Entrepreneurs see the world through a different lens, and they innovate to make the world match their vision. In my book, INNOVATE! How Successful Distributors Lead Change in Disruptive Time, I define innovation as “Leading customers to a better future for which they are willing and capable of rewarding you.” And that is what entrepreneurs do. They search for opportunities to lead customers to better products, better services, a better way of doing things. They create new strategies—new businesses—to create a better future. They are the definition of progress.
Distributors are entrepreneurs. Each company from fruition to—often multi-generational and decades-long—tenure has to have a deep and nuanced understanding of the market. It’s only on a foundation of business success and profit that distributors can create jobs, build their communities, and support their customers’ needs.
Distributors are an integral piece of a much larger puzzle, they are the foundation of our society—and the companies on the We Supply America tour know that. To meet the needs of the American public, they team up with their customers, building symbiotic relationships that enable distributor and customer to succeed collectively. Distributors look at the big picture, and when their customers’ needs shift, they innovate to keep up—and even think ahead to create solutions before a new problem is even identified. A great example of this is how KAMO stepped up during Covid-19.
KAMO is a janitorial and sanitation company that supplies schools, hospitals, restaurants, and more. And during the pandemic, KAMO knew their customers’ needs had changed. They needed more than cleaning supplies; they needed information about killing viral bacteria—about sanitation in general. There was a flurry of anxiety dressed in questions—What do schools need to do to reopen? How can we reassure the students and parents that it’s safe to return? How do we validate that the restaurant is disinfected and ready for customers? How do we handle the increased Covid-19 risks in hospitals where there are already frail patients?—KAMO took it upon themselves to serve their customers by answering those questions. They made literal playbooks for each of their clients, giving them the specific steps they needed to reopen and rebuild their businesses.
KAMO noticed a need—a way they could improve their customers’ businesses—and they innovated. They created multiple personalized solutions to meet their diverse clients.
This forward-thinking philosophy is a cornerstone of the noble calling of distribution, and across my 3000-mile journey, I’ve seen it again and again. One of the key things Chuck Cohen, the Managing Director of Benco Dental, stressed was being forward-thinking. It isn’t just about the here and now, it’s about the long game. He spoke about thinking in decades rather than quarters—and his strategy works.
Benco Dental has been in business for nearly a century, and they aren’t stopping. Like KAMO, the foundation of their long-term goal is to gain and retain business through customer-centricity, and it goes beyond lip service. At Benco Dental, they truly understand their customers, and they think holistically about how they can drive their customers’ success, and as a result, drive their own. The whole industry is built on driving profit through supporting one another—
They partner with a network of customers toward a unified goal: serving the American people.
These companies know that the decisions they make have an immense impact on their teams, customers, and communities, and they don’t take that lightly. They don’t play the Fortune 500 games of manipulating results through financial strategies to please Wall Street. They use long-term strategies, like Chuck Cohen said, to sustain long-term business that is driven by long-term employees and customers alike. At C.H. Briggs, I met one of those long-term employees.
Darcy Stubblebine was smiling and pink-cheeked as her work family sang happy birthday and cheered her on. The We Supply America RV acted as a backdrop for our—somewhat offkey—singing, and that experience reinforced for me how important it is for these companies to be viable, to be successful, to employ and support these employees—sometimes for decades.
The profit that independent distributors are making is hard-earned and well-deserved. There is no passivity or anonymity to their business practices—everything is thoughtful, intentional, and based on creating real value for real customers.
And this profit translates into six million jobs, strong economies built on the free market, and growing communities full of opportunity—this is the noble business of distribution. It’s an industry that was born through the entrepreneurial spirit, and it is sustained through today’s generation of freethinkers and problemsolvers.