Best of Business 2018Oct 02, 2018 ● By Allie Spletter
Background sketches by John Lee Smith Photography by Chris Fritchie
Winner: Building a Winning Team
Shades of Green
As the old saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in team,” and there is no place that saying rings more true than in the workplace. Teamwork is vital to a business’s survival, and it takes a special kind of leadership to build winning teams, which is why Shades of Green is being honored with the 2018 Best of Business award for Building a Winning Team.
Shades of Green is a family-owned garden center and landscape installation company that has been keeping North Texas green and growing for more than 40 years. The business started in 1979, when the operations manager, Jarratt Calvert’s, father-in-law, Jeff McCauley, started mowing yards with a buddy from high school. “Fast forward to now! We have a retail/wholesale garden center and a full-service landscape design and installation team. Generally, plants make people happy. They create beautiful backyards due to the relaxing effects. Our location off Coit Road is more than a garden center — it is like a park or arboretum,” Mr. Calvert explains.
Mr. Calvert knows the nursery and landscape industry is unique in the world of retail. For many people, plants are not just something they have in the yard and never think about. They are often so much more. “Plants evoke an emotional response and most consumers have very personal feelings about their plants,” he explains. “When they need help, either because a plant is dying or it is time to replace parts of the landscape, for whatever reason, they want more than just advice on what tree, shrub or flower grows best in a given area. They want to be heard. They want to know the sales team member they are speaking with is not only knowledgeable, but empathetic. They want to be reassured that all will be well and the garden they love so much can thrive once more. Having a winning team is crucial to this type of interaction. It is imperative we have staff that is not only qualified to discuss plants, but that is personal, approachable and understanding. Without quality ‘people persons’ on our team, we could not succeed in our industry.”
Shades of Green sets itself apart from the competition by maintaining an eagerness to help employees and customers learn. “People come to us because we know the answers. We can maintain this in our winning team by understanding that plant knowledge can be learned. Hiring eager, friendly and hardworking people is the first step in creating the team. Once they are on board, we set them up with proper continuing education, certification opportunities and hands-on experience. They do not feel pressured to have all the answers, but, collectively, we make sure our customers are given accurate information,” says Mr. Calvert.
The company prides itself on being communicative with their team, which has, in turn, led to quite the familial atmosphere. “Since our ‘office’ is the original farmhouse that was on the property, it feels like a home away from home for our staff. Everyone gathers in the kitchen to clock-in and have coffee each day. As in most homes, it is the hub around which life at the nursery revolves. Anything we need to let staff know about, we simply post in the kitchen where it will be seen by all. We do not have a huge staff since we are a small, family-owned business, and we all enjoy walking the yard (our sales floor) throughout the day. This naturally leads to one-on-one interactions with all staff members. Communication is not something that requires concerted effort. It just happens organically, which is very fitting for a business dedicated to providing healthy plants. This excitement is contagious and spreads readily through the ranks. We encourage everyone to offer suggestions on how to make our location more beautiful, appealing and pleasant. In just the past year, we have undertaken a major renovation of our rainwater retention pond and have started building new tables for smaller plants. These were all staff-initiated ideas. The tables were even designed and built by staff members! We feel this creates a culture of ownership and instills pride in our employees.”
Winner: Winning New Customers
Frisco Association for the Arts
The Frisco Association for the Arts, founded in 1996, has made significant, if not downright extraordinary, strides since appointing Tammy Meinershagen as the executive director. In less than a year-and-a-half, as the only employee of Frisco Arts, with the help of her growing team and vision, through the leadership of Mrs. Meinershagen, the membership of Frisco Arts has increased by 700 percent. This increase is very much the reason the Frisco Association for the Arts is being awarded with this year’s Best of Business award in Winning New Customers.
Mrs. Meinershagen has long held the arts close to her heart and sees her passion for the arts as a way to build up her community through education and involvement. She very much views the arts as her first language. She shares, “What makes us the most successful at winning customers (or members) to Frisco Arts is our commitment to three things, which include respect for others, maintaining excellence in all we do and holding true to a shared vision and passion. Without these three things, we could not have grown from a small board of directors to a strong community of passionate arts advocates with our members, ambassadors, volunteers, Advisory Council, Youth Council, Ladies Who Launch, SmART Men and the new Frisco Arts Young Adults.”
