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66: Addressing the Challenges of Running an Appliance Service Department, with Mark Pollitz

Written by Rob Stott

April 20, 2021

Mark Pollitz appliance servicers

Nationwide Marketing Group recently brought in Mark Pollitz in the newly-created role of Director of Service. Pollitz sat down with the Independent Thinking Podcast to talk about the challenges this segment of appliance retailers face and his plans to help them become more efficient.

Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and I’m real excited today to dive into a fairly new initiative for Nationwide Marketing Group. And I get to do it with the guy that Nationwide brought into lead the charge here for our Service Leaders Network and that’s Mark Pollitz, our director of service. Mark first of all, thank you for taking the time and joining us here from sunny Florida on our Independent Thinking podcast.

Mark Pollitz: Well, thank you Rob. It’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.

Rob Stott: Absolutely, absolutely. And we’ve chatted a couple times, but excited to get you on the podcast and kind of talk about, let everyone else in on the awesome stuff that you guys are doing with the Service Leaders Network. But before we dive into that, I want to learn a little bit more about you. Tell us a little bit about your background and kind of what you bring to the table here for Nationwide Marketing Group and our members.

Mark Pollitz: Well Rob, it’s always a hard thing to try to talk about yourself and make those points. But I’ve got 40 years of service. This year is my 40th year in the appliance service business. And it has been good to me. It’s been great to me. It’s a great industry and like so many people that may have entered into appliance industry and into the sales and the service in the beginning stages, they may not have felt like it was a viable, permanent solution to their career path, as did I. However, I have found that it has just been one of the greatest industries to be involved in. I’ve had great opportunities, great successes. I’ve had many challenges as all of us do and I’ve had opportunities to turn a lot of those challenges into success stories. Over the 40 years, I started out as just a greenhorn technician back in 1981 and someone gave me an opportunity and hired me. They saw my technical abilities and analytical skills and up until the point of being hired, I was great at taking things apart.

I’ve taken things apart as a kid all the time I was growing up. Finally I had the opportunity to learn how to put them back together and they actually work. It was a great opportunity. I really enjoy it. And as I’m mentioned, started out as a greenhorn technician, quickly rose up through the ranks of service manager for an independent service company. Then I went on to work for a dealership and became service manager there. And from there that launched my interest into starting my own business, which I did in 1988. I started my own independent service company and that was successful at that for a couple of years. And then I decided I wanted to get into sales.

I started a sales partnership with a gentlemen and we had both sales and service as well as an independent service company to service the needs of basically my competition. It was a wonderful thing, wonderful opportunity and I learned all the successes of being an entrepreneur and also the challenges of what it’s like to just sink your heart and your soul into your business and have a 70 hour work week. And as hard as it was, it was just a great experience.

I had an opportunity in 1997 to be hired by Maytag as a factory rep and I humorously say that that is when I crossed over into the dark side. And as a factory rep, one of the reasons they hired me was because I did have a successful service business and was a factory authorized service center for all of the Maytag brands and many, many more, but also because of my business experience, both as a dealer, a servicer and as an entrepreneur. And had that opportunity to become employed with Maytag as an account rep and a product trainer.

I had a fairly large territory within Florida and the Southeast US and had great opportunities. Met so many wonderful people that were independent dealers and retailers and independent servicers. And these were folks just like myself that had a dream, had a vision, had a passion and they launched that on their own or with the help of family. And they too were going through the process of learning the successes and the challenges and sometimes the failures as well. And so always have had a passion for the independent business minded person, the independent appliance dealership and servicer.

With Maytag, because of my background experience, they employed me on a special project to create a business management program. It took myself and my co-producer of that almost a year to produce a full 16 hour, two day curriculum and course on managing your business from A to Z. And we took that all across the US and Canada, just the two of us, and taught all of our classes at all of our regional sales headquarters and in hotels and everywhere we could bring together business owners that would sit in these courses and learn how to manage their business. Great opportunity there.

