By Cheryl Higley
About B&B Group
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Clientele: Medical, industrial, high-end office and retail
Employees: 25 full-time (winter)
Andy Barker, front, along with Snow & Ice Management Division leader Kevin Mangin (left) and Senior Snow Operations Manager Paul Gidman are the executive team that guides B&B Group through winter operations.
People. They are the heart and soul of B&B Group, so much so that they are front and center in the Indianapolis-based company’s mission statement: “B&B exists to provide a
better quality of life for our associates and customers. We do this by building professional teams who get the job done on time, the first time, and to the customer’s highest expectations.”
Founder Andy Barker takes that mission seriously and he and his team have built a company rooted in Christian faith that values its employees and their well-being above all else.
“The culture at B&B Group is very special and something that we are very intentional about preserving. Commitment to faith, family, selflessness, and work ethic are the cornerstones,” he says. “It is difficult to be at your best in all four of these categories at the same time, so it is important to have people who encourage each other and have the freedom to hold each other accountable.”
Striving to create that culture actually resulted in a fundamental shift in B&B Group’s core service offerings. In 2008, the company’s services not only included snow and ice management but also irrigation and landscaping installation and maintenance — a combination that puts a serious burden on personal and family schedules year-round given the long and unpredictable hours required. Using concepts from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great,” Barker and the executive management team took a hard look at the company and identified service offerings that the company could be the best at and would maximize profitability while improving employees’ quality of life.
“Snow and ice management and irrigation ultimately give us that family friendly balance we sought,” Barker says. “We’ve built our business to support snow removal, which accounts for more than 50% of our revenue. That takes a big commitment, especially in our market, where 85% of events are non-plowable.”
Honing in on snow meant B&B Group was able to build balance into the schedule for its 15 full-time employees (25 in the winter), with the caveat that come winter, all bets were off.
“They know that from December to April their schedules are vulnerable. What I can offer in return is a reduced and flexible work schedule the rest of the year. Because of that, in the last couple of years we’ve actually turned down work that would compromise our model.”
B&B Group’s efforts also extend to the subcontractors who help service clients throughout the Central Indiana region.
“Having a strong relationship with our subcontractor partners is very important and it is built on mutual trust,” says Kevin Mangin, who heads B&B Group’s snow division. “We have to trust them to show up on time with properly functioning equipment and perform the scope that we have outlined at the beginning of the season. They have to trust that we have allocated their equipment correctly, that we have done our due diligence on the site and most importantly, that they will be paid in a timely manner.”
High level of service: B&B Group only serves clients who demand a stringent level of service, primarily medical, industrial, high-end office and retail.
Still in the field
Despite a customer base that includes more than 200 sites, you’ll find Barker on the front lines during an event. While he doesn’t have a specific scheduled route, he is always in the field doing quality control, helping where needed and looking for ways to improve efficiencies.
“Some subs or customers don’t even know who I am and will come up and tell me I missed a spot,” he says. “It’s very ‘Undercover Boss’ but it’s not intentional. I still go out and love to plow and to get a pulse for how things are going. But the team really is the secret to our success.”
High-demand customers in the mix
A key point of differentiation for B&B Group is that snow and ice management in Indianapolis is less of a commodity. That has allowed the company to attract clients (primarily medical, industrial and high-end office and retail) who demand a high level of service. The company is careful not to take on properties outside of its niche markets or those who expect less than that level of service.
“We put the decisions as close to the front lines as possible. We know our customers’ tenants and building technicians on a first-name basis,” says Field Operations Manager Preston Beeler, noting that it’s not uncommon for the team to go the extra mile and clear windshields for moms and nurses or shovel a path to a car during an ongoing event. “My goal is to support our team by making sure the vision is achieved and lending a hand wherever I can.”
Delivering that high level of personal service requires tight coordination of everyone’s efforts, but the payoff is worth it, says Craig Monson, field operations manager.
