David Terry has been known to cause a traffic jam.
His most recent annual customer appreciation day was so popular that traffic backed up on Jefferson Road in Henrietta from the Duke Co.-where he is president and managing partner-to Southtown Plaza, half a mile away.
"It comes down to respect. It’s so simple," says Terry, 46, of his belief in giving back to the customer. "We truly appreciate business that comes our way; we don’t take it for granted. We have to earn it. As long as you’ve got the customer service piece, it’s an important part of my formula for success."
In its nine years in business, the Duke Co. has grown from four employees at a single location to more than 50 at facilities in Rochester and Ithaca.
While Terry declines to discuss revenues in detail, the company has had double-digit growth annually since 2004, he says. It enjoyed its best year in 2010, he says, and sales growth is expected to continue in 2012.
The Duke Co. was founded as a Volvo Rents franchise in 2003 by Terry and several partners. Currently the company has four owners: Terry, his brother Thomas Terry III, Stephen Dudley and Jeff Jenkins.
Originally formed to offer Volvo equipment rental, the company has evolved to one that offers four distinct yet overlapping services: construction equipment rental, construction materials sales, sales of salt for de-icing and concrete forms rental.
"You come here and you get A to Z," Terry says. "They can go to the store who pieces it out or they can come to us."
Diversifying and offering an assortment of materials and services have helped sustain the company through a recession and through the cyclical nature of the construction equipment industry, Terry says.
Last year the Duke Co. split from Volvo Rents, primarily because the franchisor wanted to focus solely on its construction equipment business, while Terry and his team wanted to expand the other products and services to have a year-round business.
"We had a very mutual separation," Terry says. "They have a great deal of respect for me. I have a great deal of respect for them. I was happy the way we parted ways."
The Duke Co., whose customers include both commercial clients and individuals, will continue to offer Volvo construction equipment, and, as part of the separation agreement, Volvo Rents will not open another store in the Rochester area for two years.
The new company name is a tribute to Terry’s father, Thomas Jr., nicknamed Duke, who passed on his entrepreneurial genes to his sons.
Terry’s grandfather, Thomas, founded Lewis Tree Service Inc. in 1938 as Monroe Tree Surgeons. Thomas Jr. took over the company in 1959, and in the 1960s Monroe Tree acquired Lewis Tree Service. Ownership of the company changed hands again in the 1980s and eventually was sold back to Thomas Jr. in 1990.
David Terry’s first job was with his father at Monroe Tree as a "grunt man," he says, dragging brush to the curb after trees had been cut.
"I loved it. I loved working with the guys in the field," he recalls. "You have something to learn from every individual. Everybody has something important to bring to the table."
Though Thomas Jr. has passed away, Thomas Terry III and David Terry have continued in their father’s tradition. They are partners in Terry Tree Service LLC, which specializes in residential tree service, commercial land clearing, storm disaster reclamation and wood resource recovery service.
Additionally, the brothers founded Underground Technologies Inc. in the 1990s. Prior to its closing in 2005, the company installed underground gas, electric, water and sewer pipes, specializing in laying new utility lines through existing ones.
Speaking of goals for the Duke Co., David Terry says he will strive to maintain the business and continue to move the company in a positive direction. However, expansion is on the back burner, at least for a while, he says.
"I think we have enough," Terry explains. "We grew fast in a small amount of time. It’s going to be at least a year or two if I do expand."
In the interim, Terry will continue his focus on customer service.
"My main focus, long or short term, is customer service, taking care of people," Terry says. "I think people will tend to come to you or give you a last look because they like you."
Terry believes in taking care of people the way you would want to be taken care of.
"We’re very loyal to our customers. We want to take care of them," he says. "Without customer service, you’re going to lose it all."
Interacting with customers is important to him, and he has an open-door policy for both employees and clients.
When visitors walk into the Duke Co. storefront, they can pick up a bagel or a piece of pizza or grab a drink at the customer service bar. From there they have an unobstructed view of Terry’s office, where his prized U2 drum skin hangs behind his desk. A framed gun and shell casing from the first "Godfather" movie and a Grateful Dead gold record also adorn the wall. Family photos and his children’s artwork hang on another wall.
His personality too is displayed for all to see, and he likes it that way.
"I think our customers like that I have an open-door policy, that any customer is welcome to come in here. I love talking to customers; you learn a great deal," Terry says.
It keeps him grounded and coming back for more, he adds.
Vice President Kevin Hoolihan says the Duke Co. prides itself on providing good service and believes its service differentiates the company from competitors.
