Treating customers right is key to long-term success

in

First-Place
Utilities and Energy:
Bender’s Fuel,
Margaretville

By Brian Sweeney
Warran Bender began has been delivering fuel to homes and businesses throughout the region for about 17 years.
Warran began his career as a fuel supplier in 1996, when he worked as a contract hauler for Agway. When that company (which had been the country’s largest supplier of heating oil) went bankrupt, that part of the business was taken over by Suburban Propane. Warran then continued hauling for Suburban until differences regarding compensation forced him to make a career decision.
After weighing his options, Warran felt that starting his own fuel delivery business made the most sense for his him and his family.
That was in 2007 and Bender’s Fuel has grown steadily. The company now has more than 1,000 customers in a geographic area that covers the territory in and around Roxbury, Margaretville, Big Indian, Oliverea, Andes and Bovina.
Warran recalls that the business grew much more quickly than he anticipated.
When I first went to the bank (for financing), I anticipated 350 accounts. It got a lot bigger than we expected, he laughed.
Despite the rapid expansion of his business, Warran said he’s careful not to expand his coverage area too much.
“We want to keep it small enough so that we can be personal with our customers and take care of their needs,” he explained. “If you start going out too far, you lose that ability.”
Warran notes that the business of fuel delivery has changed dramatically since he started.
“It’s not the industry it was 20 years ago. When I started as a hauler, I was selling oil for $.40 a gallon and Agway was buying it for $.20 a gallon. Now, you’re lucky to work on10 percent margins, before expenses,” he pointed out. “The cost of doing business is getting harder and harder.”
He remembered a time when July and August were the most cost-effective times to fill fuel tanks, but says that’s no longer the case because speculators are controlling the market.
While fuel costs are something he can’t control, Warran knows that providing good service is something he can guarantee and that treating customers well is the key to ongoing business success.
Bender’s Fuel is truly a family operation with Warran’s wife, Donna, handling the bookkeeping and office details. Their son, Wayne, joined the delivery crew on a full-time basis about a year-and-a-half ago, enhancing the company’s ability to meet delivery obligations.
“This year, we’ve been running both trucks pretty much all the time,” Warran noted.
Warran said that they move a fair amount of fuel during the warm weather months and also pick up additional work delivering off-road diesel fuel to contractors. Bender’s Fuel doesn’t get involved in furnace cleaning or repairs.
“I couldn’t do service work and keep up with my deliveries. Plus, there are enough guys out there who are doing service work who are real good at it,” he explained.
The service provided by Bender’s Fuel includes 24-hour availability to assist with emergency situations. It’s another piece in the company’s successful model.
“We just treat people like we’d like to be treated. We keep a good product. If we tell someone we’ll be there, we make it,” is how Warran summed up his business philosophy.
To learn more about the offerings of Bender’s Fuel, please call 845 586-4225.

