, C-O-N-C-O-R-A.com to learn more, read case studies and see how other customers have grown sales with our partnership. So, hi, Mike? Great that you could join us and spend some time out of your day, and definitely was looking forward to talking about what you do. And some of these really important subjects, as we talked about last time, was about culture, technology, successful companies, why that’s important. And so I do think our listeners will really appreciate to what you have to say. And excited myself and how we normally start. Mike, if you can just introduce yourself, what you do, what your company does.

 

Mike Wolfe:

Sure. My name is Mike Wolfe. I’m the chief operating officer of Delgado Stone Distributors in Brookfield, Connecticut. We’re a natural stone company. And started off as a thin veneer, but we’re in our 10th year. Started off in thin veneer, thin stone and building veneer. And it’s evolved into now landscape material, architectural stuff. So pretty much anything natural stone. We acquired our first quarry, I think maybe two years ago now. It doesn’t seem like that long, but it goes by quick. And so, we’re a wholesale distributor, so we work with landscape yards, masonry yards, and we have just about 110 authorized dealers, about 160 locations they have in total in 22 states.

So pretty exciting growth from when I got here about five years ago. And we were in nine states and had, I think, 62 dealers, somewhere in that range. But a lot of fun being on the wholesale distribution side and the B2B side. So really enjoying that. And we’ve got a team of about 45 people here, sales operations production. So a really great group, really excited to be a part of the industry and I’m excited to be here. So I appreciate having me, Kip. Thank you.


Kip Rapp:

That’s great. And so you mentioned a few things. With the quarry, do you make some of your products then, or half of them, or most of them?


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah. So typically we source our material from a variety of quarries through our relationships in the quarry. Obviously we source the material, we bring it down around the quarry that we acquired is about as far away from our facility as you can be while staying in Connecticut. So for me, it’s driving all the way across the state. But we bring in the material. We truck it in. Just about all of the quarries, I would say 95% of the material we use comes from quarries that are within about 100 miles of our facility. So primarily local stone. It’s granted to court sites field stone, you name it, we bring it in. We bring it in large slabs. It’s a really interesting process when everyone sees it, they’re like, “I can’t believe there’s a splitter that apply 600 tons of pressure and breaks down this rock,” and be like, “Whoa! That’s great.”

It’s also safety is always top of mind when we do stuff like that. But so we bring it in, bring in the raw material, break it down through our process, whether it goes to thin stone, full bed and/or our saw shop, now that we started a couple of years ago as well. So yeah, we’re sourcing out raw material, and not traditional manufacturing where you’re piecing things together. In our case, you’re actually taking large pieces and breaking it down throughout the process. So a little bit different. Harder to analyze when you look at the data, which I love. But it’s a lot of fun.

 

Kip Rapp:

I mean, I talk to manufacturers and they’ll basically make the finished goods. So if it’s railing a tile or carpet, are you also making the finished good, or is other people using that?


Mike Wolfe:

No, we’re sending them… Whatever we send out is ready to be used. The mason might do a little bit of work on site. But for the most part, the thin veneer, we bring it in, break it down. It goes through… Gets the [inaudible 00:05:43] back right off our size, it’s palletized and shipped. Usually it goes to the mason yard. Sometimes I’ll have it shipped right to a job site, depending upon how much space they have, what the availability or need is, if it just makes logistically. I’ll send us there and then they put it right to work. So yeah, we’re bringing the raw material and then out goes to the finished goods.


Kip Rapp:

That’s awesome. And so before you bought your quarry, I assume you were just getting the raw material from someone else?


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah. So we still bring in. One of the fun things about being in the Northeast is there’s so many colors, and we have a lot of hard stone. But we bring in 20 different stones that… And we own one quarry. We’re actually looking for others. But wherever you are in the State… It’s really fun. I never thought I’d look at topographic maps and geology maps. And I’m like, “Where does this stone come from? Where is that?” It’s at the point where my wife is… My head turns around when we drive and I’m like, “Looking at stonewall.” And she’s like, “Okay, great. It’s a stone wall.”


Kip Rapp:

Just stone.


Mike Wolfe:

It’s like once you know, you can’t unknown. So it’s a little bit funny. We’re on vacation or something, we’re in Boston and I’m taking pictures of the-


Kip Rapp:

The stone.