The group’s success is a true testament to the creative revolution Mrs. Meinershagen and the association have fostered in both Frisco and North Texas. The association is comprised of a diverse group of professionals, amateurs and art enthusiasts who learn from and appreciate all forms of art. “We cast a wide net for our members, making available music, theater, book club, dance, visual arts and much more. We have a wonderful synthesis of membership diversity and strive to provide exposure for all kinds of art to meet the needs of our membership that span many ages, cultures and backgrounds. Whether it is the Red Carpet Concert Series or the Ladies Who Launch networking event, a waitlist is typical for each of our events!” Mrs. Meinershagen says.
The larger the membership, the stronger the voice of art advocacy is. And based on the climb in membership and standard sold out events, it is clear Frisco Arts is serving an untapped yet vibrant market in Frisco. “We are a collective impact organization that shows the power of art to the individual and to our community, as a whole. We would lose impact without the membership voice,” Mrs. Meinershagen says.
As the association has grown and flourished, it has tapped into cross-sector marketing, bringing the arts into new places while creating connections that did not exist before. Ladies Who Launch connects women in arts and business and serves as a mentoring and networking opportunity for entrepreneurs and “wantopreneurs.” They do not forget the men, as the first SmART Men event took place this summer, allowing men to network and learn the art of cigar making. Mrs. Meinershagen says, “There is an art to everything!” Through Frisco Arts, Mrs. Meinershagen is shaping and changing the leadership of what the arts in Frisco can look like.
She realized, long ago, the potential for the arts in Frisco, and her love of the arts is contagious. She has earned the respect of community members, including politicians and professional athletes because she is a visionary.
The pioneering programs she has implemented inspire many who want to help propel her vision. When Mrs. Meinershagen sees a need, she meets it, and, therefore, she is successful in winning new customers by providing innovative programming and creating an ambassadors program. There are 11 ambassadors for Frisco Arts, who share a passion for the arts and the vision of what art can and will be in Frisco. Each ambassador brings something unique to the group, and it will come as no surprise that they are all from different backgrounds and industries.
Winner: Leadership and Vision
Crest Auto Group
A company is nothing without leadership and vision, which for most businesses, lays the foundation on which the business is built and thrives. Crest Auto Group, comprised of Crest Cadillac and Crest Infiniti, demonstrates exemplary leadership and vision that propels them to the top, as they have earned the title of Best of Business in Leadership and Vision.
Crest has served the Dallas/Fort Worth area since 1976, and has been in its current Frisco location for three years. When the group set out to build in Frisco, they wanted to bring the comforts of home into their dealership, as well as the luxuries that delight customers. Crest’s team and their commitment to excellence has earned their dealerships many industry accolades, and Crest continues to be an industry leader. Both Crest Cadillac and Crest Infiniti have received the prestigious Dealer of the Year award multiple years running.
Steve Lee, the marketing director for Crest Auto Group, has been in the car business since he was 13, where he began sweeping lots and washing cars. Of making his start in the auto industry, Mr. Lee recalls, “I watched my dad do it and always knew that was what I wanted to do. I am helping people with the second-biggest purchase of their life, assisting them and making decisions that help them. I realized, if you work hard and put in the hours, you can make good money.”
Mr. Lee very much recognizes that leadership and vision are key factors in allowing him to run a highly-successful team and business. “Leadership and vision are the elements of my management duties that receive the most focus,” he explains. “My team is clearly my most important asset, and they are the sole reason Crest Cadillac and Infiniti are successful.” Mr. Lee believes that creating the vision of where the company wants to be as an organization, and providing adequate leadership, allows him to maximize the talents of his team, so they can achieve constant progress. “That is our goal,” he says.
