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39. Be In The Gray Zone. | Mark’s Message

Mark’s Message:

Ansel Adams is a famous photographer whose greatest pictures are black and white. He made a great contribution to photography with his “Zone System”.  This system is a method of looking at the black and white and finding the right exposure for that picture. Many photographers still use it in today’s digital world. If a photographer is not sure of the exposure or it is a critical shot, they would bracket it, meaning take several pictures at different exposures. Today’s digital cameras do this automatically.

When you are dealing with a difficult situation, the answer is never black or white. Look at the whole picture and pick an option that considers all of the zones. Take several “pictures” of the situation in your mind, and then look at each perspective. Use your best judgement to “Do the Right Thing” that aligns with our goals and strategy.

It is very hard to take a picture where everything is perfectly exposed, so we need to take a picture that looks pleasing to both our customer and Famous. Not too much black, and not too much white. Look at the self portrait of Ansel Adams below. Notice there is a very small area that is almost white and almost black however most of the photo is shades of grey.

Thank you,


Mark Ham

HVAC Training and Technical Support

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39. Be In The Gray Zone. | Jennifer’s Message

Jennifer’s Message:

A lot of our daily work routine is easy to identify as black or white, yes or no. Beyond our various tasks and job responsibilities we have the associate handbook which supports our company policies and procedures. But what about the gray zone? At some point we will all encounter a situation that goes beyond the black and white of company policy.

Ironically, writing about this fundamental was one of the most challenging tasks I have experienced at Famous. Think about it, how would you communicate the gray zone? To explain something that lacks definition even in the dictionary? I did a lot of research and finally came across the following quote from photographer Anders Petersen:

“In black and white there are more colors than color photography, because you are not blocked by any colors so you can use your experiences, your knowledge, and your fantasy, to put colors into black and white.”

Some careers at Famous exemplify what it is to work in the gray zone, and a Showroom Designer is one such role. As designers, we bring our customers’ ideas to life while executing a custom design unique to the space. When we practice this fundamental well, the customer and Famous benefit. Alternatively, if we don’t take the necessary steps, ask the difficult questions and involve the correct people the results can go drastically wrong.

Many of our designers do this well; utilizing their experience, knowledge, education and endless creativity every day. Pam Phillips is one of the best I have had the honor to work with.

Thank you,


Jennifer Perham
District Showroom Lead/Southern District

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39. Be In The Gray Zone. | Tim’s message

Tim’s message:

This fundamental is one of my favorites. Imagine having to sit at your desk, visit one of our customers or work the counter by ONLY answering “Yes” or “No”. There is no other answer to any questions because of policies and procedures. Our ELT allows for each of us to use guidelines rather than Policies and Procedures. We are encouraged to work in the gray zone when we need to by using good common sense, judgement and discretion.

I believe being allowed to work in the gray zone sets Famous apart from our competition that follows a stringent set of procedures and rules. When our competition says “NO” we are allowed to enter the gray zone and provide a solution that benefits our customer and Famous. When we provide that solution, the customer is going to choose Famous first the next time, and hopefully every time. In raising 4 children, I have learned there is nobody more in the gray zone that a child trying to get their own way.

I honestly believe that there are many associates that enter into the gray zone multiple times a day to assist others (internal associates as well) and win business for Famous. One associate that comes to my mind is Dave Figuly. I have been with Dave on sales visits and he has found a way to overcome every objection presented by a contractor on why they haven’t purchased various products from Famous. There was never a policy broken or the word “NO” said, and when we left, the contractor committed to Famous for future purchases as well. Dave worked in the gray to overcome consignment, pricing, credit issues and warranty, among other things to build even more trust and win the business.

Amazon, eBay and Big Box stores all have policies that they stick to. We need to continue to think about venturing into the gray zone to gain market share in this ever changing environment that we are competing in. If we treat each customer contact as an individual and build the relationship, along with doing the right thing, we will continue to set Famous apart from the competition.

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39. Be In The Gray Zone. | John’s message

John’s message:

 Have you ever been to a store trying to return an item and the Sales Associate rattles off their return policy? I am guessing you wouldn’t have been at that store if you thought your request to return the item wasn’t fair to the store or manufacturer.

I remember trying to return a gasoline powered trimmer that I received as a Christmas gift from one of those big box stores (no names). The person that waited on me informed me that any gasoline powered equipment must be sent back to the factory for repair after 30 days, so I couldn’t get a replacement trimmer. I guess I should have used the trimmer in the snow in January!! Well policy is policy, and they sent it back, and a month later, I was able to use that brand new trimmer.

I was at a convention with other distributors, and the speaker stated what he thought was the biggest difference between retail and wholesale distribution. He stated that most wholesalers set guidelines, and most retailers set policy.

An associate who comes to mind when I think of this fundamental is our branch manager in Cleveland, Sherri Foster. Sherri always wants to do what is right and fair for the customer, and for Famous. She also helps guide others to help them feel empowered to make good decisions in the gray zone.

Every circumstance isn’t the same. Look at each circumstance, and do what is fair for both parties. As we “Do the Right Thing Always”, “Take Ownership” and Be In the Gray Zone” … we will build relationships, loyalty and our business (profitably) over the long term.


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39. Be In The Gray Zone. | Marc’s message

Marc’s message:

I must admit that out of all 40 Famous Fundamentals, being in the gray zone is truly one of my favorites. Throughout my life, I have observed (as I imagine you have done as well) how businesses operate and serve their customers. It seems that a lot of companies have so many absolute rules and firm policies that the key associates on the front lines who interface with customers often seem handcuffed to do what is necessary to provide a great customer experience.

As you read in the description above what being in the gray zone means to Famous as it relates to actions and behaviors, obviously we must always be in compliance with regulations and follow the law in everything that we do. That’s black and white and we cannot make any compromises to those hard lines. But when it comes to the gray areas and where more flexibility and judgement is required it seems that in response to issues, companies generate rule after rule and policy after policy which cause more frustrations for customers. However, at Famous we can’t fall into that trap. We cannot manage our business by exceptions and try to develop a policy and procedure for every issue that may arise.

Conversely we need to have guidelines and direction that support the great majority of our customers and allow our associates the opportunity to adjust, be flexible, and to do the right thing in order to provide superior customer service. If you recall a few weeks ago I communicated my thoughts on being process oriented and the importance of having world class systems and processes in place to scale the business. But developing a process and implementing systems are very different than making more rules and policies. So often those policies become stumbling blocks for progress and our customers. We want to be easy to do business with and we want you to be able to use your judgement at the local branch level.

You are truly empowered to shape our future. Therefore, if you see things that we should consider doing differently because it’s in the best interest of Famous and our customers, please have the courage to speak up and voice your important opinions.

When I think of a leader in our organization and the team that she assembled, developed, and supports, Karen Dinehart our Director of Human Resources stands out. Karen is fully engaged in our culture and her years of experience allow her to confidently and competently work in that gray zone. Her responsibilities require that HR makes certain that we are in compliance with the law. That’s black or white; no exceptions. But Karen gets it and knows the difference between a compliance / legal decision and a business decision, which operates in the gray zone.

I’m proud that Karen and our entire Famous team serve our customers and suppliers with the highest of ethics and moral character. This means we are doing things right and doing the right things!

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