Mike Wolfe:

Stone on the floor, planks. And she’s like, “There’s these historic buildings, or maybe the two of us. And so if we get some good pictures of that,” but I’m taking pictures of different stone. So it becomes almost like an addiction where you can’t unseen it. And so it’s a lot of fun for us to do that. But we bring it in from the different quarries and with the relationships and we visit them. The one thing when you supply the dealer group, you’re looking at, like I said, 100 plus dealers, you have to maintain that consistency and quality throughout. It can’t be a quarry that has a few hundred tons of stone. We’re talking years and years and years and years. And the line I like to hear when I visit the quarry is, “We won’t run out in your lifetime,” which is great, because then it’s going to be someone else’s problem, not mine. But it’s very important that we source and work with the quarries to understand how much they have.


Kip Rapp:

Well, that’s awesome. I’ve really haven’t had anyone on the podcast that talked about this type of building material. I mean, we talked about wood, concrete, plastics, steel. So this is cool to learn a little more about the stone and the process that you’re doing. And that’s awesome. And did you say it’s split between commercial and residential? Is there any preference?


Mike Wolfe:

For us, I won’t say it doesn’t matter. We work with our dealers, we work with architects, we’ll work with homeowners. I think the majority probably goes to residential. A lot of what we’re shipping goes to a retail location. From that retail location, they’re going to sell it to a homeowner coming in or someone looking for a project. So I think when people look at natural stone, what you see is, you see walls, you see foundations, you see fireplaces, the big ones, obviously, and the trend in outdoor living right now, which anyone in the industry is a part of.

So whether it’s flagstone or an outside fireplace, all these different uses for it. But the larger projects you get on some of these giant projects that are typically commercial, and it could be a university, it could be a new complex of some sort, a new development type thing. And we have some that go on for years and years. So there’s one in New York that we’re going on a year four of that one, which is great. But when they need the stone, they need the stone and we’re pushing ahead.

We all know right now what supply chains are like, and we’re not immune to it, certainly the trucking industry and everything. But we’re doing the best we can to keep up with and maintain. But, yeah, I think I would probably say it’s 70% residential and 30% on the commercial side. But there’s always a swing. It could go to restaurants. It could turn different ways and we’ll see how that changes in the upcoming years.

 

Kip Rapp:

I know. We talked to others about supply chain. So how is that in general? Because typically what I’ll hear is with people not being able to work safely, then there’s a backlog. And then additionally, on the residential side, there’s an increase in demand. So therefore the backlog increases temporarily. Is that the case with what you guys are saying?


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah. I wish I could say it wasn’t. But, yes, it is. We’re fortunate. We’re in an industry that has the demand right now, and there’s so many industries over the past year that, unfortunately, had a tougher time than we had. So being too busy is a good problem, but safety is always a concern, especially COVID and staying healthy. So we never shut down during COVID, but we did have times where we operated at 60% or 40%, because we had to keep people out safely. And you can’t get that time back. You’re on the manufacturing side and the machines can only run for so many hours a day, and there’s only so much you can do. And so over time it does tend to back up.

Right now we have orders completed that we’re trying to get trucks to ship, and, well, we didn’t have that problem in the past. It was very simple to get a truck and send it. So I think every part of the supply chain is feeling a little bit of a hiccup. And for us, one of the most important things is communication with our customers, and I drive that home. Yesterday we had a meeting and I said, “It’s easy to have the conversation with the customer when things are going really well. But service, real service, is unfortunately when things aren’t going well in the…” We all know the feeling. The phone rings, you see the name come up. And you’re like, “Oh, man, I really don’t want to answer this call. I already know what it is.”

But instead of ignoring it, you pick up the phone and you have that difficult conversation. And that’s really important to us. There’s some things we can control, some things we can’t supply chain, there’s some logistical things we can’t control. And we have to communicate, and that’s what we drive home to our people.


Kip Rapp:

Your point about transparency, pro-activeness, honesty goes a long, long way. And I do think a lot of customers appreciate that, the empathy, even more than the problem sometimes, right?


Mike Wolfe:

Sure.


Kip Rapp:

That relationship is key. And just one last question around that, because I know with wood and some other building materials, the pricing has gone up much alive. Is that with stone too or is stone different?


