April 21 2008 12:00 AM

Century Rain Aid


In 1987, Wayne Miller, was heading up his own consulting firm when Century Rain Aid, with eight branches in four states, offered him a position. They were looking for someone who could develop and implement the business and computer systems that would enable the company to continue growing. They retained Miller, who had a systems and business background, as a consultant.

"We made a quantitative union," says Miller, "I understood how a business works and could develop systems to help support it. Century knew how to take care of the customer."
No small task; to integrate eight branches to run as one operation on one computer mainframe. His successful completion of this assignment led to his employment as chief operating officer of Century Rain Aid. In 1993, he took the reins as president and along with the hard work of many great employees, grew the company to 167 branches, operating in thirty-eight states and Canada, all of which were in place when the company was acquired by Deere & Company in October of this year.

Miller shared some of the 'secrets' for the company's successful growth. He explained that they would buy a reputable business in a market with an established customer base and then grow out from there. "We looked at where there was an under-serviced market without established competition. Thirty percent of our growth was from acquiring established businesses, the other seventy percent was organic."

Miller clarified how they knew where to find these companies. ?We listened to what people had to say, we networked, and we studied the Sales & Marketing Management Annual Survey of Buying Power. Sometimes it just took a phone call; we would let an established company know that we wanted to open up in their market; the door was open if they were interested in selling. More often than not, it was an immediate yes; others needed time to think and might call back a couple of months later. Occasionally, we would get a call back after we acquired the competition. There was never a shortage of opportunities.?

When Century acquired a new store, the integration was almost immediate. "Day one, we wanted to be on our computer system operating as Century Rain Aid. Within thirty days, the conversion was usually complete." The company's philosophy was to make the transition fast, uneventful and comfortable for the contractors. Miller didn't want to lose the goodwill and customer base they purchased with the business.

Once the transition was complete and Century was established in the area, they would look to open additional branches, based on the premise that when a contractor needs an irrigation part, he wants to travel a short distance, go in, get what he needs, and get back to the jobsite. This also allows the salespeople to get to know the contractors personally, allows them to introduce the contractors to prospective customers, and provide them with value-added services such as job leads, designs and material take-offs, which leads to prospective jobs for the contractors.

Miller won't take credit for this, instead crediting his predecessors and his fellow employees with making this business philosophy so successful that Century experienced tremendous growth over the past eight years.

"The company that I became president of already had a preface for success," Miller expounded. "Century was an 'irrigation only' company and, more notably, we were not a family-dominated company."

"We were a professionally managed company and able to attract good, dedicated people to work because people were able to grow within our company. They did not look at our company and see a lot of family and know that there would never be a chance for promotion or growth within the company. In fact, one of the reasons we had to keep growing, was to continue to provide opportunities for our people."

As an example, he told of an employee who started as a truck driver and in three years had worked his way up to an area manager. "I could cite many examples such as this over the years; I call that Management 101," says Miller.
"This is a good industry; Century has a great management team with a lot of depth and no internal politics. I worked with a first-class group of people and found Century a fun place to work." And his final note . . . "The operative word is work."

Born in Minnesota, Miller received his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, then went on to earn his master's degree from the University of Michigan in Industrial Administration.
After thirteen years of being the driving force behind Century Rain Aid's growth, Wayne Miller has a relaxed chuckle in his voice as he reflects on those years, and at the same time it's evident he's already zeroed in on his future.

"Retirement?" Yes, Wayne Miller's way. "I was consulting before Century and I'll be consulting after Century. The nice thing is now I'll be working on my time schedule, if I want to work eighty hours a week, I can. If I want to take off, I can."

Miller, a man who seldom took time off, doesn't have any exotic vacation plans for the transition period. In fact, he doesn't plan a transition period.

Before the ink was dry on the closing papers between Richton International (Century's parent company) and Deere & Company, signifying Wayne Miller's official retirement as president of Century, Miller had consulting jobs lined up. He also had satiated one personal passion with the procurement of his new pride and joy, a 600 hp AC Cobra. "Check back with me in a year or so and see how many speeding tickets I've racked up," he laughed.