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The latest manufacturing processes. A high-tech computer ordering system. Shiny new delivery trucks. iPads for all our reps. None of these things make our business great without a team of great people. Our goal has always been to hire the kind of people who get called out as "employee of the month" or some similar accolade. Well wouldn't you know it, we got that and then some. The entire team we have working here performs like employees of the month, every month. This is the reason we show you our complete lineup on our Join the Team page. But we also wanted to shine a light on the members of this great team to show that we do appreciate each and every one of them. Every month we will chat with a Santec employee to get their unique perspective on what it's like to work here. Yvette, our Customer's Advocate, agreed to go first. She even let us disclose her special bowling talent. For being a great sport and an important member of the Santec team, we will be treating her to dinner. And perhaps a special ribbon at our next company bowling night.

What came first, the forklift or the 40 foot high warehouse shelf? Or maybe the question we should ask is who came first, the forklift driver or the forklift designer? And how does this all relate to the size and shape of the shipping container? The size of container ships? The giant cranes that load and unload them at shipping ports?

Clearly, everything is more connected than we realize. And we too often take for granted that there is a person who can do amazing things, like drive tiny laws-of-physics-defying vehicles around skinny tall warehouses and move giant boxes full of heavy bottles into long narrow containers that are attached to 16-wheelers. And this same person is so organized about it, that when the delivery truck arrives at each destination, the first thing you see when you open the back of the truck is the product that belongs to that particular customer.

Christian is that person. And he is a bit of a magician if you ask me. But even he takes himself for granted. For him, these seemingly impossible maneuvers are simply no big deal. Which is a good thing, because it turns out that he's pretty much driving around that warehouse continuously from 6am to 2:30pm every day. This non-stop schedule is one of his favorite parts of the job. As he puts it, the day just flies by.

I asked Christian to guess how many big boxes he moves from shelf to container each day. He figures an average of 200 or so. This seemed to me to be a pretty good number to keep track of if you want to see how much the business is growing. Perhaps I'll chat with Christian in another year or two to find out just how much Santec has grown in that time.

Until then, this has been yet another Spotlight about the one person who keeps the entire company running smoothly.

You're washing machine stops working the very moment that you've completely run out of clean clothes. Oh, and BTW, this always happens on a Sunday. Or maybe it's your dishwasher ... on Thanksgiving. Well, it's no different in the commercial world. Only on a larger scale, with greater consequences.

Which is why Jim, our Service Technician, is an essential part of your Santec experience. One of the most important parts of his job involves no work at all. In fact, Jim is often unaware that he's even doing it. Imagine you run a linen cleaning service. Even when all your machines are running smoothly, simply knowing that Jim is on the Santec team is the thing makes you confident that all your customers will be happy today. So you're free to go out and find more customers. Thanks Jim.

When one of your machines stops working just give it a good strong kick.

Hey, even Jim knows this technique has worked from time to time. (But of course, never on weekends or holidays.) Most of the time though, you're happy you have Jim on speed dial. Because in addition to The Kick, Jim knows every other technique to diagnose and solve a problem on any broken machine.

How does he know? Call it a perfect blend of his experience (16 years), his childhood (he was a born tinkerer), along with a bit of Google (where he can always pull up the manual and find parts).

Some problems are simple enough that you can fix them yourself.

Well, here's a true story. Your washer broke and it was obvious to you that it wasn't getting power. You figured it was those wires in the back of the machine. They sure looked like a tangled mess. So you just cut away the messy part and made a simple bypass connection to the plug so you could start the machine and get back to business. That way, you didn't need to bother Jim (because, after all, it was probably some sort of holiday). Of course, it still didn't work. You called Jim.

Jim arrived in no time and confirmed what you knew all along: it was a simple problem. But it wasn't the power cord in the back. It was the magnet on the door latch. It had slipped down a bit and was preventing the door from closing completely which only made it seem like there was no power. Easy fix and he'd be out of here. In no time. Except that all those wires dangling in the back needed to be reconnected. Do you remember which one was connected to what? Of course not. But Jim remembered that there's another customer down the road with the same machine. He drove over, took a quick pic of the connections on the back and you were back in business. In no time.