First-Place
Plumbing
& Heating:
Brian Walsh
Plumbing & Heating,
Fleischmanns

Brian Walsh has traveled thousands of miles to establish his Fleischmanns-based plumbing and heating business.
Originally trained in the trade in his native Dublin, Ireland, Brian was a five-year apprentice at the Guinness brewery as he worked toward his national plumbing certification.
Brian explained that in Ireland, the first year is spent attending a national training center learning skills like soldering, welding, threading and measuring, cutting and bending pipe.
While he was training as a
(continued on page 6A) plumber, Brian was enrolled in night classes to learn engineering for boilers and combustion. After two years in this program, he also received a diploma in this area of study.
As the economy in Ireland continued to lag, Brian obtained a Green Card and moved to New York City in 1992. He landed a job working for a plumbing company and wound up with various responsibilities for the company, eventually winding up in the same office as the owner. It was there that he learned how to run a business.
“The owner was very customer oriented. I learned a lot from him,” Brian stated.
After a decade of living and working in the city, Brian grew tired of the lifestyle.
“It wasn’t where I wanted to raise kids. I had always wanted to live in a mountain area, but didn’t want to move too far from the city. I came up here on hot summer’s day and there no humidity and decided this was the place I wanted to be,” he remembered.
That was 10 years ago. Since setting up shop in the Catskills, Brian has been steadily building his plumbing and heating business. He credited Jim and Pam O’Neal, owners of O’Neal’s Plumbing and Heating in Margaretville, with being very helpful when he getting his business established.
Like most enterprises throughout the country, Brian’s business slowed during the recession. However, he never wavered from his mission.
“I’ve always believed that if you charged the right amount of money for the job and put in a quality job…they’ll come back for more,” Brian explained. “I treat them like I’d want to be treated. A lot of my customers, I haven’t even met. They gave me a key and I go in and do the work.”
His theory as paid dividends as Brian has continued to grow his company. He generally covers a territory spanning the areas between Roxbury, Phoenicia and Andes.
During the early days, Brian tried to cover a greater radius, but found that spreading himself too thin was counterproductive.
“If you go too far, you can’t service as many people. I’m comfortable where I am now,” he stated.
Brian’s business encompasses installation and maintenance of plumbing and heating systems and the electrical work associated with these projects.
Derrick Wayman works as Brian’s assistant. He applauded Derrick’s work ethic and urged other to consider the profession.
“It’s a great industry. It’s something that’s always needed. It’s a thinking man’s game. You’ll never lose the skills and people always need a plumbing and heating work,” Brian noted.
Looking back on his 10 years of doing business in the Catskills, Brian likes to think that he’s found a nice balance that works well for customers and himself.
“I’m not the most expensive, but I’m not the cheapest. I provide good work at a fair price. It’s nice to see that doing the right thing for people is paying off,” he concluded.
For additional information, please call 845 254-5397.

First-Place
Professional
Services - Other
Mountain Flame,
Arkville

Mountain Flame in Arkville continues to combine new product offerings and strong customer service to help build upon the company’s success over more than three decades.
The seeds of Mountain Flame were planted when Brian Olenych started a chimney cleaning business. This work soon led to an introduction to masonry heaters and soon thereafter, Brian and his wife, Marcia, signed up to become distributors and builders of Tulikivi radiant heating fireplaces.
The concept of radiant heating was not widely utilized in the United States when the Olenyches started their business in 1980, but they steadily built their enterprise as more customers “warmed” to the idea.
A warehouse and showroom were established near the owners’ home in Bovina Center and the business steadily grew. Mountain Flame rented a showroom in Shokan for several years before purchasing property on Route 28, Arkville and constructing a showroom. An adjacent house serves as office space.
Since moving to Arkville in 2004, the company has created a showroom that allows visitors to experience firsthand the many products offered at Mountain Flame.
Marcia said Tulikivi radiant heat fireplaces remain their primary product, but pointed out that Mountain Flame is constantly branching out with its product line.
“We really have gotten into carrying a lot more items such as wood stoves, gas stoves and pellet stoves,” she noted.

Many heating options
Marcia added, “It’s taken awhile for people to realize the extent of what we have; people are generally surprised when they come in.”
She pointed out that there was a huge spike in interest in “alternative” fuels when crude oil prices first shot over $100 a barrel as homeowners looked for money-saving heating options. While the oil sticker-shock has subsided, interest in the variety products offered by Mountain Flame remains steady.
The type of heating product that works best is determined by a customer’s particular situation, she noted.
“Everything depends on a person’s needs,” Marcia said. “That’s what we try to discern when they come in – what’s going to work best for them.”
For some folks, that means purchasing a custom-built Tulikivi soapstone fireplace. For others, the heating solution means a more traditional woodstove or gas-fueled stove. No matter what the product, Mountain Flame always offers choices that are high quality, state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly.
“We always try to stay up to date with the latest technology and the cleanest-burning products,” Marcia explained. “Plus, we’re constantly adding new products and keeping up with product changes.”

