It didn’t take me long to see Jaeckle Distributors’ values at work. Upon entering the lobby, Jeff Jaeckle, President of Jaeckle Distributors, put me to the test. “There’s something as you walk through here that is conspicuously absent. I’m not going to tell you what it is. I want to see if you notice.”
“This is not fair,” I joked. “But I’m going to take a stab at it. When you greeted me this morning, we talked about this company’s rich history. So far walking into both entrances, I don’t see a picture of the founder.”
Of course, I had to hear the reason.
Jeff told me that when they built the lobby 19 years ago, he asked his grandfather what he wanted people to see when they entered. “I asked him if he had any old photos from when he and my grandma started the business.”
Grandpa’s response? “I don’t want my picture up. I hate when companies do that. As soon as you make it about a person, it’s not about the customer anymore. It’s not about me. It’s about them.”
At Jaeckle Distributors, the customer always comes first. They’re featured in Episode 6 of our eight-part docuseries, We Supply America.
Baked in from the Beginning
In 1958, husband and wife duo Harvey and Hardy Jaeckle purchased the Madison branch of Milwaukee Building Supply and renamed it Jaeckle Distributors. The flooring distribution business has grown to over 130 employees and six locations throughout the Midwest. They are still family-owned and run.
“My grandfather started it all with my grandmother. I can’t forget her because she was as involved as he was. My grandpa was the gregarious sales guy, and my grandma watched the numbers and kept everyone in line. They each had their role.”
Jeff told me his grandfather would recount story after story of personal interactions he made sure happened every year. He’d say, “You know, I had breakfast or dinner with every single customer every single year.”
Jeff would laugh and say, “Grandpa, we have 2,000 customers now. I’d be eating the whole time.”
Reminders about the company’s vision and commitment to its customers appear around every corner in Jaeckle’s halls – like this huge banner with a quote from Henry Ford:
“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”
“The thing about my grandpa, he was always about the customer. Even when he was long retired and in his late 80s and 90s, he would always ask what we were doing for the customer.”
His grandparents’ vision has lived on.
Jaeckle is a sustaining resource to the customer, a partner who works to understand the customer’s business, markets, demographic and customers to create real solutions that make a difference.
“We can’t survive unless we make them more successful and add value.”
It’s true. As business leaders, we have to adapt. The customer’s needs are always changing. There is no finish line.
What are you doing to ensure your team is ready? Are they built for change? Are they built for transformation?
Jaeckle Distributors is.
Innovation at the Core
Just ask Bill Simonson, Vice President of Operations. When customers order, their products can be stored anywhere from one side of the warehouse to the other. That’s a challenge when loading a pallet by weight, with the heaviest products on the bottom.
It’s not easy work by any means. It’s physically demanding and grueling. Lots of weight. Lots of freight.
So, they created a system they call zone picking.
Their team members now don’t have to zig-zag back and forth to get the items they need on the pallets. “Now, our driver isn’t going to have to grab something over here and then drive 500 feet to grab the second item and then back again for the third item. Not only does it help with travel time and accountability, but they become a product expert, as well.”
One look at the warehouse told the story. I saw forklift drivers expertly navigating endless aisles of racking, each owning their area. I asked Bill what makes him most proud of his employees.
“When I think of our employees, I think about their dedication. I think about their years of service. This isn’t easy work.”
Andre Miller feels the love. For a little over two years, Andre has been a Warehouse Associate for Jaeckle Distributors. “I love the people here. Everybody is more like a family. I was welcomed with open arms when I started. I was a part of the team before I was a part of the team. I wouldn’t trade them.”
Eryn Roycroft, Shipping Coordinator at Jaeckle Distributors, agrees. “I feel the core group here works better as a team than other places I have worked. I feel listened to by the people in charge. I know if there is any question I have, I can go to Kevin, Jeff or Bill and talk to them. They respect me, they respect each other.”
That feeling extends far beyond comradery alone into the very nature of their operations. You’d have to be asleep for a hundred years to not notice the supply chain is disrupted. I asked Eryn how they were able to overcome so many challenges.
“It boils down to communication. If there’s a delay in shipping from the carriers, I can communicate that to customer service and then we work on the best possible solution to get the stuff to our customers as soon as possible.”
It’s one thing to hear accounts of how respect and communication are the backbones of their customer-centric strategy from those that work within those halls. I wanted to hear it from someone beyond the confines of those buildings.
I hopped into one of the company’s delivery trucks and asked Myron Larson, Truck Driver at Jaeckle, what he loved most about his job.
“What’s the saying? If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s the way I feel. I work this company like it was mine, and that’s why I treat the customers with that kind of respect. When I started at Jaeckle Distributors, I wanted to make a difference. For 30 years now, I couldn’t have worked for a better company.”
Adaptability Gives Jaeckle Competitive Edge
The very nature of leadership is changing as a result of COVID and other disruptive forces — to survive leaders must acknowledge the speed and confluence of change. A full 83% of distributors we surveyed in our landmark research study, “Reimagining Leadership” agreed.
But what does it mean to lead in a post-pandemic world? Shawn Gagg, CIO and VP of Marketing and Sales, gave me his take:
“It has to be about the team. Jeff promotes innovation. He supports and promotes thinking about things in a different way. Then, I have to go to the team and make sure the team is engaged and interested enough to accept that change. After the pandemic, you learn the things that were important before or created degrees of success before, could now determine if you are successful at all.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our team and company to adapt when necessary. That’s a skill set we’ve built up over time.”
That ability to adapt comes from the ground level. Territory sales managers at Jaeckle Distributors have their finger on the pulse of their customers’ businesses. They realize that their customers’ greatest challenges are opportunities.
“It’s when our customers need us the most. When they’re having trouble with a job site or a product from another distributor. They need us to solve the problem right away.”
These are not product peddlers. After all, the world’s top-performing salespeople know that 40% of what the customer buys is product; the other 60% is how you go beyond the product and provide value for the customer.
They are business consultants and expert advisors. And the technology that this company has invested in is not for technology’s sake, but to help the sales team become advisors so that they can bring insights to their customers. Not on products alone, but insights that grow their customer’s business — to improve sales and productivity and drive down costs.
All for the customer.
To me, that’s exciting as hell.
Harvey Jaeckle once said his greatest compliment was from a customer who said, “I buy from Harvey. When I have a problem, I call Harvey. And that’s the last I ever hear about it.”
From where I stand, Harvey’s grandson and the Jaeckle team are continuing that customer-first tradition and taking it to the next level — with innovation, technology and good, old-fashioned adaptation.
Some things never change.
So, what is the future that Jaeckle envisions?
“As time goes on, the products we sell become less and less important than the people that make up our company and the value we provide to our customers. We’re willing to do things that others can’t or won’t do. That’s what determines the value that we provide. When I look into the future, we’re going to look different five years from now. We’re going to look different 10 years from now.”
Meet the Noble Generation
In the stories we’re telling in our 8-part docuseries, you’ll meet leaders like Katie that represent the next generation of leadership – those who have embraced the Noble Calling of distribution. You’ll meet distributors who are transforming their businesses and leadership styles to make a difference for their employees, customers, and communities. We hope you come away with renewed hope and optimism for what I truly believe is a bright future.
Follow these inspiring leaders who are taking the distribution world into the future. These authentic and energized individuals are leaning into the unknown, pioneering new ideas, and unleashing possibilities throughout distribution.