Mike Wolfe:

It depends, really. For us, we try and stay competitive year over year. So I think this year we saw, for the majority, there was a three to 5% increase on materials. We rolled out our price list February 1st, and our goal is to not change that for the year. That may mean that we take a little bit on the chin as prices fluctuate in the market, and we’ve seen that already. I can tell you right now, pallets, we use a lot of pallets, and prices have doubled on pallets. But we’re not going to go to our dealer, our customers and say, “We’re going up know to eight, 10, $12 more.” It just doesn’t make sense to us. So for us, what I like to do is turn inside and look at our team and say, “Okay, how can we be more efficient, how can we be more productive and make that up somewhere, and continue to provide, because they’re going through a hard time too with everything.”

And we all know. And you see some of the memes online, how can you tell if someone’s rich, and they show a lumber truck right now. Unfortunately, we’re not there in the stone industry yet, or I should say fortunately. So I think you’ll see some of the imported stone that has gone up in price, because we’ve all seen what’s going on in getting material and things getting hung up quarters. I mean, that’s a whole different nightmare. So I think our price cruise increases exist, but they’re more a result of whether it’s an increase in… Usually it’s insurance, but that didn’t have a big impact on us.

We’re fortunate that our work comp insurance has decreased because of how we run things. I think when you look at gas, when you look at tariffs, when you look at the cost of pallets and steel, because we use a lot of blades, as you could imagine. So all those things are really what drive up the price of our material. But we work very hard internally and analyze a lot to keep our pricing competitive year over year. And we were able to do that and should keep going with it.


Kip Rapp:

I know. I was talking to someone else who had similar challenges with costs. And they were transparent with their customers, and they were able to collaborate on how to share the load and still keep the… I’m sure their customers’ like, “Timeliness is pretty big. I need it here today or tomorrow.” Figuring out a way to do that.


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah. Our industry is probably not the best when it comes to planning. And I joke around, we’re sourcing material that’s taken billions of years to develop or form, and we’re sourcing it, and we’re bringing it in. We’re breaking it down. We’re putting it through this process. The guys on our team are by hand are breaking down 15 tons of stone a day. And they go, “What do you mean it’s going to take three weeks?” And I’m like, “Wait, there’s no Amazon… We don’t have a Delgado Prime. We can’t do two day shipping of Delgado stone, which would be wonderful.” It’s just not a realistic thing. So they do understand and we do our best to work with them. If there’s a project that it needs to get started, we might get them a little bit of material quickly so they can get started on the project, and then we get them the balance later on or something like that.

So the communication. When everybody works together, and I know you and I… I use the word collaborate. We were talking earlier about podcasting and just some of the great things that you guys are doing. It works out for everyone. And our job is to make it easier for our customers. Just internally I tell everyone, my job is to make it easier for our team to operate. And maybe that makes things harder for me sometimes, but that’s my role. And same thing for our customers and their customers. How can we make it easier? How can we alleviate some of the stress at a stressful time?

And it doesn’t always happen. There are times where we’re the ones that cause the stress. Unfortunately, it’s a reality. I don’t like to be that one. But, again, that’s where we say, “All right. Well, let’s try and play the hero and make up for where we came up short.” But we all run into it. And, like you said, I use the word transparency and I use communications. We just have to be there and be up front to keep everything moving.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah. Well, good stuff. So as we talked in the prep, you had some really good things about culture, and it’s certainly from ideal, people are the most important, and culture is the most important. And we’d love to hear your thoughts on that of, what is culture and what’s important, and how is that defined in your company?


Mike Wolfe:

So when I first… I started out talking about us when I was in customer service and marketing was my role. And like I said, we were a small company. We had 60 dealers in nine states. And I’ll never forget, early on I responded to an email and the customer’s like, “Thank you so much for getting back to me.” And I’m like, “Well, I just hit reply and answered the question. Why wouldn’t I do that?” And it seems like such an obvious thing. But what I came to figure out was, Ernesto isn’t known for the service. That’s not something that has been important.

And so with that, I started to understand more about the industry and our business, and see where we could do better. And what our production team does is so labor intensive. I mean, these guys were very fortunate to have a great team, and they worked very hard. But you’re cutting stone or splitting stone for 10 hours a day, it’s very, very labor intensive. And so, for me, and I’ve always been this way. I grew up playing hockey and being in that team environment. And it has to be a team, you have to work together. There’s no one that’s better than anyone else.