I’ve also had experience with on the dark side with other companies, LG appliances and electronics, Electrolux appliances and Generally Electric and most recently Samsung. With each of those organizations, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a little something different about how they go to market, how they go to business. It certainly gave me the perspective and while employed by them, even the mindset of how to negotiate rates, how to set and monitor policies and processes and work with the independent networks on how to create a quality service that they were providing for our branded customers.

Rob Stott: Right. The cool thing is that through all of that, first of all, you get the experience from, as you say, A to Z of managing a business, both on the retail side and then on the manufacturer side as well, which is cool. You get that kind of the light side and the dark side perspective of that, the force in the dark side, if you will. And then, not to mention the fact that training has kind of always been sort of permeated throughout what you do, whether that’s training servicers on the retail side or developing training programs on the manufacturer side. Developing those programs, clearly a strong suit. As you’re developing those programs to sort of assist retailers in their servicer programs, are there certain elements that kind of stand out to you as to what’s important or what areas need to be focused on more than others in a service program?

Mark Pollitz: Well, each company is different because each company has their capabilities and each organization and company have their strengths and their weaknesses. When I look at a company and I’ve done a lot of individual consultation and business management consultation onsite with service companies and with dealerships, I try to observe as much as I’m able the efficiencies that they have. And I think the biggest thing is the word efficiency that a lot of these folks are not utilizing in every area. Some are more efficient in some areas and some are not. With that, we try to look at those efficiencies or deficiencies as they may be and try to hone in on those areas of need and develop a program and a process to enable them be able to improve that. We all know that efficiency leads to effectiveness and when you’re efficient and effective, that’s when you become profitable.

Rob Stott: Certainly. And I know, it’s going to be cool to see how that, it kind of bows down to a one size doesn’t fit all. We kind of learned that with Nationwide and working with independent dealers is that there are so many different businesses that operate in so many, it’s retail at the end of the day. But they have different challenges, different types of customers, different products that they sell and things like that. It’ll be cool to kind of see how this sort of results in what I know is something that is near and dear to you here at Nationwide and that’s the Service Leaders Network and what’s going on there. Coming into Nationwide now, bringing all that experience, everything you’ve done to this point in your career, what excites you about this opportunity to work with Nationwide, with our dealers and with the Service Leaders Network?

Mark Pollitz: Well, my passion has always been with the independent owner of a service business and or a dealership and service business. And I think what really excites me is so many opportunities that I see to give the experience of my skills and past experiences and relay those to the memberships and plus the resources and the support that I’m getting from Nationwide leadership. Tremendous amount of support here. I’ve always enjoyed looking at Nationwide from the outside, having been a dealer that also was part of a buying group. Although it was much smaller back in the day, I can see that the scope of resources and support with Nationwide is a tremendous, tremendous benefit that I have to be able to go to market to help all of these members.

Rob Stott: Certainly. Thinking about, I know we’re talking here, I think it’s only been a month, barely a month. Has it been a month?

Mark Pollitz: Today.

Rob Stott: Today? Oh my goodness. What do you know? Well, happy one month anniversary here. That’s too funny. You’ve had just these four weeks, this one month to kind of get your head around what Service Leader Network is going to be and sort of looking ahead a little bit, what is the main focus for this group right now? What are the initiatives that you’re kind of diving into here as you get started with what this group intends to do?

Mark Pollitz: Well, with the Service Leaders Network, the core of it is building a network of our servicing dealers to leverage the buying and strength of them being a Nationwide member. It is so difficult when you’re out there as an island and just a small to medium, even a large company for that matter, but you don’t have the backing. You don’t have the bargaining tool of strength and power behind you, such as you do with Nationwide. The core of Service Leaders Network is to leverage those great benefits that we have with Nationwide. Some of the key things that we are working on to provide value added, practical and tangible programs and services to our members are things like education.