“Winter preparation is a very stressful time at B&B. Meetings start early to prepare routes, size equipment for each lot, allocate manpower, etc. But once the snow finally falls, nothing feels better than when everything comes together.”
Technology at the forefront
Delivering on that high-demand level of service requires a company that is nimble and can react quickly. Technology allows B&B Group to eliminate redundancies and to identify weak spots, which ultimately delivers a better experience for the customers, vendors and staff. The company leverages the wealth of available technology to streamline its perfected processes and systems. Barker says those in the office deserve a huge amount of recognition for the critical role they play in ensuring field operations run smoothly.
“By utilizing technology I can support our team with tools to retrieve the information they need 24/7 (in real time), not just when the office is open,” says Jennifer Fettig, administrative assistant, sales and operations.
Investing in technology: B&B Group is a company of professionals that embraces technology and isn’t afraid of change. Teams in the field are equipped with smartphones and tablets to allow for seamless connectivity.
The importance of having great people in the company who value their place on the team and truly want the company to succeed have been essential to B&B Group’s growth.
“Liability, equipment, materials, facilities, personnel, technology, and documentation require a lot more of our time than it did 4 to 5 years ago,” Mangin says. “But working a snow event is still the most fun and rewarding activity we do.”
As Barker looks to what the future holds, he is mindful of making the best decisions that will benefit his team.
“I am humbled that we are celebrating 25 years of service; but it has made me aware of the responsibility to plan for the future since eventually someone else will have the opportunity and responsibility to steer this awesome ship,” he says.
The team continues to systematize and document functions so the business is not dependent on one or two key people and will continue to build value, stability and predictability.
“We are very passionate about snow. We get excited about it and we love it. We want to grow as long as the Lord will allow it. Maintaining our reputation and creating opportunity for our team is most important. When they win, we all win,” he says. “Our goal is not to be the biggest. It’s to be the most admired.”
B&B Group builds team-centric culture
A team that plays together, stays together! During snow and ice management events, B&B Group team members are all business in the field and in the office. But they also like to spend time together in the off-hours, whether its going to the gun range, go-kart racing or serving their community.
For several years, respondents to the State of the Industry survey have indicated recruiting and retaining labor as a troublespot that impacts snow operations. Given B&B Group’s team-centric approach, Snow Business asked President Andy Barker for his keys to success.
- Referrals work best. “Almost always, the ones who work hard and stay for the long haul are those who’ve been recommended by those who already work for us. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for us.”
- Pay well and on time. From the beginning, all payroll and taxes have been handled by a third party. The company also does wage surveys to ensure it pays better than others in the market. Route managers also have a bonus program in place. “They are motivated every time there is a snowflake to promote a team atmosphere and encourage everyone to do their best.”
- Nobody goes home until everyone goes home. Toward the end of an event it’s not unusual to see a large caravan of trucks headed to an area to help others finish their routes. “Following an event you can often find our team having breakfast together to decompress but also to discuss lessons learned and what we can do better next event.”
- Lighten up. The B&B Group enjoys spending time together outside of work, whether it’s going to the gun range, go-kart racing, or helping each other with personal projects. “We take our work very serious but don’t take ourselves nearly as serious.”
- No demand and command. “I and my managers don’t operate with an ‘ivory tower mindset.’ I want us to come together, to use our team members’ ideas.”
- Manage to their strengths. Learn each person’s strengths, and set them up to succeed. “Knowing their strengths sets them up for wins. It provides opportunity for people who want to grow and advance as well as those who are content with their place in the company.”
"We’ve developed a mission, vision and philosophy that is heartfelt, has meaning and is ingrained in what we do,” Barker says. “You can hire and/or teach technical skills, which is why we’re more concerned with people skills within our team. When building a culture, no one is a robot or the same; but we’re marching to disciplines, principles and commonalities of what we do so we execute with excellence. My goal is to make myself the lowest common denominator and to surround myself with great people, because great people build great companies.”
Cheryl Higley is editor in chief of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos by Shawn Spence.