And so that’s where it comes together. And so when we talk about culture it’s, well, who are we? Who are we as a company? And we want to be that leader. And we had to fix internal in order to demonstrate who we were to be that leader, an industry leader. So I think I told you this story, and I’ve mentioned it before. The first weekend I was at the company, we did a barbecue, but it was just for the office staff. And I’m like, “What the heck?” I’m like, “What about these guys?”

And I was like, “If I ever move up in the company, I’m going to fix it. That’ll never happen again.” And again, we all work together. We all work hard. And then we had a quality issue when, I think I was maybe five months into my operations role, where we sell what we call old New England rounds, which are round fieldstone that sourced from Connecticut. Very popular in New England. And we were having a quality issue. And we had, I think, 85 or 82 pallets in stock, which was about 8,000 square feet. And I said, “We have to open these pallets and go through them.”

And we literally put them in front of the saws in the production facility and went through and tore apart these pallets and pulled out all the garbage. And as a team, we had a new production manager, went through it and said, “This is not acceptable, and here’s why.” And I think that was a turning point. And it was showing, “Look, we’re going to put our customer above the dollar amount,” because we could have continued to ship out that, I’m going to say garbage, because it was not good.

And I can remember vividly. And Ernesto, our production manager, who’s still our production manager. It was, I think, his first month. And he’s like, “What are we doing?” And I’m like, “We’re going through all of this. I know you didn’t create the mess, but we’re not going to let this happen again.” And so that was big for us. So I think in terms of providing service and providing quality to our dealers into the industry, starts with the culture. If we don’t treat our people right, if we don’t take care of our team, if we’re not focused on making sure that we’re all safe, that we can work together and collaborate, that’s going to be reflected in the service and the work.

And I don’t think people are going to want to work with a company that doesn’t have that internal, that moral compass we’ll call it, that isn’t hard work, and that isn’t taking care of their people. And so that’s the key. You’ll see mission statements, and value statements, different things. I don’t know. To me, those are generic and it doesn’t really define… We use a slogan, lead by example. And so that’s what we try and do. And yesterday I was downstairs splitting stone, because we had people out and we needed to get stone done.

When I was done, it looked like I went swimming. I was dripping sweat. The guys in the were like they could do a 10 hours and not break a sweat, and I did. But that’s who we are. We jump in and we help each other out, and we support. No one’s above anyone else. And so that’s really our cultures, is… I don’t know, leading by example. Doing what we can to demonstrate that and continue to move forward with it. And our team buys in, which is really great.


Kip Rapp:

That’s great. So you started at the company as customer service, is what you said, right?


Mike Wolfe:

Yes.


Kip Rapp:

And then you moved up, and eventually got into operations and leading operations. That’s awesome. And based on what you’re saying, because it starts somewhere as far as increasing culture, and it’s always something you do every day. Because you can’t always be better. And things that I took away from it is, safety, collaboration, moral compass, hardworking, thinking about your people, and you said lead by example. One, I agree with you. I think the reflection on how you treat the company is then a reflection of how the company will treat the customers. And that being natural and organic, will then think of customers first, having that collaboration with the customers, all that can show through, though not only the body language, the communication. It just is a natural, I guess, evidence of all that, which I’m sure your customers appreciate.


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah, I think so. I mean, we’ve seen it in our growth in the five years. We’ve grown about 90% in terms of revenue, which is really awesome. We’ve increased payroll, not by adding that many more. I think we’ve probably grown maybe 20% in terms of people that we’ve added, but we’re able to pay people more. The owner and founder, Brandon, is really great at reinvesting in the company. He understands the value of the people, and we work hard on that. So two or three years ago, we were able to get health insurance for the first time, which is a big step for a small company. And to be able to offer that and pay for part of that is really important.

There’s only so much you can pay people in certain roles before you can’t make money in that position. And so how do you continue to do things? Well, it’s getting guys shirts, or making sure that glasses are paid for. We give them all their safety apparel. So we’ll help them out with that. There’s a guy out right now who had a baby, it was premature. So he had to leave for a little bit. Well, we continued to pay him during that time period, which is something that wouldn’t have been done in the past. And it’s letting them know that we’re there for them, or we’re there as a team when something happens.

