That’s my kind of welcome!
It was bright and early in the morning, 6:30 a.m., and my host, Ryan Craven, VP and General Manager, introduced me to a group of 40 employees including drivers, marketing, plant associates, and more. I was asked to explain the We Supply America journey, but I kept it short because we were all looking forward to fried chicken and waffles (with syrup and hot sauce) in the next room.
As we shared breakfast, I was able to walk around the room and jump from table to table, talking with the employees and hearing their stories. It took all of 30 minutes for my entire day to be made.
One of my favorite interactions was with a woman who works in General Air’s marketing department. She and three of her brothers work for the company. They joked amongst themselves saying that they, and others in the company, prefer to refer to their workplace as “Generous Air.” The company’s giving spirit really impacts every level of employee and every aspect of the business.
One of the team’s drivers said to me, “We are a tight-knit family, we look out for each other, support each other and cover for each other when we need help—every day I walk in here, I feel appreciated.” He spoke with confidence and authenticity, and I was inspired.
I had to run back to the RV and get my journal—I wanted to write down and remember the passion these people were sharing with me.
As I came back through from the RV, I noticed something I hadn’t seen when I first arrived: the locker room. The drivers’ locker room rivals the locker rooms I’ve seen in high-class fitness centers. This really stuck out to me because, more often than not, the employee spaces at workplaces are forgotten or neglected. Here at General Air, even the locker room shows the company’s respect and value for their employees.
After my tour, I drove over to the company’s administrative offices and retail store. As I pulled up, the We Supply America logo was displayed on a billboard on the interstate—with my “Welcome Dirk!” enthusiastically displayed on the frame.
It was pretty cool actually!
General Air’s facilities are really a science and tech marvel (and they suspended me in a harness so that I could experience the scope of their commitment to keeping their customers safe on the job!), and while I loved learning about the tech that supports the company, it still pales in comparison to the culture that they’ve created. You can see the way they value their employees, the way they’re generous toward their employees, in everything they do.
If you pick up one message today, let it be this: company culture is everything. That’s certainly the case at General Air, and their company culture has sustained years of success in their business.
After my time in Denver, I took a 1,200-mile drive toward Tigard, Oregon, a town just outside of Portland.
Gosh, it was a wild drive. The views were amazing, but the weather was horrible—wind, rain, and hail made it straight up treacherous.
The batteries were going dead in the fridge, and I had to stop in the middle of Wyoming where a security guard generously let me plug in and recharge my batteries. Thankfully, I made it out alright.
The next morning, I had a beautiful (and not nearly as treacherous!) drive through the Columbia River Gorge to Consolidated Supply Co.
I arrived at the company, excited to hear about this 94-year old, family-run business.
The team greeted me and gave me a tour of the warehouse and distribution center, where I was able to see the bathroom and kitchen fixtures and materials that they supply. The tour ended with lunchtime and socializing with their warehouse associates, who fill different roles from picking to receiving, shipping, auditing, and so on.
These employees raved about Consolidated Supply, and I prompted a word association game (a favorite method to get down to the heart of what people want to say). When I asked them what words they associate with “Consolidated culture” they spouted off:
Those are words any business owner wants to hear from their employees. The team at Consolidated said that they know they can count on the family culture at the company and that the company’s history proves that they’ll be around in good times and in bad.
Toward the end of my visit, I met with Karla, the president of the company, and her mother Karolyn the company chairman. Karla is in the fourth generation of family members to run the company, and the daughter of the previous company leader, her father. When her dad passed away suddenly, she and her mom took up the call and began to run the business and carry it through a time of grief and hardship.
The conversation we had reinforced the noble calling of distribution. Business is not easy. Leadership is not easy. Creating a sustainable business for the good of employees and customers truly is a noble calling. As we talked, we discussed the many pivots and innovations that have been required over the years on top of the last eighteen-month pandemic-driven challenges.
We explored the company mission: to take pride in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. What a metaphor for the industry. So much of distribution is taking the ordinary, necessary, and everyday products and processes, and making them run with extraordinary efficiency and impact. This is something that’s been so present across the We Supply America tour, and Karla and Karolyn put it into words perfectly.
These two visits reminded me of the importance of generosity and resilience in our industry. We talk so much about the nobility of distribution and building a better future in the distribution industry, but I think we should also talk about how we have already built an amazing history. Stories of generosity and resilience already permeate the industry, and we need to celebrate them.
I hope you’ll join me in celebrating distribution by watching our final episode of the docuseries! Join us on LinkedIn Live at 2:30 CST today, August 26th!