Locator UpFront 2011 Boss Of The Year
Doug Ruppel leads a dedicated team that thinks he deserves to be the 2011 Boss of the Year more than anyone they know.
PHOTO: JONI GOODWIN
As far as general manager Gary Travers is concerned, no one deserves to be the Locator UpFront 2011 Boss Of The Year more than Doug Ruppel does, owner of Chevytruck Parts, LLC located in Denver, Colo. (ChevyTruck-Parts.com).
"He deserves it; he's the best boss in the world," stated Travers. "I worked at Safeway for 33 years and I worked for a lot of managers over that length of time. Nobody has ever been close to the type of manager that he is."
By his own admission, Ruppel treats his five employees like family. He listens to their ideas and tries to include them in the company's big picture.
"That's kind of what I'm all about," Ruppel admitted. "It's not just my company. It's our company. We are a team. I know about Gary's family, mom, wife and kids. I know about all my employees and I try to take care of them. We look out for each other."
"The employees are very hands on," Travers added. "Doug and I will sit down and I'll come up with an idea, he'll come up with an idea or we'll come up with an idea together."
With such a small group, it's easy to be tight-knit. The closeness is exactly what Ruppel wants for the business.
"In the big corporate world you're more like a number," he explained. "We're not like that at all. We're small and close. It's important to me to maintain that attitude around here."
It's an attitude both Ruppel and founding partner Sid Bockelmann shared when they started the business in 1984. Bockelmann had some experience with auto recycling, but Ruppel didn't. They bought an acre of land that only had a house with a fence around it, and built the business from scratch. The duo focused on Chevrolet and GMC truck parts. Both men were from the country and wanted Chevytruck Parts to reflect a hometown attitude. They kept it small and focused on their customers. Ruppel became sole owner of the business when Bockelmann retired in 1998. The facility is still on the original piece of land and Ruppel has maintained a small-town persona.
"We're very service orientated," he said. "A customer will need a small piece and my employees will go look for it. And many, many times they will just give them the part. In bigger places, where salespeople work on commission, they're not going to take the time to look up a little piece of plastic."
Travers noted that dedication to customer service is one of Ruppel's biggest philosophies.
"The most valuable thing he taught me is to take care of the customer no matter what," Travers said. "His honesty and patience when dealing with our customers is what impresses me the most."
A Passion For Goals
A longtime Colorado Automotive Recyclers member (CAR, ColoradoAutoRecyclers.com) - of which Ruppel is currently a board member and past president - Ruppel's management style relies heavily on setting goals. He sets daily, weekly and even yearly goals for the staff.
"I think it is critical to set goals," he stated. "In business today you have to move forward. There is a lot of competition. The only way to do that is to set goals and achieve goals."
Ruppel keeps a notebook on hand to jot down things he wants to accomplish for the business and he keeps a yearly to-do list at his desk. He admitted that it's not always easy or convenient to take on new projects with a small staff. But when the team starts something, Ruppel creates achievable goals for them so the work gets done and they can move on to their next undertaking.
One project Ruppel recently accomplished was to open a second location. Chevytruck Parts in Hudson, Colo. opened in 2009. The facility has 40 acres, 40 times the acreage of the Denver location. Cindy Swanson manages it.
"I have so much space now," laughed Ruppel. "Here in Denver we are like a big warehouse. I would bring in vehicles, tear them down, store the parts and crush the rest. I have no vehicles sitting on the lot. That's why I was looking for another place. I was throwing away a lot of frames and other good stuff. I can buy the older vehicles now that I have 40 acres [in Hudson]. That's kind of fun for me."
Ruppel splits his time between the Denver and Hudson locations. He put Travers in charge of the Denver location last April.
"I read an article that said as an owner / manager, you should clean your own bathroom," recalled Ruppel. "The philosophy is if your boss will clean the bathroom, you better be willing to do anything he asks of you. So, when I turned the Denver yard over to Gary, I said, 'Ok Gary, along with this you get to clean the bathroom.' Between Gary and Cindy, I've got clean bathrooms."
Big Challenges For Small-Business Bosses
A small business has many advantages. It is easier to adapt policies, easier to operate and there is more bonding with coworkers and customers. Conversely, managers of small businesses face unique challenges that require unique solutions.
Big companies have policy manuals, comprehensive job descriptions and management hierarchies. There is no room for such precision within a small company. The number of employees is far less than the number of jobs that need to be done. Doug Ruppel, owner of Chevytruck Parts, LLC in Denver, Colo. and Locator UpFront 2011 Boss Of The Year, recognizes this challenge in his own facilities.
"When you have a small company, there's no real job description," he explained. "We're an 'equal opportunity employer.' You get a chance to do everything, because you have to."That means employees must be aware that their job description can include anything from answering phones and pulling parts to inventory and shipping.
The size of a small business allows for distinctive employee traits and personalities to shine. You may have employees who are always happy, always mad, who talk a lot, who never talk, etc. According to Eric Rudolf, a marketing director and business writer for TheSmallCompanyBlog.com, employees in larger companies by contrast, begin to homogenize to the point where outward personality traits are eliminated. Employees who don't fit the corporate mold are forced out. Ruppel said he personally knows each of his employees and is aware of their strengths and weaknesses. He prioritizes their responsibilities based upon their abilities, likes and dislikes.
Ruppel does recognize one of his weaknesses is confrontation, which can be a challenge for small businesses, especially when you work side-by-side with your employees. Instead of putting off confrontation, or giving the employee's work to someone else, a good boss needs to either work to fix the difficult employee or replace them.
Just as you want your employees to be independent workers, some small business owners may have trouble allowing them to make decisions or sharing the credit for a job well done. Ruppel knows once you hire employees, a team is formed and those employees need to feel like they are part of it. If employees feel unappreciated, they will distance themselves from your initiatives and eventually move on from the company.
"There is a lot of 'we' around here. When we make a decision about changing or improving things, we sit down and talk about it," he illustrated. "Our size allows us to do that."