And I use the word communication early on. It’s the same thing with our team here. It’s going downstairs and having team meetings. It’s saying, “Okay. Well, here’s, what’s going on.” And when COVID happened getting together and saying, “Look, we’re going to get through this. Here’s how we’re going to get through this.” And be respectful of everyone around you. We’re going to make sure everyone gets through this. We didn’t lay anyone off during that time. We actually were able to grow on the other side of it. But that’s a testament to our team. If they weren’t feeling well, stay home. Just communicate it, stay on for a couple of weeks. That was the mandate. And we figured out a way to operate within those parameters.

Because the last thing I want to do is get someone else sick, who then takes that home to their family. And now their family has it, and that has a bigger impact. So it’s a lot of respect within your team, knowing that they all work hard. And again, I use the word team when it comes down to it, because that’s what it is. We’re all working together towards that common goal. And it’s also showing the work and asking guys, “What’s going to make your job a little bit better?” And so, I think you had seen operators, the guys who split the stone were standing on concrete floor. And I said, “Would one of these rubber mats, these anti-fatigue mats help them?” “That’d be great.” “Okay, here you go.” So it costs $30, and we’re making them a little bit happier.

And that’s a really positive thing, and you’ll see it when people do the facility tours. They come by, I make sure I walked through multiple times a day and say hi to everyone. Make sure everyone’s okay. And that’s what it’s all about. It starts at the top of the company. And if we can’t demonstrate that we’re above everyone, that we’re willing to get in there with you guys and do what we have to do, and we’re supporting you, then how can these guys work comfortably knowing every day that they’re secure, they have a job, and they’re working towards something. So when I say culture, to me, that’s what it really is.


Kip Rapp:

I mean, that sounds great. And certainly the leadership is a reflection of that culture and lead by example. And from a hiring practice then too, I mean, what are some things that are very important?

What are some things that are maybe deal breakers? Because culture also is a continual upkeep of the people they have, but also the people we bring in.


Mike Wolfe:

It’s probably the hardest part as you grow, I think, is to maintain that culture. As the culture change here in a positive way, we were able to have a lot more retention. And so, now the guys that we have here have been here at a minimum six months. And as we add people, a lot of them are referrals from other employees, other members of the team. So that’s a good way to get people. We don’t hire part-time people. And one of the biggest things that I’ve found is, we bring people in and they may not be a good fit for what they’re doing or what they were brought in for initially.

So I’ll give you an example. There’s one guy who came in, and it was a little bit of a struggle. And rather than just fire someone, because they’re not working in that role, I talked to him and understand, “Okay, well, what’s the struggle here and let’s try you in something else. Are you willing to try another role?” And they’re like, “Sure.” So we moved them around. He tried probably two or three things. And then now he’s responsible for thermaling over at the saw shop.

So instead of saying, “Well, he’s not good at that,” fire him and that’s the end of it. I don’t think a fear-based cultures is the way to work. Like, “Well, if I don’t do my job, I’m going to lose it.” Well, you do have to do your job. Yes. But if there’s a reason that you’re not doing your job, other than maybe you just weren’t good at it. Maybe it was too heavy, maybe it wasn’t what he expected. But now we found a spot, and he loves it, and he’s able to grow in that role. And so, reinvesting in your team and giving them a chance and communicating versus… And I’m a data person, but not above people.

So when I look at it, I say, “Okay, the production isn’t there let’s make an adjustment,” and we do that. And now that person has to adapt. But people see that when it’s not just do your job and this is what we hired you for. Move on. I started at the bottom in the customer service marketing, and worked my way up. And that’s something we… I share that story with our team. And you can create that path. What do you want to do?

And that’s the fun part about being in a growing company. But, yeah, I think that’s a big part of it, is that job security, that knowing that they have the support, and we’re looking for good people. We’re looking for people that are going to come in, work hard. I don’t want to hear, “That’s not my job.” When someone says, “That’s not my job,” you’re like, “Okay, there’s a lot of things that aren’t necessarily my job, but we work together because that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

So when you’re looking for people, you’re looking for the people who are going to work to support the people around them, and they understand that it’s not about themselves. And by supporting other people, by working together, by collaboration, that’s how we’re all going to grow. And a rising tide lifts all ships, you hear that saying. If we all work together, we’re all going to grow together. And typically when someone has a more individualistic mindset, they weed themselves out. So I think that’s part of the culture and who we are. But it’s scary. I’m certain that I hire a slower than I should, because I do not like to do get rid of people and to have that negative impact. So I hire slow. I fire probably slow. But so far, knock on wood it works, and we’ll keep going with it until otherwise.