Educating the servicing members through providing technical resources through the OEMs and the vendors. We’re looking at expanding the member net and expanding the Nationwide Learning Academy and having a lot of online training available in one spot. With most of our dealers and servicers, they’re doing multiple brands and with that, they typically have to go to multiple websites to gather technical information and training videos and on demand, things of that nature. We’re trying to bring all of that into a focal point through the Nationwide Learning Academy.

We’ve got quite a few other initiatives as well. One of those is to facilitate the supply of trained and skilled technicians. Finding a trained technician in our industry and many others, is a national epidemic. We’re going through this pandemic right now, while we’ve been going through an epidemic of great proportions over the last probably 20 years where it is difficult to find up and coming technicians that are learning our trade and that are highly employable because they already have the skilled trade that they’ve attained through education. We’re trying to facilitate that as well.

Rob Stott: Got you. And I know another initiative too, one that we can kind of touch on and preview here right now is there’s an event coming up too. I know it’s early stages of planning but I want to give you the chance to talk about the virtual conference that you guys have coming up.

Mark Pollitz: Well, we do have a virtual conference. This is going to be fashioned much like our virtual primetime. However, this will be focused strictly on service. Our members who are the dealers with the servicing departments, will have great advantages and great benefits by attending this virtual service conference. And to my knowledge in our industry, we are the first to actually host a virtual service conference. Just as many of our members go to conventions on site prior to the pandemic and are able to go to many different classes when they’re at a convention, well, this will be a convention with many rooms and many classes available to them only on a virtual platform.

Rob Stott: Got you. This might get to some of the potential topics at that kind of a conference. What are some of the different challenges or things that a retailer with a servicing department has to tackle on a regular basis that just a traditional appliance dealer doesn’t have to think about necessarily?

Mark Pollitz: Well, certainly when you have your own service department, you now have the responsibility of managing that service department with all the employees. You are providing a livelihood for the employees, whether it’s one or 10 or 100 employees. It’s a great responsibility to know that you have the livelihood of that particular staff member, holding it in the balance of your own hands. There’s a great responsibility right now. In addition to that, there’s the responsibility of managing a separate business, so to speak and the challenges of the differences between selling appliances and servicing appliances. The service world is a much more complex division than selling and there are so many tentacles and channels and avenues that you have to walk through and manage through to make your service business efficient and effective, ultimately profitable.

Rob Stott: Right. And when you get to that point, that profitability point, obviously that’s a big benefit. What are some of the other kind of positives that come out of being able to stand up a servicing department in one’s appliance retail business?

Mark Pollitz: Well, one of the biggest benefits of that is that consumers are always looking for and that consumers prefer is that you provide the support after the sale and that is through your own service. The consumer knows that you have a vested interest in them and in their product once you’ve sold it to them and you’ve got a service department that is going to service them. The thought there is that you want to capture that consumer for life, both in sales, delivery and service.

Rob Stott: Just kind of goes to what I think has been a theme, not even just for the past year, but of independent retail in general is sort of cultivating those relationships with the customer. And you said it, you hit the nail on the head. You let them walk out the store with the appliance or after that delivery and the installation, you hope nothing goes wrong, but if something does you want to be that trusted advisor to them where you’re the first name that they think of and they call you to correct that problem or get that fix that they need. And lo and behold, one day when they’re going to need to replace it eventually, then you know where they’re coming or at least you hope you know you hope where they’re coming.

Mark Pollitz: That is absolutely correct.

Rob Stott: Yeah. No, it certainly makes a lot of sense and look forward to continuing to follow where this goes and the challenges you guys can help sort of overcome with Service Leaders Network. But one that you mentioned was the staffing issues. And I know it kind of comes from a lack of people going through training right now and developing, going through the education to enter this arena of servicing. But talk to me about that logo. I know that plays a role in sort of what’s happening here. The logo on your shirt says Skills USA. Talk to me a little bit about that and how that may be helping to address some of those issues.

