In the distribution industry, customers are far more than just the people we sell to. They are partners. Our customers share the goal of distributors countrywide—to provide the products and services that consumers need. Our customers cannot do that without the supplies that we provide, and we cannot serve the end-customer—the American public—without our customers. The distributor/customer relationship is fundamentally symbiotic, with both entities serving one another and working toward a unified goal. And it’s this symbiotic relationship that drives the sixth ethos of the 7 ethos of the noble calling of distribution: customer-centricity.
Across the We Supply America tour, I met with so many great customer-centric companies, and Benco Dental is one that really stands out for me. I had the pleasure of meeting with some of Benco’s customers, dentists, for our third episode of We Supply America.
I spoke with Dr. Brian Frutchey, a top-tier endodontist who told me he could do root canals in his sleep but hadn’t been given a strong business foundation during his education. While he was in school, all of the focus was, understandably, on the intricate dental procedures and practices that are necessary in the field. So when he finished school and started his practice, he was a little lost on the business side of things. He attributes a lot of his success in gaining customers and managing his business to the partnerships he made through Benco.
Chuck Cohen, Managing Director of Benco Dental, explained that their focus is to support and advocate for their customers so that their customers can focus on treating and caring for their patients’ oral health. In fact, their business model is built on it. Chuck explained that they think of every box Benco Dental ships out in regards to the patient at the end of it. They have to fill those boxes with supplies and ship them out because, otherwise, the patient at the end of the box won’t get the dental care they need. The Benco Dental leadership truly ties their purpose to customer-centricity—and not only in reference to their own customers but also to the patients of their customers. Their service-mindedness is truly noble.
A big part of customer-centricity is looking past your own needs to those of others. It isn’t just about making sales and benefiting your own business, it’s about truly knowing your customers, understanding their businesses, and finding new ways to add value. This became especially important when the global pandemic interrupted norms and created new needs.
Kamo Janitorial Supplies in Augusta, Georgia, was quick to act when the pandemic spread across our country. As one of the leading suppliers of cleaning supplies—a vital product in a pandemic-ridden world—Kamo’s team recognized that they were uniquely positioned to not only serve their customers, but also the community and country at large.
As panic permeated the country and questions about how to reopen schools, how to disinfect hospital rooms, how to prep restaurants for reopening and more were being asked, Kamo took it upon themselves to answer those questions. They created playbooks for their customers, with each book identifying the specific needs and standards of the industry and how to apply cleaning standards accordingly.
They viewed their mission as one to uplift their customers. They wanted to help their customers reopen, to help them retain staff, to help them serve their own customers—the people of their community. Their customer-centricity drove them to the higher goal of creating healthier, cleaner communities. They recognized that the customer isn’t just the company buying the supplies and paying the bill, it is also the person who is affected by those supplies—and that means the janitorial staff at the elementary school to the teachers, to the students, to the families of the students—everyone is affected.
There is no greater example of the reach of distribution than this. Kamo, in serving their customers, truly reached every corner of their community and beyond by helping stop the spread of Covid-19. If that isn’t noble customer-centricity, I don’t know what is.
These independent distribution companies are unique because—unlike their larger, more corporate counterparts like Amazon—they are close enough to the customers that they can develop industry expertise and make informed decisions. Major corporations that are removed from the communities they impact are rarely able to see the immediate reach of their work and of their customers’ work, which leads to an introspective mindset based on making sales and revenue regardless of the customers’ success (or lack thereof).
Customer success is critical to the noble calling of distribution.
Almo, a Philadelphia appliance distributor, is highly aware of the need for customer-centricity, and they put it at the center of their business model. They have found their niche in serving smaller community appliance dealers, and they put their heart and soul into their mission. They are the suppliers of the small-town main-street appliance stores. They support small businesses, and they know that their customers’ success is vital to the success of the communities that they serve.
In a sense, Almo supports the dreamers—entrepreneurs in small-town America who want to own businesses and really go for it in spite of the competition in the market. Almo sees that competition—the big box stores, the major corporations—and they aren’t intimidated. Instead, they partner with their customers, they know the industry, and they drive success by drawing from the principles of their FIIT model: Family, Innovation, Integrity, and Teamwork. They are truly a customer-centric noble company.
This is the bottom line: customer-centricity is about having a local mindset. Distributors that make the greatest impact are not the big-box companies, but the ones that are connected to their local communities. They live where they serve, and they understand that every decision they make will impact their customers and the larger local community. That community impact is another reason why it’s essential that they focus on helping their customers succeed. If the customer wins, we all win.
Customer-centricity is the intersection of business and family. I witnessed it many times as I toured the country. Independent, family-owned businesses that serve other independent, family-owned businesses are the types of companies transforming our country, supporting our economy, and impacting our communities. Customer-centricity is a key ethos of the noble calling of distribution.