Kip Rapp:

I was thinking, “Well, Mike, you started in marketing, so maybe that’s why you’re in operations.”


Mike Wolfe:

Kip. I don’t know why anyone would choose operations over sales or marketing. I’m like, “Man, I got to go back in time.” But, no, the sales guys… Everyone works hard. And there’s different stresses, but I often joke around about that.


Kip Rapp:

No, typically the standard is, “I have a role if you fit the role, you’re good. If you don’t fit the role, you’re not good.” And then there’s another way of thinking about it is, “What are you good at and what do you like doing? Let’s find a role for you.” And maybe it has to start with, “Here’s a role that we have.” And in that example, certainly there was a foundation of great culture that you realized, but not exactly a fit in that particular area. So moving them to a place where not only could they be part of the culture, but also be competent in some other area. So I think that’s great.

I think about that too. Because I think with the operational jobs, it’s a little more straightforward on, “Okay. Here’s an operational area here.” Because I’ve also seen in marketing. There’s a dozen things in marketing that you can do. But it’s a little harder. And I think if you get up into leadership, and obviously maybe if you’re the CEO you may say, “Maybe you’re not exactly the best fit here, is there another?” So that’s the internalization I have, sometimes is that it gets a little harder, my opinion, the more abstract the responsibility.

But it sounds like also, that as you described, the culture altruistic, it’s a collaboration, it’s authentic. And I’ve heard this in another way too, because I internalize this as it’s personality. It’s finding people that have… I don’t know what the difference between culture and personality is. To me, they’re highly overlapping. I mean, is that a fair statement?


Mike Wolfe:

I think probably culture is used to define the company. Because if I feel like, “Well, what kind of personality does he or she have? Or what kind of culture does Mike have,”  a little bit of maybe strange wording. But I think it is. I’m not a big fan of that fake it till you make it saying. I’m a believer in being genuine. And being genuine together as a team is that culture. So we can’t be out there saying… You look at the sales guys, and we have three sales guys. One Wisconsin, one in Massachusetts, and our national sales director, JP, who I think you’ve talked to before. He’s based out of New Jersey. They have an all be here today, which is a fun experience. Because it’s been a while with COVID, that we’ve had.

 

Kip Rapp:

That’s great.


Mike Wolfe:

But we have to give them something… They have to believe in what they’re… It’s very difficult. I’ve been in sales. I sold insurance. Nothing against people who sell insurance. It’s a great way to make a living. It’s a necessity. But that wasn’t the right fit for me. And so you have to believe in what you’re selling and what you’re doing. And I think there’s a few things worse in your work life than showing up or coming in every day with the goal of the day ending. And that’s just a tough way to go through every day. And so, I think for me it’s purpose, and the purpose for us is to create a better company where we can grow, we can help the industry, help everyone in this industry, help our people.

And in doing that, we’re rewarded. And purpose, to me, comes from within. I’m in the stone industry now, I was never in stone industry before. But wherever I go, I’ll find that purpose. And you share that with your team and say, “Look, if you’re open-minded, if you’re willing to learn, you can apply whatever skillset you have to whatever industry it is.” Now there are bad companies, and I think they say great people leave companies because of bad leadership or something like that. But that’s the reality. The culture comes from the leadership. And I tell everyone, I’m like, “Don’t try and work the hours that I work. I’m not expecting that. I’m expecting you to do your job, be transparent, and communicate if there’s an issue and work. And don’t make anyone else’s job harder than it needs to be.”

And that’s how it’s worked out. When you hire someone, or you bring someone in, you have that vision, like, “This is the person. This is going to be great. We’ve gone through all these interviews,” and maybe it’s not working out on both ends. But it could be that there was simply a disconnect. So where else are they interested? What other skillsets do they have? The bar can be set pretty low sometimes, where it’s like, “Well, what are you looking for?” There’s days where I’m like, “I really would just love to have a body, a physical body here. Give us another body to answer the phone or respond to emails.” But the reality is that that’s only a temporary fix.