Mark Pollitz: Well Rob, as we briefly touched on, acquiring trained technicians is an epidemic. And where do you get those technicians? Whether you’re in a small rural market or you’re in a major market area, where are you going to capture? Where are you going to influence? And where are you going to solicit folks that come into your employment and want to be a technician? Where do you find those folks? Most of us as independent servicers or dealer servicers, we end up trying to sway a current technician that’s working for one company into coming to our employment. Which means that we have to be able to provide some great benefits, not just salary, but benefits. And one of the benefits of that is being a family owned, a privately owned organization, where you’re not just a number to the organization, but you are a human and you have more value than just being a producer of numbers and dollars.

And of course you have to have technicians to be able to run your business. You have to have technicians to be able to offer service to your consumers. And that is an epidemic as we’ve mentioned. I belong to a group called Skills USA. It is an all volunteer organization. It is the literally the world’s largest educational private industry, nonprofit organization. We have just over 440,000 members nationwide that are made up of instructors, administration, students and private industry, such as myself. These members all work together to make sure that our skilled trades are a viable educational opportunity and employing them.

Rob Stott: You mentioned, sorry to cut you off. You mentioned obviously we’re going to dive deeper into the appliance side of this, of Skills USA. What other types of trades are covered by Skills USA?

Mark Pollitz: Skills USA supports approximately just over 100 different skilled trades. Everything from aviation maintenance, airframe and power plant to automobile repair, both body collision and engine repair, to baking, to cosmetology, to culinary arts, to concrete masonry. Everything that you, if you look around your office right now, everything that you see and touch had to be designed, then it had to be manufactured and then it had to be built and sold. And every industry that has one of those components, somebody skilled had to be a part of that.

Rob Stott: Right. It kind of sounds like some of the public high schools around here used to have those vocational tech schools that this sort of sounds like not a replacement to that, but something that goes even above and beyond what those would have done for interested high school students at the time.

Mark Pollitz: Well, Skills USA as a professional organization, we promote professionalism through industry involvement. And that’s where every industry that is supported by Skills USA has a national technical committee made up of industry professionals. We with residential and commercial appliance technology program have that very same technical advisory committee on a national basis as well throughout most of America by law, the individual courses within a school has to have the support of an advisory committee. Again, made up of local industry officials or industry organizations. Skills USA is involved with about 5,500 public schools throughout the nation, both high schools and adult technical education centers.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Dive a little deeper into, when someone goes to a school where the appliance tech classes are taught and things like that, what happens with the program that you’re involved in specifically?

Mark Pollitz: Well, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the different types of trainings that are available to us as members. We have online training. There are just a couple of very good online training resources where a person who’s a new hire may have no appliance background at all, can sign up and pay a fee for an online course, which will last about three or four months, I believe maybe up to six months. However, that does not provide any hands on training or any interaction with the actual product. There are a short term training solutions out there. There are a couple of schools in the nation that provide two and three week term trainings. Again, you could send your technician there or your soon to be technician to get a very good, basic idea of that. But just like with emergency response folks, with EMTs, paramedics, policemen, nurses, folks that really make an impact on your life at some point you don’t really want somebody who’s only had three weeks or three months of training to start doing CPR on you.

Skills USA supports long term substantial curriculums that will use industry standards that are created by the national technical committee of which we have. And those standards are given to the instructor and those standards are taught so that the students will actually go through a nine to 12 month program, depending upon the school and the state. And he will come out with fully credited and certification as we offer a certification as well, not just the school certificate of completion or a degree, but an actual industry certification through the PSA organization. And that young person or adult person once they graduate, will be employable with the latest, most current technology in our industry. They’ll have had months of hands on training, they’ll have learned how to properly disassemble products and they’ll have the experience of maybe breaking a few products accidentally just like our techs do out in the field. Better that they learn these processes in a classroom than in your consumer’s kitchen or laundry room.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. And can’t underestimate the importance of being able to do that in sort of a test environment. But something you mentioned there kind of makes me think is that obviously appliances over the years have changed and I’m assuming this is where the technical board would kind of come in and you guys got to stay up to date on sort of the latest technologies in appliances and things like that. What is it like to sort of, I guess not necessarily results in adjusting the curriculum, but how are you guys staying on top of trends to understand whether the curriculum needs to be updated or things like that?