Leadership and vision not only make for a highly-successful business, but they allow for businesses to grow and flourish while serving their customers and community, driving their business and ensuring success. “The best way to grow my business is to provide exemplary leadership for my employees, so they will follow my example and be great stewards in our community,” Mr. Lee says. “Our customers recognize and appreciate our community involvement, and our employees grow their potential customer base by building stellar reputations and solid relationships with members of our community.”
As a leader, Mr. Lee believes in involving his team members in maintaining his solid leadership and vision, and that it contributes to the auto group’s success. Of such involvement, he says, “I hire great people and they inject themselves into leadership roles without having to be asked. Berkshire Hathaway is an incredible organization. We attract great talent, and they recognize the extraordinary opportunity for growth. We challenge our team members to be leaders, and when they succeed, they find opportunities like I found.”
Crest Auto Group is proud to call Frisco home, and Mr. Lee compares his motivation to grow his own business to the booming growth Frisco is experiencing. “Doing business in Frisco absolutely excites me! Frisco is a young, vibrant, fast-growing community. My trip to the office is incredibly motivating. Watching new businesses pop up around us makes me excited, especially thinking about the future growth of my own business.”
Crest Cadillac and Crest Infiniti moved to Frisco because they recognized the growth potential due to the desirable demographics of the community. “We believed that, if we designed a luxury dealership focused on a fantastic customer experience, we could be the best Cadillac and Infiniti dealerships in America. Hiring great people and illustrating the phenomenal opportunities that await them is the best way to motivate. When an employee focuses on growing our company, he is typically rewarded with success and personal growth,” Mr. Lee says.
Winner: Structure and Organization
Jersey Mike’s Subs
Structure and organization are pivotal to any business, given that both allow for business owners and employees to run highly-successful and efficient daily operations, while still maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction. Business owner Steve Zeigler has done just that, earning Jersey Mike’s the Best of Business award in Structure and Organization.
After 23 years in the corporate world, and seven moves around the country, Mr. Zeigler knew it was time to put down roots in a community and get involved — which meant finding the perfect franchise that would allow him the opportunity to do so. “It started with a two-hour meeting with the founder of Jersey Mike’s, ending in a handshake deal for our first store in 2008. My son, a recent college graduate, joined me in the venture, and we opened our second store in 2009,” he explains.
In 2009, they joined the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and met many like-minded individuals, and from there, established a business plan to open an additional five stores in Frisco. “We planned our growth to cover the west, east, central and now south areas of Frisco, and north will follow in the next year or so,” he shares.
Mr. Zeigler knew that in order to survive in today’s ultra-competitive quick-service industry, and in the restaurant industry in North Texas, he and his team had to have a plan. “Since day one, we have had a fluid business plan, which included an organizational structure we could develop to allow for growth when the right opportunity arose. A mistake many make is expanding too rapidly, before you have the correct pieces in place to ensure success. Owning your own business can sometimes be overwhelming, regardless of whether or not you have a franchise behind you. What keeps you on track is a plan and processes. As you expand, it is vital each location meets the same standards, and the only way to achieve this is to have a clear vision of expectations that are easily understood by all levels of the organization. Each general manager and their leadership team knows their daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals for daily sales, food and labor cost. The general managers are responsible for reporting their progress toward the goals. In turn, each of the shops has the same set of procedures, from opening to closing. We have checklists to guide them through the day, week and month. When things get crazy, you get back to basics,” Mr. Zeigler explains.
Structure and organization can make or break a business, and Mr. Zeigler believes that using it as a foundation for his businesses is what helps his team excel in customer service and ensuring success across the board. “We do what we do to be a positive influence on those we touch. Without our careful planning and forecasting, we would not be able to live up to this promise. To fulfill our promise to do what we do, because that is who we are, it is imperative that we abide by our founding principles and follow procedures, while making intelligent business decisions. Our belief is that we are in the people business, and as long as we take care of our people by doing what is right for the right reasons, the rest will take care of itself — because of the organization and structure we have in place.”
From the day employees sign a simple one-page sheet of expectations and standards, they are held accountable. Each crew member is empowered to coach up fellow teammates, which is proof that, without teamwork, the system will not run smoothly. “We have a system in place to allow our crew to grow at a pace with which they are comfortable. Training is charted for all to see and follow, and perfecting a skill and becoming a leader is rewarded. Monthly meetings are held at each level and crew and managers are encouraged to give input to how we can get better at what we do every day.”