And so you wait and you look for that right person and say, “Okay. Here’s what this role is going to be.” And then oftentimes when you see that passion or that spark pickup, they gravitate towards something. And our operations coordinator, Tyler, started… As I moved up, he took over a little bit of the marketing and customer service role. And he was more passionate about marketing. But as he got into operations, he’s “I really like being stressed out so many hours a day. I want to keep doing this.” No. He was really into it, so he started to evolve in that way. And then we actually hired Noah, who oversees our marketing now.

So it wasn’t the path that he necessarily thought, but he started gravitating that way. And that’s what happens when you give people opportunity and bring them in. And if someone’s willing to learn and willing to be a part of a team and understands the culture, we’ll find a job for them. We’ll find a role that they’re fitted for.


Kip Rapp:

That’s great. I think that’s definitely very honorable. And the philosophy and culture, I guess, that’s a great piece of culture that you have on how you think about what people need and what drives people in.

Certainly it all sounds very true. People have a passion, to me, which is based on the company and their personality, and it’s not work, and it’s fine. I think that is something that every company can strive forward. We’re all here to make money, but we can do it in a way where it’s transparent and genuine. It supports each other, it helps our customers.

And I do think customers respect that too. They’re looking for relationships and working with honest and trustworthy partners and people. So that’s awesome. I know we talked a lot about that. I did want to touch it a little more on the technology side. And to set that up, I think, as you mentioned, you have a great company there with leadership and culture. And in one sense, companies… I say this, companies aren’t charities, right? They aren’t here like your family. It’s like, “Let’s hug each other. Let’s encourage each other.” It’s a little different.


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah. That’s why I use the word team, not family.


Kip Rapp:

And so how do you then take… Because it is certainly true that it starts with the people, and the culture, and the passion, and then the shared mission and all that to do great work as a team and as a company. But how do you then balance that? And you talked about measuring and technology, where you’re not overburdening the culture. And then you have some personalities that are like, “You’re overburdening me,” just because of their world perspective. So how do you work that in and what do you do as a company to balance the performance of the company versus the culture of the company?


Mike Wolfe:

I think anytime there’s change, people get a little bit nervous. And so by building the foundation of our company and job security, and we’re in this together. When we introduce something new, I think maybe there’s just a little bit, just a little bit, of open-mindedness or a little bit less resistance. Like, okay, we’re making this change and it’s genuinely in the best interest of our company. And here’s why it’s in the best interest of our company. By implementing this you know, by giving tablets or by us being able to track production using technology. I think initially it would have been, “Well, they’re doing it because they want to see how productive I am. And then if I’m not productive, they’re not going to pay me more. They’re going to fire me.”

And that’s not the case. The reality is, I want to see our production and understand it, and see where there’s areas of improvement. Now, people have to be open-minded to that. And that’s part of the culture, is they have to be willing to work with that and understand that if you don’t adapt, you die, you fail. It doesn’t work. And now technology happens quicker and quicker. And so, for us, we’re always forward-thinking. But the same thing, as I say, for individuals, my job is to make everyone else’s job easier.

And Tyler’s job is to make it easier for the customer and for the sales team. And then Ernesto, our production manager, it’s his job to make it easier for the guys in production. And it works its way down. Well, when we implement that technology, it’s the same mindset.

How do we use that technology to make our jobs easier and make it better for ourselves, for our customers? Because in the end, everyone knows they’re all going to be rewarded for that? And then it’s getting feedback. I’ve used the line before, perfection is the enemy of progress. So I’m a big tester. I’m like, “Let’s do this, let’s test this, but I need you guys to tell me if it fails, if it’s not working. Or if there’s an area that needs to be improved,” which I think is hard. It can be hard for people to go to the… I don’t like the word boss or manager. I really don’t like when people. But to come to me and say, “Hey, this thing that you’re trying is really not good.” And maybe they worded it a little more cautiously. But I’m open-minded enough to say, “Okay. Well, why isn’t it good? Is it something that’s a complete fail and you scrap it, or is it something that we have to make an adjustment on that we can improve?”

And so, I think communicating the technology and the open communication that, “Look, this is going to help all of us, and this is going to make your job easier, not replace you. We’re not here to replace you. We want to work with you. And we’re doing this to make your job easier, to make it better for our customers and continue with our philosophy.” And if you have that lead by example philosophy, and we’re all working together towards a common goal, then they’re going to buy in and they’re going to trust. And that’s something that we have to earn. We have to earn the trust of our customers, earn the trust of our team, earn the trust for our people.