"Our people-everyone from our folks at the counter to our salespeople to our drivers-everyone is striving to do the best for the company," Hoolihan says.
Terry describes himself as a manager who relies on his team.
"I wouldn’t be as successful without my people," he says. "I try to bring in people that have a lot to offer the company."
Hoolihan says Terry is accessible but not a micromanager.
"David does have a lot of confidence in his people. He empowers his people to go out there and do their thing. That’s a great thing," Hoolihan says. "When you’re doing a good job, it’s appreciated."
Dudley, who leads the sales department, says Terry allows employees to do what they do best without interference.
"He’s very friendly, he really appreciates people’s business and he goes out of his way to thank them for it," Dudley says. "I told him four or five years ago, ‘Your biggest strength is your personality.’ When somebody meets David, they don’t forget David."
Terry says he does think his interpersonal skills are strengths that make him a good manager.
"I try to get them to work to their full potential," he explains. "I like overseeing the entire operation and trying to put out the problem areas."
Timothy Pope, chief operating officer at Terry Tree Service, says Terry’s best quality is his leadership ability.
"He’s always a problem solver and extremely good communicator," Pope says. "People just enjoy being around David."
Pope, who knew Terry’s father, says the two are similar in that both recognized the importance of surrounding themselves with good people.
Dudley calls the employees a tight-knit family.
"Our turnover is very light," he says. "And that has to do with the way we treat our customers and our employees. If you work hard, you get rewarded."
Terry compares his staff to a football team.
"You need a leader, but you’re nothing without your players," he says. "The key to my success is not me. It’s the people that you surround yourself with."
Employees are equipped to make their own decisions, but often they rely on each other.
"Teamwork is a top priority. You have to work as a team," Terry says. "And to work as a team, you need to communicate."
Keeping his team together through communication can be tough, Terry acknowledges.
"There’s always a conflict between people," he explains. "We are very fortunate here that we have a good team, good employees. But every once in a while, when I want to pull my hair out, is when we have a breakdown in communication. And it needs to be corrected immediately, because once that breaks down, then you’ve got problems."
The biggest difficulties he has seen in his line of work are compensation and rates, Terry says.
"Trying to hold the rates steady," he says. "There’s not a lot of work right now, and our biggest challenge is trying to get the right price and not lowball."
The Duke Co. has been affected by the recession in an interesting way, Terry says.
"There’s not a lot of big jobs," he explains. "The daily and weekly rentals have increased. You make more money with a daily or weekly than if you have a six-month project. So it’s been extremely busy here because the equipment has been coming and going."
The construction industry took a hit during the recession, Hoolihan adds. That is one reason the company was determined to add to its services.
"The vibe from our salesmen out there was dismal. What we hear from our guys in the field is that guys are struggling for work," he says. "We’re still growing. We weren’t where we would want to be, but given the market conditions, we were still satisfied with what we were doing."
Diversity in its product lines and a positive demeanor have kept the business going during a tough economy, Dudley notes, and have allowed the Duke Co. to reach new customers as well.
"It starts with the friendliness, but then you have to back it up with your product and especially your service," he says.
"Treat people like they want to be treated. Don’t take them for granted," he says. "Trust, you’ve got to have trust on both ends."
Born and raised in Rochester, Terry lives in Brighton. He has three daughters: Sarah, 21; Jessie, 10; and Jamie, 8.
Terry is involved in some area charities, including the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, and the Duke Co. supports the troops by giving whenever it can.
"I think people fail to realize how lucky we are. We take things for granted," Terry says. "I live every day to the fullest."
In his spare time Terry enjoys golf and watching sports, and he became a Grateful Dead fan while attending Niagara University.
A favorite family memory is of growing up in a house with several siblings. Their mother would cook the children a nice meal, and Terry’s parents would sit with them during the meal, chatting about their days. When the kids were done eating, their parents would begin their meal, enjoying some quiet time together.
It was about making time for each other, he says.
Having a successful business is right up there among his biggest accomplishments, Terry says, and he owes some of that to his family.
"I think I am very fortunate to have parents like I do," he says. "Without my parents, I wouldn’t be the person I am. Without my dad, this place would not exist."
Terry Tree Service’s Pope calls Terry’s father one of the greatest businessmen he has met.
1/27/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.
Title: President and managing partner, the Duke Co.
Education: B.S., business administration, Niagara University, 1987
Family: Daughters Sarah, 21; Jessie, 10; and Jamie, 8
Hobbies: Golf, watching sports
Quote: "We’re very loyal to our customers. We want to take care of them. Without customer service, you’re going to lose it all."