ARCHIVED  April 21, 2011

Local companies honored for business ethics

Editor’s note: The BBB Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming presented its 2011 Torch Awards for Business Ethics on April 21 at the Embassy Suites Loveland. The five companies profiled here were honored, based on research performed by business students from Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Wyoming.

1-10 employees

Niemann keeps values center stage

In a world where small-town music shops are hard to find, Niemann & Sons, Inc. in Cheyenne must be doing something right. The shop has prospered under the ownership of Dave Niemann since 1988, thanks to ethical practices and top-notch customer service.

Niemann’s management practices make him stand out to customers, vendors and his community, and because his shop is so small – just four employees, including Niemann – he is able to keep his values constant.

To instill these values in his employees, Niemann personally them, walking them through the store and teaching them everything they need to know with a hands-on approach. Niemann doesn’t use an employee handbook, just his own vision and experience.

This personal dedication to ethical practices has earned Niemann & Sons this year’s Torch Award in the category of businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Both employees and customers benefit from Niemann’s passion for what he does. He is in business not to simply make money, but to “help people make music,” as his mission statement says.

To help young customers reach their potential as musicians, Niemann offers scholarships to underprivileged youth who exhibit interest and potential in the world of music.

These scholarships help provide students with the instruments they need to practice and develop their talents, which can lead to even greater opportunities down the road. He gave out 15 scholarships in 2010 alone.

Niemann also serves his customers by selling only the best brands of instruments in his store. Rather than stock instruments based on whether or not famous musicians choose to use them, Niemann selects his instruments based upon quality and integrity alone.

Niemann judges his products on the quality of the materials that go into a product, as well as the product’s history. He believes that if a particular brand of instrument has a long history, that particular company must be doing something right.

This practice leads to a great deal of customer satisfaction with the quality of the instruments Niemann sells. He believes in every product that he sells, and says he never sells an instrument that is not a good fit for the customer.

If ever there is a problem with an instrument, Niemann refers delicate work to craftsmen who specialize in instrument repair and acts as a proxy between the customer and the repairmen so that his standard of customer service will be upheld.

While an instrument is away being repaired, Niemann provides a temporary replacement instrument so that musicians can continue to practice or even perform if the need arises.

Niemann & Sons takes care of the environment as well as their customers, using heating and air conditioning systems that save energy, as well as energy-efficient lighting.

Recycling, particularly invoices, also plays a role, and all chemicals used to clean the instruments are environmentally safe. Some of these chemicals are biodegradable.

11-25 employees

HighCraft upholds high standards

The professionals at HighCraft Builders are concerned with more than simply getting more business. Founders Dwight Sailer and Bryan Soth work hard with their employees to make sure that customers are comfortable before the remodeling process begins, as it is happening, and after it is finished, leaving them thinking, “Thank heavens we chose those guys.”

Fort Collins-based HighCraft Builders understands that there are many options for people in Northern Colorado who want to improve their homes through remodeling, but they also know what sets them apart.

Employees adhere to a company value statement that is based on seven words: respect, humility, attitude, teamwork, mistakes, fun and family. These words are part of what keeps HighCraft grounded both in personal honor and in their families. According to the value statement, “family always takes priority over work.”

The founders’ commitment to providing straightforward and honest plans to their customers ensures the entire process is free from surprises. Because of this practice, the 13 people at HighCraft Builders have surpassed the expectations of many customers.

Customer relations are so important at HighCraft that they are included in a section of the ethics policy to which each employee adheres. All employees are dedicated to building a relationship of trust with every client, and clients are their number one priority.

HighCraft uses a system of communication that alleviates the anxiety customers may feel when their homes are undergoing a remodel. Since remodeling a home can be a very costly process and brings builders into an intimate space, HighCraft believes that setting expectations and daily communication are of the utmost importance to gain and keep the client’s trust.

Management at HighCraft also applies the philosophy of trust and honest communication with its employees, implementing an “open door” policy that helps maintain a positive attitude at the company. The policy works because it brings to attention issues that an employee may have and enables managers to help solve problems.

