Thursday, February 22, 2018
Business

At Vanguard Protex Global, workers live up to company credo

OLDSMAR

There's a famous sign that every Notre Dame football player touches on his way to the field: "Play Like A Champion Today."

Dennis Bayona thinks of that Notre Dame sign every time he reaches out to the corporate version hanging on the walls at Vanguard Protex Global.

The company's mission: "To offer customers an outstanding product, at a fair price, deliver it on time and offer the BEST customer service in our industry."

Those are words to work by for Bayona and his fellow employees at the Oldsmar retail merchandising and security firm, which is appearing for the first time on the Tampa Bay Times' list of Top Workplaces.

"It's the truth," said Bayona, a 39-year-old international shipping clerk. "We try to do the best we can for customer satisfaction."

Not only does that one-sentence mission statement adorn the Oldsmar company's walls, but every employee is given a card with the credo printed on it.

"Every employee carries it with them," said CFO Rodney Surratt, 43. "It's a set of values we choose to live by. This is how we expect to conduct business. If you don't find that, give us a call, give the CEO a call. If our employees aren't acting that way, we want to know.

"It's a pretty straightforward way of doing business, and it's caught on, adding value to the company."

The Oldsmar company builds retail security systems that serve retailers and the public alike: devices such as electronic tethers attached to valuable electronics that allow consumers to hold and use them and prevents stores from losing them to thieves.

Its products are used everywhere from cell phone storefronts opened by Verizon and Sprint to traditional office supply retailers like Office Depot and Staples to wholesalers like Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club.

"Our systems are designed to enhance the shopping experience," said Chris Kelsch, 47, the president and CEO. "If you get a live product in a customer's hands in a friendly way, you're going to sell more product."

He had worked in both the retail display and retail security business when his old company relocated. He decided to stay in Florida and start his own. Kelsch incorporated the company in his own house 14 years ago. The garage was his warehouse, his partner stayed in the guest bedroom and the kitchen was their shipping department.

The company found a real office in 2000. Its business has steadily grown, and its workforce has expanded ever since. It was known as Vanguard Products Group until 2011. Then it bought a New York company called Protex International to expand its international market and moved the new acquisition to Florida.

Three years ago Kelsch brought in Surratt to help build a culture of — corporate buzzword alert — accountability and empowerment.

On the wall of each department are Post-it notes with problems that need solving. Employees are also able to examine the metrics for each department and their fellow workers: How many products have been ordered? How many boxes shipped? How many projects are unfinished? The company also pays bonuses to employees, and has managed to add workers throughout the downturn.

Kelsch always wanted to work for a company like Vanguard. So he decided to build one himself.

"I absolutely wanted to start a company where you liked coming to work," he said.

"I think that's a rarity today. Why would you want to do something that you're not happy with? If you're not enjoying what you're doing, then find something that makes you happy."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.

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