Northwest Business Magazine

Kelley Williamson Company: ‘Serve’ Is Key to Service

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You probably best know Kelley Williamson Company for its retail gas stations and convenience stores, but did you know those stores play an important role in the company’s grease and lube division?

Kelley Williamson’s grease and lubricants division serves a number of local industries, serving clients such as auto dealerships, manufacturers and corporate vehicle fleets.

Kelley Williamson’s grease and lubricants division serves a number of local industries, serving clients such as auto dealerships, manufacturers and corporate vehicle fleets.

Quality customer service isn’t just a clever tagline for the Kelley Williamson Oil Co. It’s a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

“Our culture here is that we’re committed to doing everything we can – we’ll move Heaven and Earth – to help our customer,” says David Beto, oil and lubricant sales manager for Kelley Williamson. “The customer is first and foremost in our eyes. That’s the way our company was founded by Walt Williamson and Nate Kelley, and that’s the way we’ll always operate.”

A provider of Mobil oil and gasoline products, Kelley Williamson is recognized around the region for its retail gas stations and Kelley’s Market convenience stores. What many shoppers may not realize, as they fill up their cars, is that the company is also a thriving distributor of oils, greases and lubricants for commercial operations.

“We supply all different types of businesses and industries with lubricants and greases,” says Beto. “We serve trucking company fleets, car dealerships, quick lubes, repair shops, construction companies, general manufacturing, injection moldings, tooling shops, and even the marine and aerospace industries.”

For car dealerships and auto repair shops, Kelley Williamson provides products such as motor oil, transmission fluids and case goods. Manufacturers depend on Kelley Williamson for coolants, lubricants and greases that aid in the manufacturing process.

Kelley Williamson doesn’t stop at oil-based fluids. It goes the extra step by providing equipment for handling grease and lubricant products.

“We provide our customers with hose reels, so that quick lube shops can reach a car or truck with the product, and oil bars – like beer tappers for oil – that plumb away from the tanks, so techs have easier, faster access to the oil,” explains Beto. “We also provide dispensing meters and bulk tanks, not to mention roll-around units, for ease in pushing drums and kegs around in a shop.”

For a hydraulics company, Beto’s team created 300-gallon tanks with wheels, so that crews could push a tank around the shop. “That’s what they wanted, so that’s what we did,” says Beto.

Many decisions in the oil and lubricants division boil down to customer service. If someone has to go out of their way to support a customer or provide a product, Beto says it’s highly encouraged – even if that deters from Kelley Williamson’s bottom line.

“Every competitor we have sells a product that can get the job done,” says Beto. “The difference, we believe, is in part our ability to offer internationally renowned ExxonMobil products.”

Because Kelley Williamson can combine quality products and service with a flexible, customizable product menu, customers have plenty of options, says Beto.

“Everybody can offer decent products, but when you offer superior products and services along with the dedication inherent in our company, you have a better chance of making lifelong customers,” he says. “Do we bat 1,000? Not always, but we sure try to.”

Quality service isn’t unique to the oil and lubricants division. Beto finds that in many cases, a loyal customer of this group is also a loyal customer at the gas pump.

“That’s something we really appreciate and we think about,” he says. “It touches a lot of people, so we try to put our best foot forward, no matter how you work with us.”

Product diversity is important to both sides of the business. On the retail side, customers can find full lines of convenience store items. In the oil and lubricants division, an array of products that serves many markets keeps Kelley Williamson well balanced. It turns out, keeping a diverse customer portfolio has its advantages.

“If you’ve got a nice parity between industrial, commercial vehicle and passenger vehicle customers, and one of those sectors goes soft, diversity allows you to maintain success in other product areas,” Beto says.

Even as Kelley Williamson maintains diversity, it remains fiercely dedicated to the Mobil brand. It’s carried Mobil brand products since the company’s start in 1926, making Kelley Williamson one of the oldest Mobil distributors, says Beto.

When it comes to equipment sales, Kelley Williamson remains similarly dedicated to Graco, and is currently one of the manufacturer’s Top 100 distributors, says Beto.

Not surprisingly, Kelley Williamson’s loyalty to Mobil and Graco goes hand-in-hand with its dedication to customer service.