Spend 5 minutes on the phone with Purchasing Manager Melissa talking about her job, and you're convinced that she has the best job ever! Shop 'til you drop. Supermarket sweep. Spend, spend, spend. She's living the life we all dream about!

5 minutes more and you start to ask yourself, how does she even do it? Every time anyone in the company makes a decision that adds a new product to the catalog, modifies a product in the slightest, or even just wants a new size of an existing product, Melissa has to figure out where to buy the ingredients, the bottle, the label, the shipping carton, and so on. And she has to get the best price, at the correct quantity and delivered on time.

Don't get me wrong. I have rarely met anyone who sounded so happy talking about her job. But I realized she brings this happiness to the job not the other way around. And her attitude is clearly the reason she is so good at it. This whole idea of a dream always has to come from the person doing the job. If the job itself was the dream, then we really wouldn't need to pay anyone. But if someone like Melissa makes the job into her dream job, well that's priceless.

Her job is really hard. And I think that's what she likes the most. Each day presents new challenges. Problems to be solved. How to go about finding the best price of some unpronounceable chemical? How to convince a bottle supplier that you really need those 5,000 bottles before next Tuesday? And then get the label printer to have those shiny new labels ready the same day?

I'll tell you what the real dream was: all that work we were doing before we asked Melissa to order everything needed to actually make the products. The concepts. The formulas. The design. The logistics. These things are all merely ideas, possibilities, wishful thinking until Melissa goes shopping and voila, we have a product!

When I asked her what her greatest challenge was, she said it is responding to the company's incredible growth over the years. Clearly it's people like her that are making that growth possible.

If you work for Santec or provide any service or supply any goods to the company, it would be good for you to know about Candace. Keeping track of all the money that comes in and goes out is her specialty.

For instance, if you are one of Santec's commission-based Clean Needs Specialists, you should certainly know (and appreciate) that when your customers take delivery of some products, Candace will accurately calculate your commission and make sure you are paid correctly.

Since she is the one person most aware of whats coming in, she is also tasked with whats going out. (She even kindly pointed out that she sends me my check :-) Seeing the big picture of where the money is coming and going allows her to suggest ways to improve processes whether it's streamlining the ordering of parts or better inventory management.

Perhaps it seems like she does all this out of the kindness of her heart, for she is a kind person, but the truth is more impressive. One might even say, more Zen. Candace seeks balance. Technically she balances the company's books quarterly and annually, but I sense that she knows where the balance point is every every moment of the day. This means that rather than perform a balancing act whenever a report is due, she simply maintains a proper sense of balance throughout the year.

So when you see her or speak with her, take note of what it's like to meet someone so centered, upright and at one with the world. But take care not to upset that balance or you may be disappointed in your next check. Just kidding. She's simply too resilient to let that happen.

Customer Service is a position that requires someone who is a good listener, has vast knowledge of the company and its products and is connected enough to their coworkers that they can make things happen for the customer without ever touching red tape.

Well, I was somewhat surprised to discover that Shamorin's customer service role includes all of the above as well as a fair amount of invoicing and follow-up to keep the cash flowing. Many of us in the service industry promise that we will do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy. Yet our instinct says that sending us checks is not the thing that makes them happy. No, customers want product the day before they need it, they want it to work perfectly on every problem, they want it replenished like magic and they want it customized to their needs. Fortunately Santec does all of this and Shamorin's specialty is knowing how to maintain this high level of service month after month.

But as she and I discussed billing (and collecting) it became obvious that Customer Service is two words, not just Service. And of course, the very definition of a Customer is one who pays to have a product and service delivered. So in addition to the "keep-them-happy" attitude, she is equally committed to a "keep-them-a-customer" approach which inevitably means keep them paying.

Santec's mission is to have a fully educated team which is how a modest sized company can deliver the service and product of a much bigger company. When someone like Shamorin has a daily routine that includes setting up new customer accounts, processing new orders, making sure the product is delivered as well as making sure Santec gets paid...well, you've already listed enough responsibility for an entire department at most corporations. But Shamorin is not overwhelmed, she's just incredibly efficient because she is part of this fully educated team.

I have written enough of these spotlights over the years to see that Shamorin's start-to-finish perspective is typical. Typically exceptional! Read the archive and you'll see that all the people who work here are genuinely interested in the product/service process as a whole. And they also care about one another. As Shamorin told me, the people she works with make her enjoy the work that she does and it's obvious that this is the truly magical ingredient that keeps customers happy.

