The Cee Kay team wanted to get me into the St. Louis mindset, which is why, at 6:15 in the morning, I rolled up to the iconic Gateway Arch in the We Supply America RV as the sun was rising above the Mississippi River. St. Louis is my family’s hometown, so I’ve seen the arch before, but this time it struck me differently. There is something about that sloping silver stretching up over brick, concrete, and grass—it looks insanely out of place, but also, so cool. It brought to mind innovation and creativity, which is so in line with my experience at Cee Kay.
Stretching out in front of Cee Kay is a statue— “We Build Together.” It’s a recreation of a famous photograph, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, which illustrates a crew of Ironworkers having their lunch and chatting on an iron beam that is aloft, 840 feet above Manhattan. The life-size statue is a memorial to the Cee Kay spirit, to the workers, friends, and innovators that make up their team as well as their customers—the people that are building America together.
Cee Kay put the statue in place in 2018 to commemorate their 70th anniversary, and I had the pleasure of hoisting myself up next to those shiny metal men and sharing a seat on that metal beam. Timm Evans, VP of Sales at Cee Kay, gifted me a smaller version of the statue, and it’s displayed proudly in the RV.
Timm and the Cee Kay crew were incredibly hospitable—from the early morning start, to letting me try my hand at welding, to the statue, to gifting me a Cardinals jersey—these people are all about giving back. I was floored by their kindness. I mean, my whole goal is to lift up distributors, to support them, to give back—but at Cee Kay, I was the one being lifted.
But that is just the Cee Kay way, and nothing illustrates that better than the way Cee Kay treats its employees. Every single person I talked to loves this company. They love the leadership. They love how the company is run. And it’s no mystery as to why that is. Cee Kay leadership pays it forward in a huge way, even going so far as to setting up an Employee Stock Ownership Plan—an ESOP. Forty-nine percent of Cee Kay belongs to the employees—and they deserve it. These are hardworking professionals who truly build together.
When I asked Timm why he wanted to be a part of We Supply America, he said “It’s great to be recognized for what we are doing for America and for the St. Louis area. It gets us out there—to the public—it brings the knowledge to them—what we all do to keep this country going.” It is the least We Supply America can do, considering the value Cee Kay and the other 30,000 distributors bring to our country.
Benco Dental Episode Review – Thinking In Decades, Not Quarters
On Thursday we premiered our third episode of our We Supply America docuseries titled Thinking In Decades, Not Quarters, featuring Benco Dental. The film starts with the RV rolling up and past a statue of an enormous tooth. Yes, I’m all about the statues! But seriously, it was bright and white and standing tall, inviting me into Benco Dental.
During the film, you meet and learn from the company executives, but you also hear their thoughts and insights on distribution and the nobility of business. One of the first things I noticed, as I entered Chuck Cohen, the Managing Director and third-generation family leader’s office was a framed picture from the Dr. Suess book, the Lorax. I asked Chuck about it, grin on my face, thinking “Why is there a page from a children’s book framed in a dentistry distribution center?” Of course, Chuck had this insight about how while the Lorax “speaks for the trees” in business, sometimes we have to speak for our customers—to advocate for them—and that’s what Benco Dental does. They truly care about their customers and go above and beyond for them.
Something different about this episode is that we aren’t just talking to Benco Dental, we’re also talking to their customers—dentists. I spoke with Dr. Brian Frutchey, a dentist who specializes in endodontics, he chuckled when I called him an entrepreneur and explained that “In dental school, we had zero courses on how to be an entrepreneur and how to be a businessperson.” When he started his practice, he was well-versed in the actual dental procedures, but the business end of it was a learning curve. Benco Dental has gone above and beyond to help his business grow. He gets 99% of his customers from referrals, and he attributes many of those referrals to Benco Dental employees helping him network and meet other dental professionals in the area.
The Benco Dental team truly cares about their customers, and it was inspiring to hear about their business philosophies and plans for the future, but I have to say, they are also a pretty fun crowd. I got to cheer with them as the mask mandate was lifted. I got to join in on their laughter as they cracked jokes and did their morning stretches before getting after the pick, pack, and shipping of the day.