Winner: Customer Engagement
Dent Squad USA
While customer service, leadership and structure are all pivotal parts of a thriving business, keeping customers engaged in all facets of the business builds a new level of commitment to excellence on both the customer and employee side. This is why Joe Davis of Dent Squad USA, which is being given this year’s Best of Business award in Customer Engagement, places such an emphasis on customers!
Mr. Davis started Dent Squad USA in 1994, when paintless dent repair (PDR) was still a new industry. When insurance companies accepted PDR as the repair method of choice in the mid 1990s, it was clear to Mr. Davis that it would be his career. “I love what I do because, at heart, I am a car guy. My family owned a car lot while I was growing up. My mother raced dirt track stock cars and my dad and I were her pit crew. I recently restored a 1929 Model A to be shiny, loud and fast, just the way an old car should be, and I have several other project cars underway. Being in PDR means, every day, I am able to see damaged cars brought back to life. It would be very difficult for me to let a car roll out of my shop with anything left unrepaired. I love seeing customers excited to pick up their cars and say, ‘It has not looked this good since it was brand new,’” Mr. Davis explains.
Mr. Davis says Frisco’s explosive growth was the catalyst to growing his team in 2013. As he added experienced technicians and administrative support in and around the business, it thrived and has continued to do so. Through that growth, Mr. Davis and his team have found that true customer engagement happens on many levels after they have earned their customers’ trust and have gotten them in the door. “A person’s vehicle is the key to their livelihood. Of course, they must trust the business to which they turn over the keys to their car. We engage with customers on social media by answering frequently asked questions, demonstrating the repair process and advertising our A+ Better Business Bureau rating,” Mr. Davis explains.
Mr. Davis and his team were even recently featured on CBS 11’s “What’s Up DFW” segment, where they were able to address common concerns in choosing a shop to repair hail damage. Trust is key, and maintaining that trust between a customer and the service they receive is paramount. “We have found the best way to maintain such trust is through constant communication. We provide ongoing updates throughout the insurance claim and repair process to ensure customers their repair project is moving forward,” he says.
Providing outstanding service to customers and the community while driving business only increases the business’s desire to fully-engage customers, which might be thought of as hard to do when customers only rarely experience the need for Mr. Davis and his team’s main service. This only drives their desire to maintain consistency in engaging customers so they keep coming back when a need arises. “We stay top-of-mind with clients by providing other services besides PDR. We repair door dings, offer windshield repairs or replacements, window tint, paint touch up, detailing and anything else a customer may need to keep their car looking like new. If we do not offer the service, we will connect our customer with one of our trusted partner vendors,” Mr. Davis explains.
Dent Squad USA continually engages customers all year long, not just in their peak season, which is during spring hail storms. Through social media, the company educates customers on caring for their vehicle, how the PDR process works and offers additional services to keep customers’ vehicles looking like new. “We rely on customer reviews to be another barometer of customer engagement. We have consistently high ratings and we certainly value this greatly,” Mr. Davis says. “We want every customer to have an experience they feel is exceptional enough to be worth the time to leave a review. We encourage customers to leave us feedback when we deliver their car, but if we do not hear from them, we contact them to follow up. This is not just about building our online ratings -- this is truly about knowing the customer is satisfied.”
Winner: Serving Your Customers
Lone Star Benefits
Many people agree that serving customers is the cornerstone to the success of any business. Putting the customer’s needs at the forefront of the business and how it operates generates satisfaction, growth and an overall appreciation for both customers and employees the business serves. Lone Star Benefits has far outdone itself in this area and is being honored with the Best of Business award for Serving Your Customers.
Lone Star Benefits was founded in 1998. Principal Heather Bowers joined the agency in 2000. She recalls, “I never dreamed I would end up in the employee benefits world, but while I was between jobs, my dad (the founder of Lone Star Benefits) invited me to come work in his agency in the interim. 18 years later, I am still here!”
