Alligator Diesel Performance in Coeur d’Alene increased its sales more than 1,200 percent over the past three years, enough to hit Inc. Magazine’s list of the country’s 500 fastest-growing private companies.
But earnings reports alone do not tell Alligator’s story. This company’s success is about more than how to sell high-performance parts for light diesel trucks. Or how to manufacture them. Or how to install them, all of which Alligator does.
Theirs is a story of doing what customers want while always keeping an eye on the future. Of demanding excellence while providing an almost childishly fun work environment. And it’s about a partnership between a husband and a wife who have complementary skills and are smart enough to defer to each other’s strengths.
“She’s always trusted me with her cars and I always trust her with my money,” co-owner Chad Hall said of his wife, Jayme. Both are 35 and they have been married 17 years. They have two young sons. “When we were 18, we weren’t even married and we had a joint bank account.”
Jayme Hall put it this way: “I don’t know anything about trucks. But people – it’s all about people. That’s why we work well together, because I like people and he loves trucks.”
From 2007 to 2011, Alligator increased sales from $540,000 a year to more than $12 million. When the Halls arrived in Coeur d’Alene in 2009, they were the only two employees, selling diesel parts over the Internet from their home. Today, the company has 26 employees and its Facebook page has 15,000 fans.
The Halls intend to hit $50 million in sales within three years.
“We’re kind of big believers in ‘Go Big,’ ” said Jayme Hall. “You put outrageous goals on the wall. And they work.”
“It was a (one-)year goal to do a million dollars (in sales) a month,” said Chad Hall. “And we met it six months early.”
Staying on the forefront
The high-performance diesel truck industry is relatively young, perhaps 10 years old, Chad Hall said. Few diesel trucks have had a high-performance part installed, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Alligator’s customers are young men, business owners or working-class men, Hall said. They already drive diesel trucks and either want them to go faster or don’t want to lose power when they’re towing a trailer.
During the recession, Alligator and companies like it grew “exponentially,” he said. He attributes it to the same mindset that causes people to fix up their homes rather than buy new ones during recessions. Increasing their trucks’ performance is a luxury his customers can afford that makes them happy, he said.
“Diesel trucks are not one of those things, like a sports car, you can do without,” Jayme Hall said. “People are buying them for work and they’re keeping them longer.”
Many of the customers are 20-somethings who have grown up online. In response, one Alligator employee’s full-time job is to maintain the company’s presence on social media, including the company blog, Facebook, Twitter and online chat forums.
To keep moving the company forward, the Halls pore over business books, using only the advice that works for them. They draw ideas from businesses as different as Zappos, Google and Polaris.
Employees are expected to keep social media pages open all day so they can respond to customer inquiries or capture new customers posting questions. Once a dialogue gets going, Jayme Hall said, customers grow to trust Alligator’s employees.
“That’s actually how we initially grew our business,” Chad Hall said. Customers “found us on Facebook, and they found us on Twitter. We actually have a much cleaner connection with those people. It’s direct and to-the-point questions.”
“We try to keep Alligator on the forefront of what’s going on,” Jayme Hall said.
A few months ago, an idea woke Jayme Hall up in the middle of the night.
The next morning, she went to Toys R Us in Spokane Valley and loaded her cart with 1,500 multi-colored plastic balls, about the size of tee balls.
As she wheeled the cart through the store, “All the kids were like, ‘We want to go to your house,’ ” Jayme Hall said. “When I explained I was buying them for work, all the parents were like, ‘We want to come work where you work.’ ”
The balls became the top stress-relieving tool in a company where the staff is pushed to meet outrageous sales goals. When the stress becomes too much, ball fights break out and the balls end up everywhere.
But the balls do double-duty as a message delivery system. Employees have glass jars on their desks that say, for example, “Chad’s Balls,” and receptionists tape messages to the balls. Other employees can easily glance at a co-worker’s jar and see who is swamped and might need help.
On Thursdays, the Halls cook burgers or tacos in the company kitchen. They once held “don’t touch the floor Friday,” and everyone rode around on scooters. And the conference room Playstation regularly gets a workout.
Despite the emphasis on fun, Chad Hall said it’s second to customer service. Alligator employs one sales person for every customer service person, a ratio he said is closer to three-to-one in his industry.
They regularly bring suppliers and vendors to the company to train the staff on new products, parts and trends.
“Everyone knows we do everything based on relationships,” Jayme Hall said. “When they come in and sit down with our guys, the sales go way up. So they love doing it.”
They only hire sales people who already have a passion for diesel trucks. They’ve hired former customers and former vendors. People have moved to Coeur d’Alene to work at Alligator from as far away as South Carolina.
“It’s not just a job. All our sales guys are enthusiasts,” Chad Hall said. “They all drive diesel trucks. They’re all at events. They’re in the industry. Now they’re getting paid to do what they love to do.
“That’s been the key,” Chad Hall said. “We go out and find people that love it, and if they love it, they own it.”
Chad and Jayme
Chad and Jayme Hall met in high school in Las Vegas. Chad Hall grew a career in construction into management of a multimillion-dollar government project. But working 15-hour days burned him out. Jayme Hall worked in public relations and accounting. She started a bookkeeping consulting firm from home and discovered a love for entrepreneurship and working with other businesses.
In 2005, they were ready to make a business out of their passion. They turned back to Chad’s lifelong hobby – trucks – and decided to focus on diesel because that’s what he was driving at the time.
“We literally started selling product out of the back of my pickup in Las Vegas,” Chad Hall said.
When the economy there began to sour but Internet sales took off, they closed their shop and took the business in-house. They figured they could do that from anywhere and didn’t want to raise their sons in Las Vegas. They decided to return to Coeur d’Alene, where they’d lived briefly in 2004 after falling in love with the area while visiting family.
They moved to Coeur d’Alene on Jan. 1, 2009, and operated the business for a full year out of their home. They had six phone lines and a fax machine. They soundproofed their office walls and bought a professional answering service. For a year they juggled sales, customer service, shipping and returns, dashing to pick up their sons at the bus stop between trips to the post office.
“By December we knew we couldn’t do it anymore,” Jayme Hall said.
They hired two people and doubled sales. They moved into an office, outgrew it, expanded it and outgrew it again. They hired six more people in one week. Eventually, they landed in the office on the north side of Coeur d’Alene.
When they saw unmet needs, they began manufacturing parts. When customers began clamoring for installations, they added a service department. Customers have driven from as far as Florida to have Alligator work on their trucks. Their biggest sellers are programming to enhance the horsepower, air intake and exhaust systems.
A future goal is to become a tech company, adding website production for the automotive industry.
“When we feel like we’re boxed in, that’s our key that we want to move outside that box,” Jayme Hall said. “We don’t want to be just like our competitors. We want to be something they haven’t thought that they could be.”