Universal Servo Group is an automation and robotics repair business that was established early 2007 in the state of Georgia, with company president Larry Voss teaming up with his long-time business partner and friend Stewart Bloodworth Jr. to launch the company initially out of Voss’ own garage.
Voss recalls that the operation was very much a “one-man show in the beginning,” with him managing relationships with different companies in order to facilitate repairs, and constantly scouting and recruiting the best technicians available in order to build the company into what it has become today.
The company primarily repairs and sells electronics, hydraulics, and robotics, with various specializations in between. Voss touts the company’s Eaton authorized hydraulic repair center with three hydraulic flow benches (all digital) used for testing and repairing servo and proportional valves, with an additional two benches for hydraulic pumps and motors, gearboxes, cylinders, and any other manner of hydraulic item. The company’s workshops also sport three electronics labs, with each specializing in different items (AC/DC and servo drives, HMIs, circuit boards, et cetera), as well as a servo motor and robotics lab. These labs are staffed by highly trained technicians who prioritize a quick turnaround time, recognizing the need for customers to return their operations to working order as quickly as possible.
The word that Voss uses to accentuate the difference between USG and other companies in its industry is quality, which he touts as the company’s greatest strength. Voss says this value is exemplified in the work of the company’s technicians, who put in the time needed to ensure proper testing of products and processes, a practice unlike some other shops that may not be as thorough. Technicians on the USG team are hand-selected based on their experience in the field and ability to work together on projects, with Voss pointing out that the company sports the highest average tenure for technicians in the repair industry – 26 years of experience on average.
Voss feels that “too many companies overlook experience and are not willing to pay for that experience,” whereas USG will hire the best and refrain from micromanagement, which in turn creates a positive environment and an inherent cohesion among the workforce. Voss admits that his vision for the company from the very beginning was not to build a big sales team per se; conversely, many companies focus initially on beefing up their sales forces, which is a fiscally positive practice but not in keeping with the corporate values Voss and his team wanted to promote.
Instead, USG decided early on to put resources into finding the best technicians instead of selling its services, working with more distributors to use their sales forces, and putting focus on producing the best quality repair possible, which has garnered for the company a loyal customer base – some of whom have been with USG since the very beginning.
Indeed, USG is entirely committed to providing the best possible customer service – but it isn’t just about exceptionalism in this key role, according to Voss. He feels that customers today have many options when it comes to practically every aspect of choosing a business to support, and people generally want to work with those they like and who have an empathetic approach to business relationships. Voss stresses the importance of anticipating the customer’s needs and following through to give them a positive experience and produce a satisfying relationship, an approach that has allowed USG to keep many of its customers on board for the past 12 years.
The company is intent on investing both time and money into doing a detailed evaluation of necessary repairs both upfront and after completion, a practice not common for all companies in the sector. This approach helps the customer directly solve a problem instead of simply squeezing in as many repairs as possible. Voss also notes that a large amount of companies today offer tech support that requires a payment or subscription model in order to access it, but USG offers free phone tech support to both long-term and prospective customers – anyone who may need it.
Voss sums up the company’s aim toward customer service by saying, “We’re very passionate about taking care of the customer; that has always been our priority, giving them the best repair and best service.” In much the same way, he says that USG approaches relationships with its OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) just as it would a relationship with any other customer, using forward thinking on projects and staying on top of ever-changing technology. This development and fostering of relationships has been a key company tenet since its inception and has secured its place in both the OEM distributor process and among its clientele, with Voss adding that the company is proud to call many recognizable OEMs its partners.
As with any industry centered on technology, things can move and evolve very fast, and it is no different for the industrial equipment sector. USG was originally best known among its customer base for its work in hydraulics but has trended more recently toward its electronics and drives division. Voss posits that the expansion of automation and robotics has meant an abundance of drives in controllers and thus a greater demand for repairs and preventative maintenance. The USG team finds that customers can end up buying equipment that becomes obsolete in only a few years, equipment that sometimes cannot simply be replaced, which is why USG also focuses on managing obsolescence in technology (usually by buying up such items in order to continue serving customers with older equipment) and staying on top of the newer technology on the market. This is a balance which Voss admits is not always easy to strike but is worth doing nonetheless to get the best result for the customer.
Adding to its impressive résumé, USG recently garnered a Manufacturing Excellence Award from the Dawson Chamber of Commerce for 2019 and is a five-time honoree in the Bulldog 100, the list of 100 fastest growing businesses owned or operated by UGA graduates by the University of Georgia Alumni Association. The next step for the company, says Voss, lies in building relationships with more OEMs and integrators, particularly ones that are not necessarily the largest in the industry right now but that are doing things differently or with a more novel approach. There are such companies and organizations that are developing software and items that Voss feels are going to be major industry players in the next five to ten years, and the company intends to not only aid these efforts through services, repairs, and technical support, but to help these initiatives come to fruition in growth and development.
USG’s engineering department has also been busy developing a new – as yet unspecified – product, and the company has also been expanding its use of simulators for its customers and OEMs, with several customers requesting these for their equipment. Voss notes that the company is anticipating performing customized simulation for different companies to assist in testing products and troubleshooting.
He summarizes Universal Servo Group’s business philosophy and encapsulates its approach to the future: “Things change so much in this industry… you have to stay on top of the technology, you have to make great relationships with companies, and you have to stay relevant.”