Ms. Bowers admits there is an incredible and intangible reward about being in a job one loves. At Lone Star Benefits, positive differences are made in people’s lives, whether it is assisting a business owner with implementing a strong benefits program to help them attract and retain talent, holding an employee’s hand while they are battling cancer or guiding someone through the claims process,” she explains. “To make others’ lives easier is just something I love to do. I have an outgoing personality and love serving people. Being in a sales position, where my outgoing personality can shine, but then being able to give back to my clients by serving them, makes me so happy and provides me a career that is so fulfilling.”
While many might deem the insurance industry as one that is quite similar across the board, service is what sets leaders apart, and the service a client receives from their agent after the open enrollment benefit meetings are over is what makes a team stand out in the industry. Lone Star Benefits is so confident in their service model that they have coined the “5 Point Star Service Guarantee,” which is comprised of exceptional service support, client-centered values, principal contacts, expanded accessibility and broad market search.
Lone Star Benefit’s drive to serve customers is the reason a large majority of their business comes from referrals from satisfied customers. “Our clients and contacts refer us to companies, as they have seen and believe in the service model we provide. We fully believe if we are treating our clients the way they should be treated, business will always follow. Serving in the community and giving back is just icing on the cake. It is just another way to make a small footprint on such an awesome city,” Ms. Bowers says.
Ms. Bowers attributes much of their customer-driven success to her team, while admitting they are very selective when it comes to hiring talent. “We do not view our clients as an account number, but as friends and family. So, we hire team members we know will view and treat our clients the same way. Because of our service model, team members are frequently praised by our clients and it is not uncommon for a client to send a ‘you rock!’ email almost weekly. Admittedly, everyone likes to be appreciated, so when our clients thank our team members, it makes them love our clients that much more, given that they know they are making a positive difference.”
Lone Star Benefits was established on a high-touch white glove service level, which is rarely seen in the insurance industry anymore. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the majority of boutique agencies sold off to large national brokerages and they are unable to operate on a high service model. “We are continuously validated by all of our insurance carrier reps, as they frequently tell us most brokers in the metroplex just do not offer near the service we do. That makes me happy! I always say I would bet my annual salary against any other broker when it comes to the actual service their clients receive because I am that confident in the service model we deliver,” Ms. Bowers says.
Winner: Giving Back to the Community
As a community, Frisco is known for a variety of factors that have made our city great, and giving back to the community is one aspect that stands above the rest. The businesses in our community are highly-philanthropic in their endeavors and pride themselves on being charitable. The Texas Legends are no different and have earned the Best of Business award in Giving Back to the Community.
The Texas Legends got its start in 2009, when Donnie Nelson, the president and general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, bought the (then) Colorado 14ers and decided to move them to Frisco. He invested in the team, and the NBA’s Development League, partly because he believed in the future of the league and thought it would be a good move for the Mavericks to have a developmental team right up the road. More importantly, Mr. Nelson wanted a way to give back to the community that had given so much to him and his family. “Frisco was the perfect location because of the community’s heart,” says Britney Wynn, the vice president of media relations. “The purpose of the team and the meaning behind the name was to celebrate and give back to true legends in the community. The first step was the games -- how to really live out that mission while hosting a professional basketball game. So, we began with three charity jersey nights. Over the next few years, Mr. Nelson got the league to agree to more nights and the community got involved to land the team with 24 nights (the team has 24 home games) to celebrate nonprofits.”
For every home game, the Texas Legends spotlight a nonprofit. Every performance in the game is a kids’ group or features a local aspiring artist. The night becomes a celebration and reflection of something far bigger than basketball. “Our staff loves doing what we do because it is our owner and leadership that makes this a special organization. They truly believe in our mission, and, while we still have to run like a business, there is a heavy focus on what we are doing to make the community around us better. I think that culture is why we have grown like we have. The community supports us because they see the heart behind it and they want to be a part of something bigger than basketball or business,” Ms. Wynn explains.