Mark Pollitz: Well, our curriculum is updated every two years with Skills USA. And during that process of curriculum review, our national technical committee, which currently is a committee of about 20, of some of your most well-known name brands that are out there, we’ve got GE and Electrolux, Fisher Paykel, Bosch, Sub-Zero. We’ve got quite a few of the manufacturers that are part of our technical committee. We get together as a group and we look at the technologies that we are developing within our own factories and within our own product lines. And we make sure that we write into the technical standards that those technologies have to be taught by an instructor.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And it goes to show too, like any good accreditation or certification program that it’s current, you’ve got the minds behind the technologies that are also involved in this as well. What’s the opportunity then for Nationwide with Skills USA and our membership? What do you sort of see happening? How does this relationship develop? And what could be the potential benefit for members?

Mark Pollitz: Well, it’s a great opportunity for both. It’s a two way street and with Skills USA with having the resources through our technical committees, both as a whole, Skills USA national with supporting 103 different curriculums and programs right down to our program that I’m involved in. I am the national co-chairman for the residential and commercial technology program. We recently added commercial because they have the same issues that we have on the residential side of hiring technicians. There’s just a wealth of opportunity out there for Skills USA.

How does that benefit the members of Nationwide? As we partner Nationwide members with schools within their area, their market area, they’ll have the opportunity to get involved, interact with those schools and basically build their brand, which is their company and to build brand loyalty of their company to these students. The more a Nationwide member gets involved with a local school, the more opportunity and the more likelihood that when that student is ready to graduate and they’re looking now for employment, they’re going to consider those who have been an influence throughout their studies for the last 18 months or so.

We’re looking for that benefit of providing trained technicians currently with the schools that we have, which are not nearly enough. And this is where Skills can benefit from the relationship with Nationwide members, to getting Nationwide members to look around their marketplace, their area and provide to Skills USA leadership. That being myself and some others, providing us with contact information of a school, a technical school and or a high school in their area that they think would be an appropriate candidate for us to solicit and try to present our program to the school.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And it sounds like you mentioned it, a two way street where there’s certainly benefit on both sides of growing and developing that relationship. And look forward to kind of seeing that blossom, from both the Service Leaders Network side, just everything that’s happening there sounds incredible. And it’s crazy that it’s so young sort of within Nationwide, just a couple months old itself and seeing how the potential impact there on member stores and then obviously the Skills USA partnership and what’s growing there as well. Lots of opportunity. It feels like that’s the case across this retail channel right now, but specifically on the servicing side. And happy to have you here, Mr. Mark Pollitz, to lead that effort and look forward to kind of seeing where you can take it.

And I know you’ve got a great partner in Ron Romero and Frank Sandtner and everything that the business services team is doing with you as well. No, I appreciate the time. I took up a lot more of your time than I anticipated so I appreciate you diving into that. I can tell it’s something you’re passionate about as well, which is, I think important first of all because that means you care about it. And then it’s cool to see that, hear you describe everything that’s going on and just look forward to catching up again soon. Hopefully in person before we know it and we can have a Service Leaders Network event in person, maybe we’ll keep Nashville in mind.

Mark Pollitz: Well, we’re looking forward to it. And I just want to reiterate that the Service Leaders Network conference coming up May 13 and 14 will be just a phenomenal opportunity for owners, for service managers and for technicians to sit in on a wealth of classes. I believe we have about 36 different classes scheduled for that two day event.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And plenty more coverage to come for sure so look out for that, within Nationwide and our communications as well. I feel like we’ll be talking again soon, sooner rather than later. Sounds like that’ll be for sure a thing. Mark no, I appreciate the time. And like I said, look forward to catching up again soon.

Mark Pollitz: Thank you, Rob. I look forward to it.

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