It’s more than a pleasant saying, and it’s time for us to really define it and understand what it means—family is the third of the seven ethos of the noble calling of distribution.
When you get into the nitty-gritty of family culture—or perhaps, when you spend months meeting people and learning about how they model family culture in their companies—you start to see patterns in how these environments are built. What I have discovered throughout the We Supply America tour, is that there are seven virtues that define the family ethos in relation to these business cultures:
- Bond: There is a deep, personal, and caring relationship between all of the employees
- Connection: The connection between employees is much deeper than a transaction (“let me help you do your job,” and “you do the work and we’ll provide the paycheck”) and is made at the emotional level (“we are on this journey together and we are doing something meaningful”).
- Commitment: There is a deep desire to contribute to individual and organizational success for the long-term and is seen in part by the tenure – decades in many cases – of employees.
- Dignity: there is a deep respect for the individual. Even deeper than saying “every job is a worthy job,” these businesses that are built on the family ethos have a deep respect for every individual.
- Belonging: These businesses are not siloed by titles, functions, jobs or in any other way. There is a sense of belonging to something bigger, more important, more meaningful, and more holistic than simply having or providing a 9 to 5 job.
- Value: The employees are part of creating and contributing to something of value and as such, they themselves are valued at the human level. They really are more than just a number that gets lost in size, scope, bureaucracy, and so on.
- Love: There is a sense and a real love of “this place” and “each other” and in this way, there is a commitment to help each grow, succeed, and be fulfilled in all they do.
These words reveal the nobleness of distribution. Distribution companies across the United States are driven by these same values, and this is where they derive their success. This family ethos can be understood within the framework of time. Every family has a past, a present, and a future. In business, especially in the business of distribution, these three timeframes have specific purposes.
Family is about honoring and respecting the past.
So many of the independent distributors I’ve visited during We Supply America are family-owned multi-generational companies. And a big part of the family culture is acknowledging the—often humble—beginnings of those that came before. Looking at the people that paved the way for the team now and respecting and appreciating their legacy. The legacy at Edney Distributing Co. in Lakeville, MN is built on one man’s dream—a dream he had when he was 65 years old—and the company embodies that never-stop-dreaming mindset.
They just celebrated both their 70th year of business and a huge change. Jennifer Edney was named the company’s new President, a role she is taking over while her father steps up to be the chairman of the board. Jennifer is the fourth generation of Edneys to lead the company, and her son, Alex (who works in the warehouse), is now the fifth generation of Edneys to work for the family business.
But their family-centric mindset doesn’t just apply to the bloodline of the founders.
Recently, they took time to celebrate an employee who had been with the company for 40 years. This person was honored and added to their company’s version of “Mount Rushmore.”
By looking to their past, the leaders and team members at Edney have a framework by which to manage the present and prepare for the future. They can look at their history and understand the company’s values, and then apply those same values to the years to come. In this way, they’re continuing to build on the legacy that came before them—just like a family does.
Family is about living in the present.
For distribution companies with these family-centric goals, living in the present is more than simply learning to enjoy the moment (as the phrase typically means). Living in the present means that every moment is optimized and every step is intentional. It’s about making the most out of today because you remember and are honoring your history and you are preparing for your future.
One really tangible way distribution companies are modeling this value is by offering employee stock ownership (ESOP). At Cee Kay Supply in Missouri, making ESOP a possibility is a huge part of their value system. They know that this will fulfill their mission, and fulfill those seven
values within family culture, because people are cared for, they’re given room to grow, they’re respected, and the company shows them that they are valued in a very tangible way.
The motto at Cee Kay Supply is “Together We Build,” and this is displayed proudly right in front of Cee Kay in the form of a life-size statue version of the photograph “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.” The statue honors the brotherhood and sisterhood of the steelworkers and the legacy of laborers in our country. It’s a strong tribute to the past that acts as the foundation of their present value system.
Everything at Cee Kay is about working together, building together—supporting one another with a family-centered approach, so that all members are united toward a common goal, and under a common camaraderie. All parties benefit from this great bond and familial relationship that drives success for the company and everyone in it.
Family is about working together to make a better future.
Every family thinks about the future, whether it’s the immediate future or decades down the line. If you want to build a legacy, you have to think about the future, and that’s what these distributors are doing. Parents always hope that their children will have better lives than they do, and the same is true in business. If you’re a family-owned business, this goal is amplified because your work is not only a family legacy but also a legacy of supporting and employing many others.
For Wiseway Supply in Ohio, building a better future is about living up to, and exceeding, what they’ve done in the past. It’s about constant improvement and a clear understanding of what they want to offer people—and those offerings include caring for their staff. Isn’t this how families operate too? We assess how we have lived, and then we imagine how we can craft better lives for our children, we focus on setting them up for success. In so many ways, this is exactly what independent distributors have been doing, both because they are oftentimes passing their business down to their literal offspring, and because they feel an immense responsibility to continue to provide. Just as those that came before us paved the way, we want to continue that legacy for everyone employed by and served by our businesses.
I’ve talked about it a few times in the past, but something that strikes me about Wiseway is the immense loyalty their staff has for the company. While touring Wiseway, I heard the mantra “Wiseway Every Day.” It’s a call that speaks to the employees’ pride in their company, and their dedication to the team. They are committed to doing things “the Wiseway”—with superior quality, with dedication, with pride. They work together to offer superior service—but they also work together to serve and support one another. These are the building blocks of a better future.
Family is the undercurrent of distribution. Behind any successful, profitable, and collaborative distribution company is a set of team members who think of each other as family. It really is more than a saying. It’s a reality.