Tulikivi products
As one of the country’s leading Tulikivi distributors, Mountain Flame’s territory includes the tri-state area and all of New England. The company has been honored on numerous occasions at the country’s top Tulikivi deader. Mountain Flame’s coverage area for its other products encompasses a smaller footprint. The company also services the items it sells.
In addition to a variety of heating options, the Mountain Flame features companion items such as fire starters, handmade gift items and numerous accessories for stoves.
The Olenyches have witnessed a steady evolution in technology and environmental standards since they started their business, but they pride themselves on their ability to adapt and embrace new products. Courteous service is the other key to their longevity and success.
“It’s how you treat the customer. We try to treat them well,” is how Marcia summed up the Mountain Flame blueprint for doing business.
The family-run business also includes the Olenyches’ son, Jake, and Marcia’s brother, John Monje.
Mountain Flame is located at 42825 State Route 28, Arkville. Hours: Tues-Friday 10-4:30 and Sat. 10-3. For more information, please call 845 586-2700 or visit: mountainflame.com

First-Place
Business Owner
& Second-Place
Hair Stylist:
Kathy Johnson -
Country Cutting
Gallery, Arkville

Second-Place
Hair Sylist:
Patti Scarth -
Country Cutting
Gallery, Arkville

Country Cutting Gallery owner Kathy Johnson started her business more than 20 years ago and has developed a loyal clientele.
Kathy received her formal training through the BOCES program during high school and started her professional career at a salon in Kingston. She grew weary of the commute after six years and then took a position at a Stamford shop, where she worked for two years.
Having gained considerable experience, Kathy began considering opening her own shop. This idea became a reality when she entered into a partnership with Michelle Kole. They operated Country Cutting Gallery on Route 28, Arkville (in the Railway Laundry building) for four years.
In 1986, Michelle left the partnership and Kathy purchased a former real estate office on Route 28, Margaretville and relocated her shop.
Since that time, Kathy has remained a sole proprietor, but has, over the years, “rented a booth” in her shop to Barbara Jester, Amy McCann and currently to Patty Scarth.
Kathy clearly takes pride in her craft and has developed strong relationships with her longtime customers.
“I feel like we have a lot of fun here. A lot of our customers come every week and they are like family,” Kathy noted.
Her customers include men, women and children and the services at Country Cutting Gallery range from haircuts, to coloring and perms.
“We pretty much do everything,” Kathy explained. “I enjoy it all.”
In addition to hair services, Kathy carries a full line of Paul Mitchell products and soaps from the Locust Grove Soap Company.
Kathy is also well-known for her active support of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life program. She sells products whose proceeds benefit the cancer society’s disease-fighting efforts. Kathy has been involved with the Relay for Life effort for the past decade and has been a Relay for Life Team Sponsor for the past six years.
When she’s off the job, Kathy enjoys golf and cruising the open roads on her motorcycle.
Kathy’s hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday (in the winter) from 9 a.m.-noon.
For appointments, please call 845 586-3838

Patti Scarth
Patty Scarth began renting space at the Country Cutting Gallery nearly 10 years ago. A previous resident of Florida where she worked in salons for 20 years (including three as a owner of a full-service spa), she got married in 2003 and came to the Catskills for a summer vacation.
“I was supposed to go back in the fall and I ended up staying,” she laughed.
Once it became apparent that she had a new home, Patty walked into the Country Cutting Gallery and asked Kathy and if she needed help or was interested in renting a chair. She’s been there since.
“It worked out really well because when I walked in, Barbara Jester was retiring and I bought a lot of her equipment and took over many of her customers,” Patty recalled.
Like Kathy, Patty’s customers include men, women and children.
She provides a full range of services, noting that she has considerable experience in coloring and foil highlights.
Patty also has a loyal clientele and says that listening to what customers want is key.
“I just aim to please. I guess the most important thing is to have a clear understanding of what the client wants — to communicate with them,” she noted.
Patty’s hours are Wednesday-Friday. For an appointment, call the Country Cutting Gallery at 586-3838.
Kathy and Patty share a phone line and make appointments for each other. It’s all a part of the strong customer service at Country Cutting Gallery.

