MARIELLA SAVIDGE, The Morning Call
Though his latest award is for customer service, Tony Caciolo also could be recognized for diplomacy.
When your company's mission statement says, "The customer's perception is our reality," you have to have some serious people skills.
Caciolo is president of Monogram Custom Homes, headquartered in Coopersburg. Recently, the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Pennsylvania bestowed an Excellence in Customer Service Award on him and his 5-year-old company.
This guy isn't just peddling widgets. He's selling homes, the biggest, most expensive, most emotional thing a couple ever will buy.
Prices on these upscale homes start just under $300,000 and can go as high as $1 million.
Caciolo, 32, and his partner, Chip Shupe, are trying to add value to that price tag by making lots of traditional extras standard. Amenities that come with the price of the house include the granite kitchen counters, the brand-name Jacuzzi and the crown molding, to name a few. Other builders usually charge for each.
Still, there are lots of expensive, permanent choices for couples to make, and emotions can run high at times.
With an investment of that magnitude, if a customer says a piece of molding is crooked --even though the carpenter knows it's right, and every law of physics says it's right -- it's much easier to change the molding, Caciolo said.
"The customer's perception is our reality," he said.
On top of that, the last line in the Monogram's contract says, "This contract is signed in the spirit of friendliness and neighborliness."
"It may sound corny, but it eliminates an adversarial relationship. There's no constant bickering. We have a good time, and the customers turn into our friends," he said.
That means a lot to Caciolo, to Shupe and to Monogram's other five employees, one of whom, Robert Eugster, is the vice president of quality assurance and customer service. His sole function is to do whatever it takes to make sure customers are satisfied.
And, obviously, it means a lot to the up to 30 customers they build homes for every year. Sales are expected to be about $10 million this year, Caciolo said.
Caciolo always liked working for himself. Still an avid bicyclist, he repaired bikes for his teachers when he was growing up in Emmaus. He graduated from Emmaus High School in 1985.
The rules said a student had to earn a 3.0 GPA without Cs. Caciolo drew up a formal analysis which said it would make more sense to raise the required GPA to 3.25, but to allow Cs.
"Why should you be kept off the honor roll if you get a C in, say, elective weight training," he said.
Though he still never made the honor roll, he did earn the principal's award for the outstanding student in his senior class.
To this day, Emmaus High's honor roll policy stands the way Caciolo proposed it.
And though he never made the dean's list, he did earn an MBA from Lehigh University, which is where he and Shupe met and became friends.
Caciolo always did things differently, he said, not always the traditional way.
And therein lies the reason for his success.
Builders today do things the same way they did 20 years ago, he said, and it's turning out to be fairly inefficient.
When Caciolo wanted the granite for the kitchens, he bought it from the importer, eliminating several levels of middlemen, each of whom added 15 percent to the cost, he said.
The same went with the Jenn-Air appliances; he went right to the company. The same went for the carpeting, the hardwood floors, the whole-house stereo systems and the windows.
He includes the best because buys direct, and he uses the same products in every home he builds.
"It gives us a competitive edge," he said.
It started out being controversial, and has turned the industry upside down, he said.
"But it got us a tremendously loyal customer base," he said.
Monogram's self-nomination for the Excellence in Customer Service Award was one of 19, said Judith A. Wallace, the Better Business Bureau's assistant director of public relations.
The purpose of the award is to recognize companies that go above and beyond the call of duty for their customers, she said.
Judges included a consumer advocate, a member of the academic community who had a special interest in business ethics and a general member of the BBB.
"The judges were blown away by the length to which Monogram goes to forge relationships with their suppliers to pass the savings on to their customers," Wallace said.
"One of the judges was having a home built and wanted to send Monogram's application anonymously to her builder.
"Monogram understands what they're in business for," she said, "To make a profit, you have to provide exceptional service."
Copyright The Morning Call. Reproduced with permission.