More Feet on the Street

August 1, 2007
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In June and July, Topcon continued the market trend of consolidation by first acquiring national dealer Hayes Instrument Company of Shelbyville, Tenn., and then initiating the partnership of Hayes with dealer and repair company Earl Dudley Inc. of Birmingham, Ala. The two strategic moves give the positioning manufacturer more “feet on the street,” says Jamie Williamson, Topcon’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, who stresses the importance of local sales, support and service to the company’s clientele. The synergy of the three companies, which forms a common holding company for the financial results of Hayes Instrument and Earl Dudley under the name Dudley-Hayes LLC, creates solid coverage in seven Southeastern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Retail and repair stores are located in six cities: Birmingham, Ala.; Atlanta, Ga.; Jackson, Miss.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Nashville and Shelbyville, Tenn.

According to Williamson, the recent moves were spurred by the fact that products and systems continue to be more complex and more deeply integrated within the surveyor’s business. “As we continue to bring out more innovative products and unique solutions for customers, they’re [becoming] more educated and more dependent on the tools we’re providing than they ever have been. We just see this as a natural progression--we’ve got to have extremely competent dealers with feet on the street and facilities in place to provide local support, training and sales capability. Both organizations are extremely strong from the standpoint of technical, capable salespeople and after-sales support.”

The acquisition and partnership are a continuation of an industry trend, says Williamson. “Getting into retail distribution is not necessarily a direction we planned to go,” he says, “but there has already been a great consolidation process in the industry among the dealers themselves independently. It’s been going on over the last several years and it’s a continuation of that.”

John Dudley, president of Earl Dudley Inc., concurs, sharing stories about Earl Dudley Inc.’s takeover of Leica dealers in the early to mid-1980s. “We recognized back then that there was no way as the industry got more technically complicated--as the products required a much deeper and broader knowledge base--that a small, one location dealer with 15 people could have the resources to tackle those products. Even at that time we said that there is no way the manufacturers can stay independent, that the industry is too small to support eight, 10, 12 manufacturers.”

He continues: “The whole reason for doing this for Earl Dudley is to be able to deliver a broader, deeper package of services and capabilities. We’ve been looking at doing a catalog operation in our market area for over 10 years now, but never had enough nerve to jump into it. It’s a great opportunity to expand what we’re offering and to offer a fuller package rather than anything that’s short term to make a few bucks.” Earl Dudley Inc. is a multi-line distributor of surveying and construction equipment.

Eddie Clanton, president of Hayes Instrument Company, looks forward to providing machine control solutions through the partnership. “One reason I’m so excited about joining forces with Earl Dudley is their strength in machine control. They add strength to my organization just through that,” he says. “[And] what we lack in support they’re there to help us do. It’s an honor for us to do this, and I don’t see anything but good coming out of it.”

Earl Dudley has sold and serviced Topcon construction products for more than 10 years. Under the new agreement, the Topcon survey lineup will be added to its offerings. Hayes is one of Topcon’s 13 regional repair centers in the United States. The two distributors have almost 100 years of combined history in the sales, service and support of positioning products, and together employ more than 80 people. Both Clanton and Dudley will remain as presidents of their respective divisions.

Clanton says he agreed to join Topcon because “it has the resources and the people to take what we have worked hard to build and quickly increase the business by expanding our staff. Getting to work with John Dudley in this partnership will only enhance the opportunities to grow our business and give unprecedented levels of service and support to customers.”

Dudley described the partnership as “the best of business opportunities for our customers and employees. We are joining forces with a highly respected survey distributor and one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers of precise precision instruments. We all share a common goal of being the best at what we do: to supply the industry’s best products to end users and provide exemplary customer services without fail.”

So why didn’t Dudley sell Earl Dudley Inc. to Topcon? “We had a different outlook on the future,” he explains. “Our long-term game plan that my father, myself and my two brothers set out in about 1981/’82 was to create a company that had a complete range of both products and services across the entire Southeast region. In the last year, I bought my two brothers out of the business and made a transition to single ownership. I have both a son and a son-in-law in the business, so my vision long term was to have a company to fully realize that dream that we set out about 25 years ago. We’re roughly 10 times the size we were back in 1982. So to sell out now when we are just getting this thing going wasn’t really an option I wanted to consider.”

He adds: “Our hope is that the growth of this company will be in the Earl Dudley tradition: to develop the ability to deliver the finest products combined with support and service (that definition being the knowledge of how to use and knowledge of how to maintain and repair the equipment) so our clients can reach their goals of increased productivity, sales growth and profitability.”

That goal can be met by keeping the customer No. 1 , which all three companies claim they will do. “It’s both from a product standpoint and a services standpoint,” Williamson says. “One of the biggest focuses is going to be on training. Products are continuing to become more complex and more deeply integrated in businesses and it’s our job as a dealer and as a manufacturer to provide the training so they get the most out of those solutions and the most bang for their buck.

“The customer is No 1. All of us are in business to provide service, product and benefit for customers. We understand that if we don’t meet or exceed their expectations, they’ll find someone who will. No matter what the structure of the organization is, the goal is always the same and that is to satisfy our customers’ needs.”

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