At the start of our conversation, Joe said "I'm a Sales Rep"...and then corrected himself with a chuckle: "I'm actually a 'Clean Needs Specialist'." (I could actually hear the air quotes.) I suppose he'd laugh a little harder still when he sees that our official title for him is Renaissance Man. And yet, for the duration of our conversation, he pretty much made the case that that is exactly what he is. Over his 23 years of experience he has seen many "sales reps" in the cleaning supply business come and go. It is a very high-turnover position at most places. If you're just a sales rep.

Even before Santec gave him the CNS title when he joined the company 2 1/2 years ago, Joe always knew that what he was really selling was his hands-on knowledge, expertise, vision and technical ability. His early years as a diesel mechanic in the army taught him that to get things done, you need to be willing to get dirty. And that getting dirty can make you really good at what you do. You may walk out the door in a nice suit, but you don't hesitate to take off that jacket and roll up your sleeves if that's what's required.

Of course this approach to what others may view as a sales rep job, makes for great customer retention. Why go anywhere else when you have your own clean needs specialist? But Joe's other strength is his new customer acquisition. Because his specialist reputation precedes him, Joe hasn't made a cold call in years. Instead he grows his customer base through solid referrals from customers who love him. Customers introduced in this manner are the best you can find and they serve as the foundation of Santec's business.

So, yes, Joe does it all; selling, designing installations, fixing equipment... sometimes even at 10pm on a Sunday. And of course, he relies on the the great support of the entire Santec team, but his instinct is to just do whatever the situation calls for. And since he is usually the first one on site, his renaissance-man capabilities are always put to good use. And I suspect he keeps his dry-cleaner busy too.

Every time Santec brings a new customer into the family, it feels like they have become part of a revolution in how things get clean and stay that way. Superior products combined with an amazing level of service are the two things that define the revolution. But the difference between saying that and making it actually happen is, of course, the result of every Santec team member taking care of all the details. One of the most important details is the first impression given to a new customer which is why we send someone like Ismael to handle these installations.

Ismael's years of experience, along with his encyclopedic knowledge of all types of equipment, electrical grids and plumbing, give every Santec customer a high degree of confidence in both the installation and the ongoing maintenance of their entire cleaning infrastructure.

Recognition of Ismael's talents has lead him to wear the service technician hat just as often, where he can follow up those stellar first impressions with equally impressive 2nd, 3rd and 4th impressions.

So how stellar are these first impressions he leaves? Recently Ismael set a new record by flawlessly installing 5 dish machines in a single day at a single location. When he told me this, I imagined 5 dishwashers lined up in a row and asked him what kind of kitchen needed 5 dish machines? Well they were not lined up in a row. Two were in a basement cafeteria, one was in a main floor restaurant, and two were in a rooftop bar and grill. Getting these three businesses up and running in one day was nothing short of heroic.

Ismael covers the entire Santec service area and so he often crosses state lines multiple times a day. And while he ideally arrives with just a toolkit and parts, he has often brought the machines along as well when the standard delivery date won't cut it.

Like many of his colleagues at Santec, Ismael thrives in this busy, high-intensity environment. But he would not strike you as too busy, or too intense. Instead, he thrives because he takes it all in stride. He is very relaxed and confident that he can handle whatever situation comes his way. Because when you really think about it, you can't install 5 dish machines in one day by rushing around. Mistakes will be made and time will run out. Ismael has the intelligence and experience to work smart rather than fast. Which is really the only sure way to get things done ahead of schedule.

A few years back we featured our Commander in Fleet, Michael. As our Warehouse Supervisor, Luis occupies the critical space between Michael and the people who move product to our customers.

Over the past few years, Santec has expanded its finished goods warehouse to a dedicated space across the street from our production facilities. Luis has been instrumental in optimizing this space to fill customer orders as quickly and accurately as possible. He has also organized the products in a way that allows new hires to master the inventory within minutes.

Hundreds of products sent to hundreds of customers across 6 states every day requires the attention to detail and organization that Luis has perfected during his 8 years at Santec. Of course, he is able to accomplish this all thanks to the smooth operation of his warehouse team. 4 day-shift and 3 night-shift workers keep the trucks rolling and the customers satisfied.