“If you’ve got four or five brands, what do you offer to your customer, and what do you choose from, to offer your customer?” says Beto. “There’s just one offering with this one line, and Mobil has a superior product for everything. If you’ve got four or five brands, and they can all serve your customer, what do you pick? We don’t have that problem, because Mobil’s got everything you can think of.”

Beto is also quick to remind customers that Mobil carries a reputation for quality and dedicated relationships with many well-known corporations.

“UPS is an Exxon/Mobil customer, so we serve them directly at the airport,” says Beto. “Mobil has so much more business than the competition. They’re partners with GM, and they do a lot of work with Detroit Diesel, a very popular engine dealer. Mobil’s largest customer in the world is Caterpillar. Nobody else has that kind of offering or platform to speak from.”

Mobil may have relationships with industrial goliaths, but it remains dedicated to customers of all sizes.
“If I’ve got to solve a problem for a customer, I can bring in someone from Mobil, and that only reinforces my service,” says Beto. “The customer says, ‘Hey, look, Kelley Williamson cares about my business, and so does Mobil.’”

Kelley Williamson’s convenience stores and gas stations are mostly limited to northern Illinois, although nearly a dozen stores are scattered around greater Madison, Wis. By contrast, the oil and lubricants division serves customers from the Wisconsin Dells to Interstate 80, and from Dubuque, Iowa, to northwest Indiana. It’s an expansive territory, but one with plenty of opportunities, says Beto.

Altogether, the oil and lubrication division maintains seven dedicated salespeople, six drivers and two dedicated office staffers from its Rockford headquarters. Additional office personnel split time between commercial and retail work. Another two drivers operate out of a facility in Waunakee, Wis., north of Madison.

In areas like Rockford, where the company has always served, Kelley Williamson’s name speaks for itself, says Beto, but in areas where its gas stations aren’t located, the oil and lubricants division has to find other ways of building brand awareness.

“We’ve been here in business for almost 90 years, and everyone around Rockford knows us,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of name recognition. The retail stores and gas stations are obviously a huge part of that.”

Technologies have changed drastically since Kelley Williamson’s start in the 1920s as an oil distribution and service station business. New wireless technologies are helping the company to provide more accurate service, but they’re also having a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

“We can set it up for customers to have a monitor on their tanks, and it tells us the level of the tanks remotely, so that we only deliver when the tank is nearly empty,” says Beto. “If you don’t have a monitor, we might show up and the tank is still three-quarters full. With this device, we only go when the tank is three-quarters empty.”

Beto is also looking toward barcoding technology that will help drivers to ensure total accuracy of deliveries. If, for example, a tank says it’s filled with 5W-30 oil, a barcode will help to ensure that’s actually what’s inside. Incorrect orders reflect poorly on customer service.

“As soon as you put the wrong product in the tank, you’ve got egg on your face and you look bad in front of the customer,” says Beto. “It doesn’t take more than a time or two of looking bad before you get negative word-of-mouth. You look like you don’t know what you’re doing.”

With competitors constantly nipping at its heels, Kelley Williamson is shoring up its primary differentiator: service, and Beto finds he’s able to win loyal customers by going above and beyond.

“If we get a new customer from a competitor in Chicago, one thing we hear a lot is that their current vendor can deliver the same day, if the customer is out,” says Beto. “Well, they’re 20 miles from the customer and we’re 70. That’s a challenge, but we’ll go anyway. It may not always make financial sense to go, but the customer is requesting it, so we go.”

In part, Beto believes quality service is closely associated with courteous service.

“Our trucks aren’t small. Often, tanks are located in high-traffic areas and we have to impact customer flow to make a delivery,” says Beto. “We want to show up, deliver, thank them and move on. The least amount of impact we can have on their facility, the better. We want to be as efficient as possible, while also being there for the customer.”

Beto gets pretty excited about service, and it shows. Since an uncle offered him a job at Kelley Williamson in 2001, he’s interacted with customers at many levels. In his current role since 2008, Beto has seen firsthand how the little things make a big difference in keeping customers happy.

“When a customer is in a crisis mode, and we’re able to help them out, that gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” says Beto. “When we get a new customer, that’s great, because then we have the challenge of keeping our promise. We have to show them they made the right decision. There’s a lot of pressure and challenge, but we try to back up our words with actions – we do what we say.”

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