Most everyone over age 35 remembers the classic ad campaign: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Unveiled in 1978, that iconic phrase would come to symbolize the philosophy of FedEx.
A similar approach has served as the driving force of sorts behind Mark Reed and Memphis Pool, a family-run pool construction, service and retail operation.
“That’s what impresses me,” says Reed, president of the Memphis-based firm, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.
“FedEx can say absolutely, positively overnight. What if we could say that absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed, you call us and we’re going to be there the next day, and we’re going to fix what’s broken.”
For Reed, achieving maximum efficiency is a matter of instituting clearly defined procedures for every facet of the business. And it’s a never-ending project, as evidenced by an on-the-job training manual that Reed helped craft about 5 years ago.
The bound guidebook, which is updated regularly, addresses the responsibilities of each job in the company, from construction crews to sales positions.
It’s helped management trim duplication, he says, and isolate problems when there’s a breakdown.
What’s more, Memphis Pool utilizes flat-rate pricing on service repair calls. So it’s critical that time is maximized and procedures are streamlined. After all, maintenance trucks are a kind of rolling inventory, he notes.
“It forces you to analyze every facet of your business — how you run it and where your inefficiencies are,” Reed says.
“It can be painful, but it’s worth the effort.”
The parallels between the two businesses — as well as the lessons Reed takes — don’t end there, however.
In 1986, FedEx introduced the shipping industry’s first handheld bar-code scanner, the “SuperTracker,” which allowed for worldwide parcel tracking. Eight years later, FedEx.com allowed customers to follow the progress of their packages online, another industry first.
It was hailed as a breakthrough in customer service, and the concept has been duplicated countless times over by a variety of companies — including Reed’s.
For some time, Reed has provided his pool clients with near-daily updates on the progress of construction. This frequent communication helps eliminate questions about the project’s status, what phase is upcoming, and what can be expected.
Though Reed acknowledges Memphis Pool will never approach FedEx in sheer volume, it’s their attention to detail, efficiency and innovation that provide inspiration.
“For them, it’s all about customer service on the outside, and internally, it’s all about putting the processes in place to enhance that customer experience,” Reed says. “What impresses me is that FedEx doesn’t set itself up to fail — they think it through, they run it, they practice it, so when they roll it out, it’s perfected for the most part.”
And that effort hasn’t gone unnoticed beyond Memphis. This year, Fortune named FedEx No. 8 among the “World’s Most Admired Companies.” And in 2010, the publication called it one of the “100 Best Places to Work For.”