If there is a consistent thread that runs through all these profiles it is of team members who are at once self-sufficient and yet able to collaborate with ease.

I asked Luis where he sees himself in 5 years. Something about an office...with windows...was mentioned. Perhaps one of the better assessments of an employee's true value is to know they dream of a windowed office.

What exactly does a 15th century Japanese covert agent have to do with our product development process?


So, even though we can't really talk about it, there are a few things we can tell you about our most covert chemist. Such as, he's a quality control chemist. And a very good one at that. Ketan is quite capable of taking apart any chemical compound and then putting it back together again with improvements!

Need to know the viscosity of a product so that you know how tight the seal on the bottle will need to be? Ketan knows that too. Correct the ph level? Check. Improve the efficacy in hard water? Check.

Or maybe something more ambiguous, like: Can you make it clean better? Can you make it smell nicer? Can you make it less expensive? A nicer color? Safe on aluminum?

These are the kinds of things Ketan handles daily. Better living through chemistry is a reality for Ketan as well as for those who get to use the products he designs.

But the real benefit of having someone like Ketan at a company like Santec is that his know-how perfectly complements the company's desire to make the exact products that our customers need. Think back to the days when you had a custom tailor and how well your clothes fit then. What? You never had a custom tailor? Well, you'll have to imagine it then. But with Ketan, no imagination is required. Simply tell your rep what you need, and if we don't have it on shelf, Ketan will make it. Just for you, if necessary.

OK, we were just cleared to let you in on the secret agent partBefore he began working at Santec four years ago, Ketan was a sugar chemist. So, don't be surprised if one day you see candy in our product catalog. But please, don't pass this on

What can we say? For all the hard work everyone at Santec does every day, none of it would amount to much were it not for Lambros, our Customer Service Manager. Lambros is the one person who sees how everything in the company is connected to everything else.

From the moment a sale is placed, Lambros begins to connect all the steps necessary to retrieve the goods from the warehouse, get them onto the dock, place them on the truck, deliver them to the customer, invoice the customer, collect the payment, follow up to make sure the customer is happy, inform the rep that the customer is happywell, you get the picture.

Its not that Lambros does each and every one of these things himself, but he is the person who both sets the order in motion and is then able to track the order through the entire process from sale to inventory to delivery to invoicing to payment to replenishment etc.

My head started spinning as he expanded on how each interaction with a customer cascades through the entire company. But he takes it all in stride. It's as if he has an ability to view the entire process as single transaction. Of course, there are far too many of these transactions open at any one time for Lambros to maintain this level of cool on his own. Which is why he also dedicates himself to managing a team of five cool, focused Customer Service Representatives who are each assigned up to seven Clean Needs Specialists.

Each of these Customer Service Representatives is a Single Point Of Contact, or SPOC. Since they are trained by Lambros, they too can see an order's process as a single transaction involving pretty much every department and person within the company (and plenty of people at the customer's company as well). This talented group of SPOCs are the go-to people whenever you need to know the status of any account. Lambros believes that when you call a SPOC you should get an answer, not simply a referral to someone else.

With this extraordinary team, Lambros can easily serve the 30+ Clean Needs Specialists who represent hundreds of Santec Customers who receive the goods and services that are the result of the hard work of a hundred-plus Santec employees. You could try turning that into an equation, but its probably best to just let Lambros take care of it.

A famous cautionary tale in the business world warns of the tendency for motivated workers to get "promoted to their level of incompetence." This is often presented as an inevitable part of the process. Almost a rule. Well this month, we once again find another Santec team member who elegantly proves to be the exception to the rule. Or shall we say, just exceptional.

Gina has certainly been motivated throughout her 16+ years of working as a Service Coordinator. At Santec in particular, that motivation has landed her in a position of Balance and Harmony. An ideal level of competence to say the least.

She finds Balance in the ways she looks for (and usually finds) the best match between the needs of the customer and the availability of the service tech. This requires a two-way relationship that is both customer-facing and tech-team-centric. Of course, when a customer calls her, their ideal timeline is almost always "now." And yet the chances are usually pretty good that her tech team is working somewhere else now. Gina's approach is to equate "now" with "today" and "today" with "24 hours." With rare exceptions, customers are quite happy with "now" being within 24 hours, and this gives her the room to keep her techs busy but never overwhelmed.

