Tom Capizzi found that sales and production working together make for a satisfied customer.
Tom Capizzi found that sales and production working together make for a satisfied customer.

Imagine a home improvement company that balances kitchen and bath installation with roofing, siding, and windows. Plenty of 'em, right? Imagine a company whose installers this year will sell — that is, through change orders — about 24% of its volume. Imagine a company whose salespeople were themselves once installers. And imagine a $4.8 million operation where the owner lives three hours away by plane and shows up every five to six weeks to keep his eye on things.

“I created the company so that it doesn't rely on me to carry out any particular job function other than major hiring and terminations,” says Tom Capizzi, owner of Capizzi Home Improvement in Cotuit, Mass. “I provide the guidance and direction, but I don't have to be in this building 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week all year long. With phone, fax, and e-mail, I can do what I do anywhere.”

Subject to Change When Tom Capizzi took over the operation from his father 12 years ago, he was the company's star salesperson. His sales continued to climb even as general manager and vice president. By the time he made a decision to stop selling, in 2000, Capizzi Home Improvement had two salespeople, and one of them, Tom Capizzi, sold $3.2 million of the company's $4.5 million in volume that year. At that point, Capizzi decided to get out of selling so he could spend more time managing the company as well as expanding other business interests. So he replaced himself. With two people.

Once he quit selling, Capizzi set out to transform the culture of his company by creating systems to manage its sales, installation, and customer service procedures. The systems he created, or picked up from industry consultants such as Phil Rea and Richard Kaller, were about one thing: total customer satisfaction.

A 20-year-old company can be changed, Capizzi says, by putting the right people in the right places. He credits this idea to a business book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don't by Jim Collins. Its message? “You're only as good as the people you have around you, your staff and the culture.”

If you're only as good as your people, hiring the right people becomes all the more critical. Still, Capizzi points out, many business owners and managers prefer to wing it, making do with whoever seems to be able to do the job. “When they really need somebody,” he says, “they're like a hunter who wants to see a deer so badly he'll put antlers on a squirrel and start shooting.” Working to recruit the right people takes more time and energy, Capizzi says, but pays years of dividends.

And it's not like owners have to go it alone. Eight or nine years ago, Capizzi began to use personality profiles, developed by Pinnacle Group International, Media, Pa., to evaluate prospective employees and to make more systematic hiring decisions. Profiling is now central to running the business.

“Today I wouldn't hire a person [for sales, administration, or production] without profiling,” Capizzi says. He points out that the sheer quantity of information on which profiles are based assures their truth and effectiveness.

Using profiles has helped Capizzi become “more articulate” in hiring, and, he says, has made him “more demanding of and cautious about the person I'm going to bring in.”

In addition to hiring, Capizzi uses profiling to reveal employees' “behavioral styles” and to predict how an individual employee will work with co-workers and management. He also had his company profiled. The profile describes Capizzi Home Improvement as if it were an individual: “results-oriented, goal-centered, communicates openly, evaluates his own effectiveness, clarifies and delineates roles and responsibilities, builds upon individual strengths, and resolves internal conflicts with a forgive-and-forget attitude.” In other words, the company's profile is much like its owner's.

Meetings Smooth the Way Profiling helps managers hire right. But they need to know what they're hiring toward, and need to have some vision of what type of organization they seek to create. In Capizzi's case, what he wanted were employees who could manage themselves, or one another, and who would fit into the company culture. For instance, to deliver total customer satisfaction, it's critical that administration, sales, and installation work together at each step of the process. So, at Capizzi Home Improvement, sales and production personnel meet face to face several times a month in TQM (total quality management) meetings. There they review every job underway. The emphasis is on communication, effectiveness, and conflict resolution.

“In a lot of companies, the sales and field staff hardly ever see one another,” says project manager Michael O'Brien, “so there's great animosity and a lot of finger pointing. We have issues, too, but we've created a connection and a bond by having this interface time.”

The “cultural” approach also shows in Capizzi's attitude toward salespeople. Using profiling has helped him focus on the core characteristics of individuals, which has enabled Capizzi to get beyond what he calls the “artificial distinction” between production and sales. The idea that installers can't sell is a misconception, he argues. And putting them to work selling has added a lot of revenue and profit to his company's balance sheets.

“Salespeople come from everywhere,” Capizzi says. “Selling is just communicating and transferring your thoughts to someone else convincingly enough to make them take action.” In fact, Capizzi's four full-time salesmen are proof of the argument. Three previously worked as installers and one drove a company dump truck.