The overall drive to give back to the community is what drives employees, as well. Ms. Wynn says the company’s philanthropic endeavors give employees something to work for, as it is an integral part of their business and is what their business model is built upon. “The Legends family is here for a reason. Beyond basketball games and networking, they enjoy being a part of something that impacts the community,” she says. The intangible pride and love for giving back to the community comes from the ownership level down, and that it is very much instilled in the culture of the team.
“There is so much to love about Frisco, but the people are top of the list. The residents of Frisco have embraced this team far better than we ever could have imagined and just continue to help support us and our mission. Every time our staff is out at community events or Chamber outings, they come back with stories of partners talking them up better than they could. Our players and coaches feel it, too. They love being at home. There is a real home court advantage for them, and that is unique for our league. There is no other team in the G League with better fans or a better hometown,” Ms. Wynn shares.
As an organization and a team, the Texas Legends try to be out in the community as much as possible. Their focus is not on trying to do more than other teams, but on trying to find needs and meet them wherever possible. They strive to be involved in every aspect of the community, from schools and nonprofits to fun community outings. Ms. Wynn says, “We have the opportunity to come to a job we are passionate about and truly enjoy. And that job happens to have a natural platform when it comes to giving back. It is part of the business of sports, but in a good way. It is so easy for us to use our position to make an impact, so we should go above and beyond what is expected.”
Winner: Metrics and Financial Results
In her career, the most valuable piece of business insight Michelle Young has received is that you cannot manage what you do not measure – a philosophy which she has taken to heart through the years. Together with her husband, Theron, the couple is being honored with the Best of Business award in Metrics and Financial Results.
The Youngs began Legacy Plumbing in 2006, with Mr. Young walking door-to-door, passing out flyers in their family’s neighborhood. They wanted to create a company that treated employees and customers the way they wanted to be treated and have grown steadily since those early days, now boasting a staff of around 30 people. Those staff members work day in and day out to live by the company’s core values that include redefining what service is, inspiring each other to be the best versions of themselves and to spread good by doing good. “Legacy Plumbing has become a platform to accomplish our core values, and we are so proud of our team and how we have grown,” Mrs. Young says.
Metrics and financial results are tactile, tried and true ways for business owners to gauge success, which is something the Youngs began doing with Legacy Plumbing years ago. Mrs. Young explains, “We started tracking every piece of information we could collect in effort to identify trends, monitor performance and easily make adjustments to our business. Being upfront and honest has always been a point of culture with our customers and employees. Posting our company metrics for our team to see really boosts the feeling of autonomy within our team, which is critically important to our culture and morale. We are able to make decisions based on facts and figures, rather than hunches and emotion.”
Most of the metrics Mrs. Young and her team track directly correlate to customer satisfaction, because, in their opinion, that is what it is all about. “We are in the business of redefining what service means,” she says. “When this is a core belief of your company and culture, it is easy to take pride in your job. A successful employee at Legacy Plumbing is one who has raving fans, which they all do! Our employees have a lot to be proud of! They do outstanding work and are the best of the best in their trade.”
Legacy Plumbing utilizes a technician performance dashboard that was designed to track the key profit drivers and killers in their business. The company gives a percentage of their profits back to employees in a profit pool, so establishing key performance indicators (KPI) is an important part of keeping their team working together to reach a common goal. Mrs. Young and her team track KPIs including comment cards, refunds, repairs, recalls, average sales, daily sales, weekly sales, monthly sales and more that are designed in easy-to-read graphs and charts. The team can quickly identify potential problem areas and celebrate wins with the team. The Youngs do not wish to create a pressured sales environment where technicians feel compelled to push or sell a customer something they do not need. However, each individual technician’s sales are tracked on a performance sheet that is sent to technicians each month so they can evaluate how they are doing.
“Serving our customers is the priority. We have always maintained the mindset that if you treat people the way you want to be treated and always do the right thing, even when no one is looking, the rest will fall into place. By tracking our KPIs, we are able to stay connected with our customers’ needs and wants more efficiently, instead of focusing our energy on services that are not in line with customer demand,” Mrs. Young says. “In general, our team has extremely high expectations of themselves and their teammates and they motivate each other to stay above that bar of expectation. Our metrics and financial results are no exception.”