First-Place
Auto Mechanic
& Second-Place
Auto Sales & Repair
Wayman’s
Automotive,
Margaretville

First-Place
Secretary
Angie Hunter

Vehicle repair and maintenance continue to change dramatically and the owner of Wayman’s Automotive in Margaretville makes sure he keeps pace with technology.
After earning an associate’s degree in automotive science from the Franklin Institute in Boston, Rob started his business 15 years ago, working in a shop adjacent to the Margaretville Bowl. In 2004, he relocated to his present location at the intersection of Route 28 and Fair Street, Margaretville.
Rob has steadily built up a loyal clientele, handling just about any type of repair work needed by customers.
Since he opened shop, Rob has seen many innovations with computerization of new vehicles. At the same time, the cost of new cars is resulting in many owners keeping their vehicles much longer. The result is a need to be up-to-date on the latest technology, while still needing to service older models.
“In the past 10 years, there have been huge changes in automobiles,” Rob explained. “I think it’s for the better, but it’s getting more expensive to repair cars. Some cars, without a scanner, you can’t even replace brake pads,” he said.
Rob said he continually reads a lot of tech magazines and takes Automotive Service Excellence exams to keep pace with training.
“You just have to keep up with things,” Rob stated.
He also continues to add equipment that allows his shop to perform work not offered at many facilities. In addition to standard work like brakes, tires and exhaust systems, Wayman’s has dealer-grade equipment that allows the staff to perform specialty work like transmission flushes, coolant flushes and fuel induction work.
“People now own their cars well past 100,000 miles and these things are needed,” he explained.
Rob said he feels comfortable tackling all types of work. He does, however, see a lot of customers who bring in their vehicles that have a stubborn “check engine” light that is creating problems.
“I’ve had people hand me a stack of failed emission receipts (because no one can figure out why the check engine light is on). I’ll evaluate it and see what’s going on,” Rob explained.
With a customer base that ranges in about a 25-mile radius, Rob say that treating people well has been the key to success.
“I guess we really try to do anything to make the customer happy. We do anything possible, work late, come in on weekends. Whatever it takes to get someone back on the road. And, I stand behind my work,” he stated.
Rob said he is also exploring the possibility of branching back into auto body work.
Assisting Rob at the shop his sister, Angie Hunter, who is the office manager, and mechanic Ken Todd.
Angie, who was voted the top secretary in Best Service Contest, said she carries on the company motto of putting the customer first.
“We try to keep everybody happy, as much as possible, and keep our pricing,” said Angie, who joined the staff in 2005.
Wayman’s Automotive is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. For additional information, please call 845 586-4264.

First-Place
Auto Sales
& Repair
& Second-Place
Auto Mechanic
H & H Motors,
Hans Hohn,
Margaretville

H&H Motors is marking its 20th year on Route 28, Margaretville. The vehicle repair shop was started by Hans Hohn Sr. and a year later, he was joined in the business by his son, Hans Jr.
The company founder retired about 10 years ago and his son took over the business. Hans employs one mechanic, Corey Johnson.
Hans said that H&H Motors provides services for all makes of foreign and domestic vehicles. Much of the work is focused on brakes, suspension and exhaust systems.
One common cause of vehicle problems that Hans witnesses is caused by the salt that’s widely spread on roads throughout the region to improve winter driving safety.
“So many people never wash off their vehicle and it affects brakes and suspension equipment,” Hans explained.
As cars and trucks have become more complex, with many computerized systems, Hans said it’s important to keep up with technological advancements to assure proper repair techniques.
Another trend Hans says he has noticed is that it is getting harder for many vehicles to pass inspections because of the increased requirements for emissions testing. No matter what ails a vehicle, the crew at H&H is ready to tackle the problem.
“My philosophy is fix the problem that (the vehicle) came in for. We like to fix it right the first time. Then, we let the customer know about anything else that may need attention later,” he noted. “There’s a noticeable difference when the car is repaired and people appreciate that.”
“We do everything we can to keep our people on the road,” Hans added.
Hans studied mechanics in college, but primarily learned his craft from his European father, who had also operated a shop in New Jersey before relocating to the Catskills full-time in 1993.
He said the customer base from the business includes many local residents and a good number of second homeowners from the NYC metropolitan region and New Jersey.
Hans said that taking care of customers’ needs promptly and courteously is always a priority.
“We always strive for professionalism and do little things – like giving people a ride home if they need to leave their vehicle for a long time,” Hans pointed out.
H&H Motor operates Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. To learn more, please call 845 586-2493.