And, of course, there were hijinks too… the door to the We Supply America RV broke, leading to some silly door-repair exercises. And I got my fair share of ribbing during my surprise 60th birthday party. It was an absolute blast.
Believe me, you have to see this. I promise that while this episode may not lighten your teeth, it will certainly lighten your step as we head into Monday.
I am pondering whether this section should be called “Inspired By…” or “Lessons Learned…” Let’s start with the Lessons Learned:
When driving a massive RV, remember that any time you turn, the back end is going to swing out—a lot.
Let me paint the picture. I am driving from Lafayette, Louisiana, where I got to meet the Coburn Supply team—race cars, jambalaya, and distribution, what could be better?—all the way to St. Louis, Missouri. It’s over 700 miles and roughly 11 hours. I stop for gas right outside of Memphis at around 9:30 p.m.
I pump my gas and head into the shop to grab a Diet Coke—a little caffeine for the drive. I’m back in the driver seat, Diet Coke in the cupholder, peering through the windshield, preparing for a big left turn. I make the turn without scraping the pump, and am ready to go when:
“Hey, hey, hey!” A gentlemen—I would later learn was named Alexander—was standing next to a crunched, lime green Ford Escort.
Okay, now for the “inspired by” part—
I hadn’t felt a thing. The We Supply America RV is—to put it plainly—a beast. An awesome eagle’d beast, but a beast nonetheless, and I had taken out Alexander’s rear panel, rear door, and the driver door. My heart fell like a rock into my stomach. I felt terrible. I apologized profusely, expecting a (justified) raised voice and anger—but Alexander was calm. He was understanding.
He was heading home after having led a Bible study, and I had hit his son’s vehicle that he had borrowed. We chatted, and he was understanding—he had every right to be mad, but he chose to be graceful, kind, and forgiving. Of course, we are making it right with him—GEICO will be in touch, and I will be checking in to make sure Alexander’s son isn’t jumping through hoops—but what an inconvenience I had caused!
I contributed to his Bible study, gave him We Supply America shirts— what else could I do to make amends? But Alexander told me not to worry, he gave me a Bible, something that I’ll carry with me on the tour, and we just talked—had a conversation and connected.
I spoke on the phone with Roy, Alexander’s son and the owner of the car, to apologize and go over insurance details, and Roy takes after his father. As I stumbled over myself, apologizing profusely, he told me not to worry and—
“I’m kind of glad it happened.”
I was baffled, and when I asked why, he explained that he was glad his father got to meet me—glad that Alexander and I had forged a friendship—that I had shared my story, and he had shared his.
Connections, to these men, are more important than the inconveniences I had caused.
I caused someone to lose the utility of their vehicle, and I walked away with two new connections that indeed make me a better person.
One More Thing
Did you see my Open Letter I wrote to Andy Jassy, the new CEO of Amazon? As Jeff Bezos, blasted off into space on Tuesday, I felt it was an opportune time to communicate the noble calling of distribution to Amazon leadership.
I have received nice words from those that have read it—I hope it inspires you to share it widely as well.
Back on the Road
It was a GREAT week having crossed the 8,000 miles traveled mark in the We Supply America RV since I left on the tour eight weeks ago today. After a brief detour to my home in Barrington, IL (with some afterparty fun in the RV), I’m back on the road again, Northbound, looking forward to eating some cheese in Madison, Wisconsin, and meeting the First Supply team on Monday, Marsh Electronics on Tuesday, and Viking Electric on Friday.
I am so incredibly grateful to have been welcomed in by so many great companies—so many great people—over the last eight weeks. My goal on this journey is to help distributors, to support them, to tell their stories, to tell America about the noble calling. What I am finding is that these distributors are teaching me, helping me learn and grow, and lifting me up. It’s incredibly humbling, and I extend my deepest gratitude.
Whether you are feeding me jambalaya, teasing me about turning 60, forgiving me for my driving skills, or telling me why I should be a Cardinals fan, you are all enriching my life, and I promise to do my best to pay it back.