And that comes over time, and by continuing to do what we say we’re going to do, and that’s the lead by example part, is continue to demonstrate, “Look, I understand you’re skeptical. This is new, but give me a chance with this. I think I’ve earned that, and see if it makes your job a little bit better. And usually they’re open to it.


Kip Rapp:

Well, there are some great things in there with, one, it’s embedded in this trust already. And change is always tough for some… You said something really cool there, explaining why the change and with that foundational culture, it’s very genuine and empathetic. And dissuading, dispelling the those objections, as you mentioned, a big brother micromanagement.


Mike Wolfe:

That’s what everyone thinks. This is the first thing, technology is going to take over my job. They’re putting this because they want to track me. I’m like, “No. I genuinely want to learn and improve. That’s all we’re looking to do.” And again, knowing because someone doesn’t do well, they’re just not fired on the spot. I don’t know where that culture comes from. I feel terrible for people that-

 

Kip Rapp:

It’s all the other companies they worked at.


Mike Wolfe:

It has to come from somewhere. So historically, maybe they ran into that somewhere. And that’s unfortunate. So you have to show them and break that cycle. That’s what it is. But technology… Jokingly say, technology is wonderful, except for it isn’t. It has so much value. It allows us to provide much better service to our customers. It allows for better research. I mean, your company’s technology. Without it, it’s a very visual thing that is really helpful. And so, when people look at different technology, they can either resist the change, or they can understand how it’s going to help and how it’s going to improve, and be apart of the change, “How do I become proactive?” And so, telling the production manager, “Hey, we’re going to use tablets instead of these…”

I can’t even tell you how many open orders we have, but he would have a clipboard with 50,000 pieces of paper on it. You’d be filming through it and I’m like, “Now, look, you have a tablet now. Here’s what you do.” And now they love it, and it’s made things much easier. And so the sales team can look at the tablets, see where in order is in production and tell the customer, “Here’s where we are, here’s where we’re anticipating.” And it helps the customer communicate to their customer. So it’s really that line of communication and trust. But it is earned. It takes a long time to earn trust. And it’s very easy to lose that.


Kip Rapp:

What you said about, once you’re able to communicate the change in empathetic way and how it can be helpful, and then earning that through action. Because I think that’s the other part that you’re saying, is that you can say all that, but then if you use it as a whip, then it goes out the door. So it sounds like were able to bring the change in and use it in a very empathetic, genuine way to help improve people’s lives and their performance.


Mike Wolfe:

Sure.


Kip Rapp:

And that’s great. I appreciate you sharing. I know we’re coming to the top of the hour. That was more questions.


Mike Wolfe:

I talked a lot, sorry.


Kip Rapp:

We made some great side stories that… I mean, I do think we should do another session in the future, and we can…


Mike Wolfe:

Well, I’m going to get you.


Kip Rapp:

We can do a crossover, right?


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah, that’d be fun. That’d be great. Yeah, it’d be a lot of fun.


Kip Rapp:

Yeah, that’d awesome. So I do appreciate your time. Loved the journey that you told us about how you started the company, the culture. And I do believe in your worldview of what you believe and what the company believes in from the aspects of the culture, to the folks on employees, the empathy, the transparency. That’s awesome, Mike. So, yeah, I would say if people needed to reach out to your company or you, how could they do that?


Mike Wolfe:

Yeah. Just visit our website, delgadostone.com. Or if you’re driving by Brookfield, Connecticut, for some reason you stopped by at 55 Del Mar Drive. But we’re on Instagram @delgadostoneusa, or our website, and check us out and say hi. We like to collaborate and meet people. So I appreciate you having me, as well.


Kip Rapp:

No, that’s great. Absolutely. We can look forward to chat again, and appreciate your time. And yeah, I’ll look forward to that.

 

Graham:

All right. Folks, that wraps us up for today’s show. So you can find our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify and SoundCloud by searching for the Concora Corner. And if you’d like to, we’d love a rating and a short review if you listen on Apple. Any feedback is appreciated on any of our shows that are coming out, or just the show in general, or if you just want to say hello. You can find out more about Concora and our services at www.concora.com. We’re on Facebook at facebook.com/concorallc. We’re on Twitter at Concora, and you can find us on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/concora. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.

 

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