Distributor Spotlight: Johnstone Supply in Kenilworth, NJ

Since 1953 Johnstone Supply has grown from one small shop in Portland, Oregon to the largest HVAC/R cooperative wholesale distributor in the world today. Through 68 years the company stayed true to its excellent customer service and sourcing of high-quality products for contractors. These standards laid the foundation for Johnstone’s success and steered them to the top of the industry. 

But in recent years customer service has changed. Contractors are looking for fast, reliable service with distributors they trust and can build relationships with. And the ways in which businesses adapt to this modern customer buying process have proven to determine their future.

To keep their service standards high, their values consistent, and their business adapting to a changing buyer climate, Johnstone Supply took steps to focus on modernizing the way they communicate — accepting text messages to their branch phone numbers. 

At Johnstone Supply in Kenilworth, NJ, Breanne Flacks oversees online ordering; guiding customers from the start of the transaction on the e-commerce storefront all the way to checkout. Flacks began her six-year journey with Johnstone Supply at inside sales, then switched gears to her work in e-commerce.  In 2018, she rolled out Prokeep as a way to rapidly and efficiently communicate with Johnstone’s contractor customers. We spoke to Flacks in October of 2021 to talk about her journey and how Prokeep has impacted the way she does business. 

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Flacks saw the future of the company in Prokeep, where she could optimize her communications with Johnstone Supply’s customers. And the results spoke for themselves. The text-based communication platform not only cut down phone calls between employees and customers, it maximized time and effort — allowing Johnstone’s team to do more with their day.

There was some initial trepidation amongst the staff that would soon use Prokeep. Because texting was gaining traction as a labor efficiency booster in 2018, some employees worried that Prokeep would take their jobs; what they soon learned is that text messaging actually made their jobs more important.

Flacks explained how Prokeep would save employees valuable time instead, allowing them more time each day to get more done. By allowing customers to text questions, orders, and pictures into their branch number, Prokeep eliminated tedious phone calls and the time it would take to answer simple questions over the phone. Prokeep offered time back to be more diligent in solving customer issues on phone calls and provide better customer service in-store.

When Johnstone Supply launched contactless ordering in 2020 the company blazed ahead of the competition, using Prokeep to, among other things, send pictures of nameplates and arrange curbside pickups. Flacks watched the text communication boom in popularity since it spared employees time and annoyance. As employees grew comfortable with Prokeep, customers also adopted the program in greater numbers.

Flacks unleashed a vital change by transferring the company towards Prokeep. The more Johnstone Supply employees used texting, the more their communication transformed. Many customers transitioned to text — no longer kept on hold during phone calls and quick to receive answers. Employees could also claim a message and tell their customers that they’d begun research on the request. Flacks stressed the importance of reducing hold times, “You're freeing up a lot of time… Being on hold one minute feels like 10 minutes.”

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Flacks also identified prime time-savers with Prokeep. Whenever the temperature rose to a high heat or fell to a bitter cold, the Johnstone Supply phones rang off the hook. “To free up at least one or two phone calls,” Flacks said,  “[Prokeep] makes a world of a difference in regard to being able to run the branch in the day to day and not be so frustrated.” 

When Flacks set a company goal for a five-minute response time, employees blew past it, hitting an average of three minutes and 15 seconds. Customers can rely on Johnstone Supply to respond quickly.

Prokeep created more accessible work conditions for Johnstone Supply, which Flacks regards as significant for herself and other employees. For example, texting has helped distributors and contractors with hearing impairments like herself, decreasing the back and forth over the phone with hard-to-be-clear information like part numbers. It also improved communication for people who’ve learned English as a secondary language and people at work in loud environments. Pictures of nameplates cut to the chase in these interactions, since they’re easy for everyone to understand. “I feel like we've landed a lot more jobs using Prokeep,” Flacks said. “It's made my life a lot easier.” She and many other employees text pictures to execute their work, an innovative tool for Johnstone Supply and the industry. 

Another customer service innovation that has helped Johnstone build better relationships and maximize efficiencies is their locker pickup, which Flacks helped set in motion. 

With locker pickup, contractors can text in an order for pickup in a secured locker. When the counter receives a locker order, an employee will put the order in a locker on-site and text the contractor a unique code for access anytime. The locker pickup order processes within five to 10 minutes — twice as fast as on the phone. As Flacks said, “That's our thing– ‘easier to do business with.’”

Flacks explained that if equipment from Johnstone Supply is damaged or dented during delivery, customers can take pictures on Prokeep. This allows Johnstone Supply employees to deliver a new piece to the customer or change the price accordingly. Prokeep reduces long email interactions about damaged goods and sales reps going out to see the equipment. 

Prokeep runs at the forefront of Johnstone Supply’s Kenilworth operations, offering their customers’ speed and ease. These are crucial reasons for them to return. Flacks said, "If we're in tune with how your business runs, you're going to come to us time and time again." Her evaluation holds true– some customers have even set up a daily routine on Prokeep, texting price checks or follow-ups on their orders’ delivery times. 

Breanne Flacks not only made her job easier, but she also helped revolutionize the way Johnstone Supply at Kenilworth conducts its customer service. Johnstone Supply plans to use Prokeep to hold their lead against their competitors, who have also discovered texting. When the ninth Johnstone Supply location soon opens in New Jersey, they too will text their way to great success on Prokeep.

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