The Harmony comes when the results please both parties equally. The customer is happy when the tech arrives (now), the tech is happy to have not been rushed and to be given adequate time to do good work. The good work makes the customer happy with the results, which again makes the tech happy and so on, in an infinite loop of good (and fully intended) consequences. This apparent excess of harmony is what puts Gina on equal and firm footing with both her customers and her techs. To an outsider, it all starts to appear effortless...which is certainly the definition of competence.

Most of us misinterpret the function of company events like the annual BBQ or holiday parties as important team-building moments that will somehow make people work better together. And in fact, Gina pointed out that she liked that "getting to know you" aspect of the gatherings at Santec for just that reason. But what I learned when talking to her is that the actual team-building is what happens everyday as each person performs competently, and with respect for each other towards the common goal of doing great work.

The BBQ and Holiday parties? They are what we've always really known them to be, a celebration of that well built team of people you already know and like. Nobody would show up if that wasn't the case. I think it's time to get the grill ready.

Back from an extra long spring break, we bring you a special spotlight for June, our Service Director, Paul.

Paul arrived at Santec almost 3 years ago bringing with him 30 years of experience in the art of creating harmony. Like the others featured here, Paul does not use a rulebook but rather operates under only one rule: make the customer happy. Of course while he delivers unlimited happiness, his resources are not infinite. But he does have access to all the resources that the company has to offer. And for this reason, we think of him as our Conductor.

Like any audience at Carnegie Hall, Santec customers expect service at the level of a fine performance. It might as well be written in their contract. Paul is the one who orchestrates this, in what is best described as a performance that is both well-rehearsed and freshly interpreted. Often his years of experience allow him to anticipate where and when he may need a service tech before any problem arises. At other times, he may encounter a tricky moment that requires some on-the-spot improvisation, like showing up at a Manhattan restaurant with 90 patrons in the dining room and a broken dishwasher in the kitchen.

Like the pro that he is, none of these situations give him stage fright or cause him to break a sweat. There will be problems and all problems have a solution, even if that solution needs to be composed on the spot.

Of course the countless ways that Paul conducts all the players at Santec to get these things done is something of a trade secret. Let's just say there are many things to keep in balance here. Not the least of which is the potential hazard of offering unlimited happiness. What's to stop a customer from placing an emergency call because a cap seems loose on a dispenser? For Paul, the answer is easy; build good relationships. With customers and coworkers alike. Good communication, mutual respect, absolute transparency. When you have a good relationship it becomes easy to answer the phone whenever a customer calls. They simply would not call if there wasn't a good reason. And it is just as easy for Paul to call his techs to send them to the site. They know that if Paul calls, there is a good reason.

Paul's choices are impeccable, well timed, and always avoid cacophony. Harmony is what he is after and you can hear the results. Happy customers leave happy messages.

The kind you'd like to play over and over again.

And with this month's spotlight we officially move beyond the world of bowling averages and the physics of spheres vs. pins to the greener pastures of botany and bamboo. While Santec sales rep Trevor has ample respect for the team building and competitive advantages that an occasional bowling night can create among colleagues, the rather remote outpost he has been building for Santec over the past 3 years has made it difficult for him to participate. What may surprise those colleagues is that he has spent his spare time meditating on how the company achieves real growth.

It begins with his acute observations on how the company has grown in the 4 years since he joined the team. Consider the bamboo. When viewed from above ground, a newly planted bamboo really seems to struggle, at first appearing to recede and then to only grow imperceptibly for a couple seasons. Suddenly, its growth becomes exponential, often increasing five-fold in a single season. Trevor's understanding of the bamboo lead him to recognize the same slow-then-sudden growth pattern at Santec. He knows that what is happening with the bamboo is that there is very real growth happening from the start, but that for the first few years most of it is underground. The massive root growth in the early years is the reason the bamboo can suddenly take off and sustain itself as the forest expands.

In Trevor's view, this "root growth" at Santec is the attention to packaging, hiring and infrastructure creation (i.e. investment) that has been going on these past few years. Not only has this created the perfect environment for the rapid growth the company is experiencing now, but more importantly, like the bamboo, it has created a sustainable foundation that will allow the company to flourish in any future environment.

