Nicknamed Dr. Shade, Marc Shellshear is an employee who thinks like a business owner—putting shade expertise and management skills to work.
By Sigrid Tornquist
“If you can’t put yourself in the shoes of the person speaking you’re not going to understand what they want,” says Marc Shellshear, IFM, senior vice president of administration for USA SHADE & Fabric Structures, Dallas, Texas. “You may not agree with their perspective, but it’s the only way to understand the challenge they’re facing and how you might address it.”
Shellshear’s duties for the company, which designs and manufactures modular shade and large-scale tension structures, fall on the modular shade side of the business. He manages the sales team and is responsible for estimates and basically all things related to bottom-line performance for modular shade structures.
Expertise and commitment
While Shellshear has only been with USA SHADE & Fabric Structures since 2009, he started working in the industry in 1992, when he was hired as a sales rep for Hendee Enterprises, Houston, Texas. At the time he knew very little about shade structures but took advantage of every educational opportunity he could find, which included learning from then-fellow-salesperson Janet Shelton and Hendee’s owner Chuck Hendee, as well as attending educational seminars and events. “Janet and Chuck taught me all of the basics, including which fabrics are used for which application,” Shellshear says. “Then I went to Chuck and asked him how I could learn more. He sent me to IFAI Expo and told me to sign up for as many classes as I could possibly fit in my day.”
When Shellshear began working for USA SHADE & Fabric Structures, he brought not only a wealth of knowledge about shade structures and sales (people at the company call him Dr. Shade) but also came with the perspective he gained when he became part owner of Hendee Enterprises in 2007. “Becoming a part owner in a business makes you see it in a new light,” Shellshear says. “It changes the way you look at everything—staff, what needs to be accomplished, how money is spent, and how revenue comes in. And though I do not own any part of USA SHADE & Fabric Structures, I still look at my work from an owner’s perspective.”
Having an owner’s perspective helped Shellshear make the shift to working for a company that carries five distinct brand names. The company was the product of three established companies merging, five years before Shellshear came on board. Texas-based Sun Ports, California-based Shade Structures and FabriTec Structures (originally known by the name Shade Concepts) embarked on a joint venture in 2003 to develop modular shade structures to be used as hail protection for car dealerships. The Vehicle Protection Structures (VPS) venture, designed specifically for the country’s hail belt, was wildly successful and led to the merger. “A lot of times when companies merge, eventually the original owners leave,” Shellshear says. “In this case they stayed, and are still here. It’s a benefit to the way we run the business, because there is so much knowledge and experience here that didn’t leave when the company got bigger.”
While it was the VPS venture that led to the creation of the company, it is only one of five brands the company offers. Because each of the three founding companies had already established strong customer bases, the decision was made to preserve the original company names as brands so as not to lose any business generated by brand recognition: Sun Ports, Shade Structures and FabriTec Structures, VPS and Shade Concepts.
Shellshear’s responsibilities for the modular side of the business are divided among the Sun Ports, Shade Structures and VPS brands, the only real difference between the first two being the regions they serve; Sun Ports serves Texas eastward, and Shade Structures serves the West Coast. The products under the two brand names are exactly the same.
Because Shellshear manages the modular shade sales force and administration staff that work from five sites—Texas, California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida—much of the success of his management strategies relies on his commitment to staying in communication with a team that is so spread out. The ways in which he accomplishes that are an outgrowth of an “open door” philosophy. “You have to be available to the people you work with,” he says. “If you sit in your office with a closed door, one day you’re going to walk out and wonder where everybody went.”
Practical ways in which Shellshear keeps the “door open” include regular site visits, flying staff to the main office in Dallas at least once a year, monthly teleconferences, regular checking and promptly answering emails and voice mail, sharing his calendar globally with his staff and scheduling brainstorming sessions.
When one of the sales teams feels the need they will request a brainstorming session. Shellshear, an estimator, an architectural specialist and that area’s sales team essentially sequester themselves in a conference room for several hours talking about product challenges and possibilities. “There’s no set agenda,” Shellshear says. “The sales team just fires questions and comments at us and the estimator and I answer as best we can. They always challenge us to think about what new applications might be possible.”
The brainstorming sessions are just the beginning of a lot of follow-up for Shellshear and the estimator. “Sometimes the sales team will come up with 20 or 30 ideas in one session, and we go back home to do research and figure out what will or will not work,” he says. “Most of the ideas have to do with product development and we work closely with George Ochs, USA SHADE’s senior vice president of product development, to determine what’s doable and what fits the company’s focus.”
And for Shellshear, the company focus always comes back to the owner’s perspective, whether he’s considering product development, sales or management. “Once you have owned part or all of a company and experienced the responsibility for more than just you and your family’s well-being, you realize that the decisions you make affect so many people,” he says. “That’s what’s great about working here—many of our top management staff have that experience and understand that feeling and responsibility.”