Cook & Boardman Group: Leading the Way on Door Openings Service and Career Path Management

The door, frame and hardware niche within the security industry is advancing at an ever-faster pace. Demand for electronic access control (EAC) and electrified door hardware especially continues to grow. New products launch regularly, ranging from the latest wireless EAC and intelligent lock solutions to a wider variety of unique specialty doors and decorative options. Expectations for flexible workspace security and updates to codes and regulations are also constantly evolving.

Keeping up with it all requires paying close attention to industry news, trends and guidance from door opening experts, especially if you’re coming from the design and procurement side of the profession. For locksmiths and system integrators, an ongoing commitment to expert training is essential for gaining the knowledge, hands-on experience and certification that helps ensure proper, secure installations. Staying ahead of the game is even more critical if you’re intent on expanding your services and have an eye on becoming a total openings solutions provider.

Expanding from Distributor to Total Solutions Provider
The Cook & Boardman Group is a case in point. Intent on being a premier distributor of doors, frames and door hardware when they started up 67 years ago, today they provide end-to-end opening solutions services that include pre-install and turnkey field installation. According to James Gammon, Cook & Boardman’s Director of Corporate Training and Development, “Requests from building contractors drove us to grow this direction. Many were having a hard time finding carpenters and subs that had the skills to meet installation and integration demands, especially as hardware and systems have become more sophisticated.” 

Mechanical and electromechanical hardware has evolved considerably over the years, he says. “It takes a dedicated amount of time to learn the special details about how the product needs to be installed so it functions correctly, and then how to turn it over to the owner so they understand how it should work and be maintained properly. So, along with trusting us as the subject matter experts who knew what hardware to recommend for an opening, contractors figured it would also be good to rely on our trained team to install it.”

Identifying the Need for Comprehensive Training
Adding these services to their traditional distribution foundation turned out to be a visionary and fruitful decision. As a result, The Cook & Boardman Group has grown to more than 70 locations across the U.S. – half of which have installation crews. Gammon says that expansion meant hundreds of employees would need training and continuing education to achieve and maintain a consistent level of expertise companywide, whether employees were new hires or already well-versed.

“We formed our training department four years ago. As Cook & Boardman grew and acquired branches, we realized that processes weren’t streamlined across the board,” he explains. “We hadn’t nailed down what field installers were doing or capable of from one market to the next. The same issue applied to our project managers and estimators. So, we did a deep dive into jobs analysis and identified operational procedures that best fit the company’s model for optimizing productivity.”

Gammon says that once they identified the necessary steps, the training department expanded quickly. A key component was to create a program that could take someone fresh to the industry and train them on all the products, solutions and manufacturers they might encounter. “We introduce them to plans and specifications. And we teach them how to use our ERP (Enterprise Reporting Program) that covers our transactional processes. They learn everything from how to generate packages, write purchase orders and fill out machining orders to how to track shipments and schedule deliveries.

“Ultimately, we offer the full breadth of everything involved in the door industry compressed into about eight different onboarding classes. And, of course, we include specific training for installers and systems integrators. It’s truly a career path management system, and ASSA ABLOY Academy has been a key contributor to its success.”

The Journey to Building a Career Path Training Program
Originally, Cook & Boardman relied on a lot of internal resources, pairing new hires with experienced team members. But that ended up cutting into seasoned employees’ schedules and productivity, which caused their own workload to back up. “We needed an alternative,” explained Gammon. “So, we went to our manufacturer vendors and said, ‘We’ve got hundreds of employees we need to train right now, and we have new hires joining us all the time. What do you have as a resource that we can lean on for training?’ And that’s how we got introduced to ASSA ABLOY Academy. They had it all, hands down. It’s been a fantastic partnership ever since.”

What sold Gammon on Academy was the vast library of knowledge about the industry and the expert trainers that were readily available. “Because we spec ASSA ABLOY products to our customers and understand their benefits and how and where they work best, we likely could have developed our own training curriculum. But since there’s so much content already created and ready to roll out through ASSA ABLOY Academy, it made more sense to lean on their resources instead. What they did was help us customize and package a plan specific to our needs.”

For example, there’s an onboarding package for new hires that covers their learning track for the first three months. Then, based on progress and specialization, Cook & Boardman consults with the Academy to determine the next level of training to create a package for the following nine months. Along the way, situations may arise that require specific in-person Academy training either at a Cook & Boardman branch or Academy training center, a remote learning opportunity or perhaps hands-on experience during a scheduled stop of the Academy’s Mobile Installation Training (MIT) Showroom. 

Curating the Curriculum
“It’s easy for us to find and choose the Academy courses that make the most sense,” adds Gammon. “Navigating the Academy catalog on their new website is very easy with the streamlined user interface now. We can quickly find exactly what we’re looking for. We like how training content is to the point and focused, and how we can access and deploy it as qualification packages. We can roll up onboarding, continuing education, master classes and so forth and deploy them based on user skill level and experience in the industry. And the Academy is great at helping guide us whenever we need their insight.”

Gammon noted that Cook & Boardman employees have completed nearly 2,400 onboarding course packages since they began ASSA ABLOY Academy training two years ago. Each of those packages includes up to six courses. Gammon says, “Because we’re able to package training by skill level, users don’t become overwhelmed. That helps them forge ahead and absorb the content more effectively.

“We get positive feedback from the team. Sometimes it’s something simple like how easy it was to learn and understand terminology. Ours is a niche industry so we say things all the time like ‘equal rabbet’. Being able to respond intelligently to what installers, project managers and contractors are talking about helps build credibility and confidence.”

Gammon says employees are enthused about training and want more, which is why The Cook & Boardman Group puts a lot into creating its continuing education programs. “As we probe and discover specific areas our employees need to focus on, we consult  the available courses that the Academy offers and curate those into additional levels,” say Gammon. “Sometimes it’s about advanced material on order writing, master keying or codes and standards. Or it could be orientation on a new product solution.

“For the onboarding package, there’s about six hours of online learning involved. That’s just your basic program for someone who is just entering the industry. By the time an employee does the full 10 levels of our continuing education program, total time is about 120 hours. For those focused on distribution and managing our ERP system, it’s about 75 hours of in-person training. Spread out over a couple of years, it comes down to an average of about two hours a week; that’s well worthwhile.”

The Tangible and Intangible Value
Gammon says that the benefit of training and continuing education extends well beyond getting people up to speed and keeping them up to date so The Cook & Boardman Group can excel at taking good care of its customers. “When somebody knows that the company is investing so much time and resources into them and their career path, there’s a sense of ownership in that. There’s this spirit of ‘the company believes in me, they’re willing to invest in me, so I’m going to invest it back into the company’. That’s invaluable when it comes to retention, recruitment and, of course, developing trustworthy expert service.”