Management at HighCraft places a great deal of importance on letting their employees come up with solutions to problems by allowing them the flexibility to work their own way within the company’s ethics guidelines. Sailer also acts as the company’s ethics officer, and assists employees who need advice on how to best complete their tasks within the bounds of the policy.

Ethical practices also affect how HighCraft acts toward the environment. Before they begin a project, employees walk through the part of the building that will be remodeled and determine what is staying and what is not. The resources that are leaving the home are recycled or reused elsewhere, as is all of the cardboard used to ship new items to the job.

HighCraft Builders has been recognized twice as HBA Remodeler of the Year, in 2002 and 2008. They have also been featured in numerous publications and received three Chrysalis Awards in 2004 and 2005.

26-99 employees

Drahota delivers what it promises

“Doing business on a handshake,” was the goal Terry Drahota set for himself and for his company when he founded Drahota Construction Co. in 1973. To Drahota, this means what is promised will be delivered.

The concepts of hard work and honesty run deep in this Fort Collins company, as well as a sense of community pride and a firm belief in environmental responsibility and workplace safety.

DCC places great importance upon training employees so that they can do their best, most educated work every day. The company makes use of a mentor program, which pairs new employees with those who are more experienced, so new employees don’t feel alone when they begin. DCC employs 40 people, many of whom are Colorado State University graduates.

In order for tenured workers to stay current on their knowledge, DCC offers “Tool Box Talks” on job sites.

Tool Box Talks are pulled from a database of thousands of short discussions on safety in the construction workplace. Drahota chooses one per week to discuss with employees, making sure they stay up-to-date on all the on-the-job safety measures they need to take.

These talks can relate to a particular job or chosen at random. Drahota usually picks a topic that relates to the current job so that the ideas discussed are fresh in the employees’ minds.

The company also goes to great lengths to make sure that all employees feel respected and appreciated. DCC keeps a fully stocked refrigerator for lunch breaks, and offers flexible schedules so employees can take care of family needs that arise. Many employees even bring their dogs to work.

Employees also receive between three and five weeks of paid vacation time, depending on how long they have been with the company.

In keeping with the green initiatives that have become such a big part of Northern Colorado’s culture, DCC has been part of the city of Fort Collins’ Climate Wise program since 2006, and is currently a platinum member, the highest level of achievement.

Part of what makes DCC so green is its efforts to provide all staff members with a company bicycle to ride on local errands. Employees are also encouraged to use alternative forms of transportation to get to and from work. DCC even offers showers at its offices for those who choose to bike to work.

DCC also aims for very high standards of workplace safety. It participates in a program called Construction Health and Safety Excellence and works in tandem with Associated General Contractors, CSU and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to perform safety audits.

These audits not only ensure a safe workplace for employees, but also make certain that the project will be a safe place after it is finished. Superintendents conduct daily inspections, and project managers inspect jobs weekly for compliance with drawing specifications, industry standards, and other safety measures.

100+ employees

Walker treats customers, workers right

Walker Manufacturing is a family company in every sense, from the team of two brothers who run the Fort Collins-based company, to “Family Reunions” that mark company milestones and bring together everyone considered part of the Walker family.

Bob and Dean Walker take pride in their ability to hire the best people and produce the best tractors and lawn-mowing products while making sure that every customer gets the best service possible. The brothers firmly believe that money should be the tool, not the goal, in a business.

One of the core beliefs at Walker is “Never ignore a request, be accessible.” As part of his dedication to serving his customers, Bob Walker ensures that his calls and e-mails are never screened so that he may be immediately aware of a problem with any of Walker’s products.

To better communicate with its customers, Walker sends out a semi-annual newsletter, “Walker Talks,” to let customers know how the company is doing and what is on the horizon. The newsletter also features customers, letting them get involved with the company on a level beyond simply purchasing a product.

