As we have moved through the last few months of summer—enjoying our barbecues, vacations, concerts, picnics —the pandemic was still in the back of our minds. We’re not in the clear yet, but there was this sense of hope. If we could make it through the summer and experience some normalcy—some respite from the stressors of 2020 that bled into 2021—then things would be okay again.
Closing out the summer with a celebration of our labor force seems especially appropriate this year. And months back when the We Supply America tour was still formulating in my mind, Labor Day was the checkpoint that I kept coming back to.
I’ve now traveled 10,000 miles, met with more than 30 distributors, and shaken hands with hundreds of professionals in the distribution industry. We’ve done exactly what we set out to do, tell the noble stories of distributors around the country.
And here we are, less than a month away from that Labor Day checkpoint, and the COVID-19 Delta variant is dominating the news.
The pandemic was part of what motivated the We Supply America tour. After a year of such uncertainty and significant personal and business challenges in the industry, I really felt a need to help support these independent distributors and the people who supply America. My hope was to inspire and uplift the people who serve America so tirelessly—and now we are two steps forward one step back.
I’ve read about large-scale organizations canceling their meetings (The New York International Automobile Show and The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers show among them) and returning to that plan-changing caution we witnessed at the onset of the pandemic. I’ve noticed that some employers are requiring all employees to mask up again, or they’re only allowing people to attend meetings if they have tested negative for COVID-19 that day. And things still haven’t healed from our first round of the virus, which riddled the industry with supply chain shortages and delays.
It’s a bit discouraging, and at the same time, it reinforces for me just how important We Supply America is. The Delta variant has the power to discourage us, to set us back again, and that’s why we must focus on staying inspired, staying together, and supporting each other.
Now is the time to double down on understanding the noble calling of distribution. We need to circle back to the deeper purpose of why we do what we do, we need to look to our left and to our right and remember that this is a people business built on a deep respect for the individuals who move this country forward and see how we have already overcome so many of the odds stacked against us. Actually, now would be a good time to go back and watch each episode of We Supply America, so that we take the lessons, inspiration, and insights forward as we prepare ourselves and our teams for whatever comes next.
I’ve met with so many distributors and industry professionals—I’ve shadowed them at work, shaken their hands, hugged them, shared meals with them, discussed their experiences and their lives—I’ve even cried with them. It’s so important that we see them, hear their stories, and celebrate their triumphs. It’s so important that we see, hear and celebrate each other, even through adversity.
We need to remember that these businesses are run by families and run like families—that every employee, no matter the role, is a part of the company family.
When Tony Collins from Wiseway Supply was dealing with COVID-19, his work family banded together to support him. When people were being laid off and corporations were slashing payroll, Great Lakes Hotel Supply stood by their employees, keeping their staff paid and employed. These distribution companies respect their employees and recognize that each individual has a specific role in the company family. These tight bonds are part of what sustained distributors through the pandemic the first time around—and those bonds are only growing stronger.
Purpose—serving the American people—is another ingredient in the fortitude that helps power distributors through adversity. This is a people business—there’s a person at the end of every distribution journey. Every time a company like Benco Dental ships a box of dental supplies, they remind themselves there’s a patient on the other end of that distribution journey. Crises like the coronavirus pandemic have weighed heavy on our country, and distributors have done the hard work to make sure that people’s needs are still met. Our purpose to serve will continue to drive us. It will help us innovate and come up with new strategies to overcome the obstacles that the pandemic continues to create.
Let’s continue to come together, stay inspired, stay energized and remember that we truly do supply America. When all else fails, distributors are the backbone that supports our country and enables us to stand tall. Labor Day may not be the checkpoint that lets us know we “made it”—but we will make it.