Confronting Challenges: Elite Dealers Share 2023’s Biggest Obstacles

This is easily one of my favorite features of the year, when we ask our Elite Dealer honorees that one question on everyone’s mind: What was the greatest challenge you experienced this year, and how did you respond to it? Obviously, there are universal business conditions that transcend industries and impact companies large and small. But what about those specific to our industry?

What follows is a sampling of the more than 120 responses we received. While it is heartening to know that you are not alone in dealing with a specific obstacle, it is the resolution that proves to be most productive element of the exercise. Everyone’s eyes sparkle in the sunshine, but it is the manner in which we deal with the unexpected or problematic issue that tells a lot about your company. It’s time to kick off part one of 2023’s challenges and solutions.

Hiring and Retention

This area is a chart-topper virtually every year, and 2023 was no exception. From retirements to the need for increased sales reps and the scourge of turnover, many dealers prioritized identifying and securing the best possible fits for their teams.

Southwest Office Systems (SOS) of Eueless, Texas, has been blessed with many long-term employees. Unfortunately, Father Time has ushered a number of them into retirement. The dealer has stepped up its sales recruitment efforts through a number of hiring outlets and social media. It provides in-house sales training to benefit both new and seasoned reps. Keeping them happy is another priority, so SOS has created monthly recognition plaques and increased sales bonuses, among other enticements.

“We had retirements that, in some cases, affected entire departments,” the dealer wrote. “We have replaced one department. Due to the team efforts of other departments and instructions passed down from previous team members, we are fully functional and continue to work through any challenges that arise.”

It seems a lot of veteran employees called it a career in 2023. At CopyPro of Greenville, North Carolina, three of its most senior team members collected their proverbial gold watch. Careful planning enabled the dealer to stave off any transition issues.

“This was a challenge. However, through open and honest communication, we knew each of these retirements were coming, so we hired and trained beforehand,” the company reported. “This allowed us to complete training as needed to ensure a seamless transition.”

As always, geography plays a big part in the degree of difficulty from an HR standpoint. One of the nation’s most hotly-contested regions is the southwest, where Southwest Copy Systems of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has found rough sledding in attracting and retaining top talent. While the dealer traditionally sought out experienced industry professionals, it made a strategic pivot to younger, more eager individuals.

While experience has its obvious benefits, Southwest Copy Systems now sees fresh perspectives and a hunger for growth to be equally valuable, “This transition… has not only injected a new energy into our workforce but has also allowed us to adapt more swiftly to changing market dynamics,” the dealer wrote. “These individuals bring a high level of enthusiasm, adaptability and a thirst for innovation that has invigorated our teams and contributed to our ability to stay agile in a rapidly evolving industry. While the journey to find the right fit has been challenging, it has ultimately positioned our organization for continued growth and success in the years to come.”

Back east, Fraser Advanced Information Systems of West Reading, Pennsylvania, has also dealt with its share of retirements. Organizational depth for sales means creating a “bench” of employees who are trained and ready to assume higher-level roles when retirements create vacancies.

“With these promotions, we have needed to replenish our account executive ranks with new reps,” Fraser wrote. “We have really done an excellent job at promoting from within and hiring new reps, with six new reps starting since March.”

Growing Pains

Many of our Elite Dealers experienced growth this past year, but it’s an accomplishment that brings with it associated infrastructure elements that need to be addressed, from talent and staffing to service delivery and flexibility to deftly respond to client needs. Recognizing this, Prosource of Cincinnati doubled down on its recruitment efforts while increasing opportunities to enter the company via sales and technical training programs.

“Bringing in additional talent, especially within our managed services division, alleviated some of the pressure on our service delivery,” the dealer reported. “We worked to streamline some of our processes around service delivery and project implementations, as well as initiatives to take a higher-level, more holistic look at our overall operations and identify ways to become more efficient and effective. Finally, we focused on creating additional training opportunities within the organization to continue to equip and empower our staff in their roles.”

The beauty (or the challenge) of growth is that it can come in unexpected spurts, leaving dealers to scramble in ensuring they have the bandwidth to take on new business. WiZiX Technology Group of Roseville, California, found it challenge to mesh employee growth with new business.

“As we added more and more customers during the year, it was at times challenging to hire and train new employees in various departments quickly enough to keep up with the demand,” the company reported.

Hybrid Harangue

One of the more difficult conversations dealers are having with employees is the subject of hybrid work, and striking a balance between what constitutes an acceptable number of days to work from home. Most employers value the ability to engage with team members in-person, allowing for impromptu meetings/strategy sessions.

Those dealers who have been able to hold their ground still find it a constant battle. Valley Office Systems of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is included in this group. The drawback is that the dealer must compete for talent against other dealers and industries that offer remote work privileges.

“We have not allowed this in the past and continued to stick to the traditional workplace model,” the company reported. “Finding quality and qualified employees was a challenge during the aftermath of COVID-19.”

One dealer that unwittingly found a compromise, but for an entirely different reason, is BASE Technologies of Bethel, Connecticut. The dealer split its workforce into two groups: one week, a group worked from home while the other reported to the office. The roles are then switched each week.

“We did this because we have customers that are essential businesses such as hospitals and health care clinics and needed to be on site to support them,” the company wrote.

The hybrid talking point has likewise impacted client print needs. When upgrading clients, The Swenson Group of Livermore, California, generally reduces the number of units as well as print allowances.

“While this has been painful, we’ve turned our experience into an offensive strategy by going after competitive accounts and helping them right-size their new post-pandemic print environment,” the dealer wrote.

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.