Customers can also interact with the people at Walker through events held periodically at the Walker factory near Timnath. Annually, Walker holds a Hymn Sing, which anyone can attend.

When the company reaches particular milestones, such as the production of their 100,000th unit in 2008, they invite clients and distributors who have assisted them in meeting a goal to celebrate with them at “Family Reunions.”

Walker has 133 employees on its team, and most have been there a long time. The average tenure is 10 years, and this exceptionally low turnover rate is due to the way Walker treats workers and the rewards it gives for loyalty to the company.

At 15 years of service, employees are rewarded with a luxury watch. At 20 years, they receive $20,000 cash, taxes already withheld; after 25 years, they receive an additional $5,000, then $7,500 at 30 years, and so forth.

In addition to monetary incentives to remain with the company, Walker makes sure that its employees enjoy working there. The plant is run on a level-manufacturing schedule, so that the employees get a consistent number of hours all year.

When the economy took a downturn, Walker came up with an idea to allow employees to stay despite a decrease in workload. Employees were split up into teams and sent out to do community service with different organizations. Walker continued to pay them their usual compensation while they did work outside of the company, benefiting not only the employees, but also the community in general.

This is not a new concept at Walker, where employees spent nearly 590 hours volunteering last year. These hours were spent fixing up homes for the elderly, repairing facilities for local nonprofits and churches, and helping the Salvation Army.

Walker prides itself on the fact that it has never been the subject of an OSHA inspection in its 35 years of operation.

Because of their commitment to product safety and quality, Walker was recognized in 2008 by its distributors for being “Exemplary and Honorable in Business.”

100+ employees

Trihydro follows the ethical cowboy way

Trihydro Corp., headquartered in Laramie, doesn’t use manuals or formal policies to operate in an ethical fashion. Instead, employees are instructed to work according to “The Code of the West,” from James Owen’s book “Cowboy Ethics.”

This simple list of tenets by which to live includes instructions such as “finish what you start, take pride in your work, and ride for the brand.” By following this down-to-earth code, Trihydro exhibits a great deal of trust in its employees to make the right decisions.

The company was founded in 1984 as a two-person environmental consulting firm. Today, there are 270 employees and 13 branches nationwide providing engineering, surveying, information technology, sustainable business solutions, air quality management and water and natural resource services in addition to environmental consulting.

Trihydro became successful by combining proper treatment of employees, honest dealings with clients, and quality work. The company begins by hiring talented, innovative employees, and retains these employees through extensive personal and familial support.

The company provides excellent benefits for their employees, including a package that allows senior employees an extra week of vacation for every year that they have been employed with the company.

Jack Bedessem, president and CEO of Trihydro, says that policy allows employees flexibility to take care of their families. The ability to be present for their children is one of the things that makes Trihydro employees proud of where they work.

Another source of pride for employees at Trihydro is the green initiative upheld by the company. As a company that offers environmental services, Trihydro places a great deal of importance upon reducing waste and recycling.

At corporate headquarters, the carpeting tiles are made from recycled plastic bottles and the break-room cabinets are constructed of material containing crushed sunflower seed hulls. Trihydro also has a Corporate Responsibility Committee to measure the results of all green policies within the company.

Trihydro also values safety, going above and beyond the 40 hours of safety training required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, requiring another 40 hours of company safety training, 10 hours of general construction training, and a weekly health and safety quiz completed by each employee.

All of these safety requirements help to communicate the message that employees are considered Trihydro’s most important asset.

Editor’s note: The BBB Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming presented its 2011 Torch Awards for Business Ethics on April 21 at the Embassy Suites Loveland. The five companies profiled here were honored, based on research performed by business students from Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Wyoming.

1-10 employees

Niemann keeps values center stage

In a world where small-town music shops are hard to find, Niemann & Sons, Inc. in Cheyenne must be doing something right. The shop has prospered under the ownership of Dave Niemann since 1988, thanks to ethical practices and top-notch customer service.

Niemann’s management…

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