If we go back 4 years we find Trevor changing from a career with a specialized cleaning supplier to Santec. The reason he changed? At his previous job he would drive many miles between prospects. Increasing his customer base at that company meant expanding his territory exponentially. Every year, more and more time was spent driving between customers with (exponentially!) less time available for each customer.

Once he started at Santec, every business he saw was now a prospect (who doesn't need clean?). And in the 4 years since, he has realized that potential, building a densely packed customer base close to home. More customers; less travel time; better customer service; more customers. A truly virtuous growth cycle. Trevor lives too far away to join the bowling league. So he meditates instead. While tending to his plants.

Our warehouse staff members are known as neat freaks because of what our warehouse looks like at any given moment. No matter how busy we get, everything is always where it is supposed to be. Celso says this orderly approach is the reason he looks forward to coming into work each and every day.

Celso is quick to point out that the "neat" part of his job really couldn't be any other way. Unloading trucks, putting raw materials on shelf, storing finished product and then putting that back on trucks is not simply a matter of being a good forklift operator. It requires an ability to plan the unplannable. And to rearrange things that don't yet exist into places as yet unknown.

To hear Celso effortlessly describe a typical day in the warehouse is to realize that he has a sense of space-time that few of us possess. Like his supervisor Michael who we met a couple months ago, to Celso a box of product is so much more than just a box. When he looks at a box he sees its ultimate destination: at a customer's facility. Somehow he creates a mental map that includes the warehouse, the trucks, the customer's facilities as well as the past and the future. He uses this multidimensional map to decide where the box should go now so that it makes it to that customer with the least number of moves. And he does this before he knows when, where or to whom it will be sent. Once you understand all this you start to view the warehouse like some sort of 4D puzzle. No wonder he looks forward to coming to work every day.

Of course, Celso did not describe this mental map for me, nor did he reveal how he makes it or uses it to solve the puzzle. To describe it would be like thinking about every breath before you take it. Instead, he just knows where everyrthing is, where it goes and how it will get there. I am telling you about the map, because, well, there must be a map, right? How else could he know?

The company bowling night that has become the recreational topic of the past few spotlights (see below) never really made it into my conversation with Celso. I asked a few times about whether he plays and if he is an asset for the Santec team. Instead, he took the opportunity to point out that his warehouse serves Santec as well as its three sister companies and that he often loads a single truck with destinations for all 4 companies.

Perhaps he was reluctant to say that he helped beat the other teams? Might they worry that he is too loyal to Santec, giving their product a less desireable spot on the truck? I'd say that's not possible given how customer-centric his mind is. No, I suspect that with his special skills he just knows how every game is going to turn out even before the first pin is knocked down. The puzzle of the warehouse is both his work and his recreation.

When Bob started as a Clean Needs Specialist 6 short years ago, he was one of the only ones in that position. Fast-forward to 2014. Just a day before our conversation, Bob, who since advanced to co-sales manager, did a count of the number of Clean Needs Specialists (CNS) currently serving Santec customers. He lost count. Not that he doesn't know every one of them. They just keep coming.

It's not unusual to wonder how many CNS's there are at Santec since they seem to be everywhere at once. Although it's assumed that after an account has been set up that the talented people in the front office will take it from there, the reality is that customers continue to rely on their CNS for so many of the intangible things. Whether checking a customer's inventory or helping design custom formulas the only job description that works is "whatever the customer needs."

Of course, what looks like occupying several places at once is probably more accurately described as being able to fluidly transition from one position to another...with an almost athletic grace. Could this talent have been first developed during Bob's years of playing baseball? If so, it may make a strong case for putting together a competitive company team. Or maybe just looking to recruit new sales talent from AAA. in Bob's satisfaction. He has said countless times that this is "the most satisfying job I've ever had." Given that his job description could also be rephrased as "keep the customer satisfied," it appears that getting and giving satisfaction go hand in hand. Which one causes the other is not entirely clear. But does it really matter? When you've got the key...well, just don't lose it.

If we assume a linear chart based on the previous 6 years growth, we might expect a team of at least several dozen CNS's by 2020. But what if these past six years growth were actually exponential? That's actually what it felt like. That would mean a CNS team of thousands by 2020. Either way, Bob is ready. Let it rain.

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