The orders are sent through the ERP system out to the warehouse and through the process, orders get to Heidi. She then gets on her cart to traverse the expansive facility to pick the orders and get them over to shipping.
Two days earlier in Milwaukee, I met Shea. Shea has been with Marsh Electronics for a year to the day that I met her. Her job – dang I can’t explain it that well, but she preps the wire and other components that will be assembled into harnesses and other configurations by the rest of the team.
Shea beamed as I talked to her over lunch as she told me about her experience being at Marsh. Later, when I met her back “on the job”, I didn’t want to leave her because she pulled me into her world as she explained not just what she did, but why she did it, and why she loves her role in the MarVac Assemblies team.
The prior day, on Tuesday, I was in Madison with the team at First Supply. After meeting with five manufacturers – partners of First Supply who also call Wisconsin home, touring the beautiful yet strategically designed showroom, and meeting with many First Supply employees – leadership gave me a tour of their facility.
Impressive it was. But I didn’t get lost in the efficiencies of the warehouse, I got lost in the conversation. The conversation turned to their employees. A conversation that welled up tears and flowed down the cheeks of First Supply’s COO-Distribution Scott Boehlke. Scott told a devastating story that one of their employees faced and how the company – the people of First Supply rallied to support their fellow man.
This was a week on the We Supply America tour. A week of its own yet also similar to the previous six weeks. A week of understanding the meaning of independent, family-owned distribution businesses to our country, local communities, and I believe most importantly, the employees of these companies.
These three stories – well they came rushing back to me this Saturday morning, as I lie in the RV reading some Deloitte studies about the fractured worker-employer relationship.
The net-net of the Deloitte report – Employer-worker relationships aren’t working.
And so, it dawns on me this morning – we gurus (I was actually called one on social media this week – so I guess I am one) from the RV traveling to the buttoned-up Deloitte partners could have it all wrong. We are looking in the wrong places. Surveying the wrong people. Looking for what’s working where it’s not working. Deloitte is talking to all those “sexy” global companies. You know the ones that get headlines for their stock price.
But here is the thing…
What I am finding through my tour of America, meeting, talking, and most importantly listening and observing ….
Independent, family-owned distributors have something special going on.
It’s not perfect. But my goodness, something special is going on … and we must champion this specialness.
You see, when I asked Heidi yesterday what was one word to describe her 19 years as a picker at Viking Electric, she paused and thought a moment. Then did respond with one word.
Heidi’s 19 years were summed up with the word – “fulfilled.” She went on to tell me of how much she is respected. How she continually hears from leadership and her peers of how good of work she does. She told me about how the job and technology has changed and how that has helped her grow.
Shea, over in Milwaukee. Beamed with pride as she walked me through the meticulous steps she performs. The exacting nature of her job as she tweaked and tweaked and tweaked again the machine to get the job exactly – I mean exactly right. Because as she proudly explained, “This is the first step of the process. Everything hinges on what I do here.”
By the way, when I left Shea, she was still tweaking that machine.
And as Scott choked out the story of how the people of First Supply responded when one of their own was in need, I felt … literally felt in my heart how much these leaders care for the people – the employees they serve.
Deloitte wrote a good report. But I’m more convinced than ever before … the companies they are talking about are not the story.
You are the story. The 6 million professionals throughout distribution within the independent and mostly family-owned businesses.
Keep supplying America as you are.
And keep doing it in the noble way that you are.
Indiana Oxygen Episode Review: Honoring the Past While Building the Future
Thursday was the premiere of episode four of We Supply America. We featured Indiana Oxygen, a fantastic multi-generational distribution company with a history built on the phrase “finish strong.” It’s a mantra derived from the Indianapolis Motorway, one of their customers for nearly a century.
The episode begins with that checkered raceway flag, a visual that Indiana Oxygen shares with the raceway. It’s printed on oxygen tanks lined up pristinely in their facility. And as the camera pans past a Model T on display, I begin my tour with Gary Halter, president of the company. Gary and I joked about our love of AC/DC as we headed outside to check out the loading docks for the trucks.
Tony Johnson, Plant Manager, and Indiana Oxygen employee for over 15 years gave me the rundown on the intricate processes used to fill each of the cylinders with the exact requirements of their customers. He talked about the changes in technology and how Indiana Oxygen has optimized the process. I have to admit, the science of it all is impressive. I wish I paid more attention in science class! “Everyone says ‘It’s not rocket science’. Well here, it is rocket science,” Tony chuckled.
Military veteran and Cylinder Filling Senior Operator, Ed Baker, told me about the brotherhood he experiences at Indiana Oxygen, one that starts with his uncle— a 40-plus-year employee —and his cousin. When Ed got out of the military and needed a job, his uncle and cousin spoke highly of Indiana Oxygen. “I came on in on the fly, and I’ve been here ever since.”
And these long-term employees are a trend at Indiana Oxygen. Branch Manager, Tim Meranda, has been an employee for 22 years, and that won’t be changing any time soon. Tim believes the reason for the tenured employees is that they truly, truly care about their employees. “I mean it from my heart, this is a great company to work for.”
The philosophy of the company is all about success, but in a different way than you might think. Tim explained: “Our employees’ success is our future.” I asked him what does that employee success looks like? What does it mean? And his response sticks with me: “Anything that will make them grow to become more valuable for the next step that they want to take, not one they are forced to take.” As a manager, he said his goal is to “Make sure you’re the guy that influenced them to move to the next level.”
And that success is palpable. When Covid hit, the number one goal for the company was not to lay off any employees. The team adapted, partnering with their customers to continue on. To continue driving success and by keeping their promise not to lay anyone off.
This episode was absolutely inspiring to film, and rewatching it makes me well up with pride for the Indiana Oxygen family. This is such a noble company full of intelligent and dedicated employees. They adapt, support each other and create seamless processes. As Ed said during our conversation in the warehouse: “It’s running like a machine.” This is one you want to see.
And don’t forget to check out my stroll on the raceway with CEO Wally Brant! He tells his story of taking a nearly bankrupted company and guiding it to success.
As We Supply America has gained traction in the distribution world (and beyond), it’s been incredible to see the outpouring of support from others in the industry. They really get what we’re doing, and they want to be a part of it. One of our followers, Michelle Pecak—who is the Vice President of Operations at Advance Electrical Supply—has championed our cause from the beginning. Recently, she joined the DistributED podcast with Scott Costa and shared her support for our mission.
She said she was compelled by our mission because of one word: innovate.
Michelle heard the word as part of my discourse on the mission of We Supply America. My goal to define the innovative spirit and purpose-driven culture of distribution and to bring the stories of this industry to the masses spoke to her. In hearing my thoughts on distributors, Michelle went: “Heck yeah, that’s us.”
I am inspired that our mission made Michelle feel seen. We are making progress out here on the road, recognizing the hard and beautiful work that distributors contribute to our great country.
This is exactly our goal, and Michelle’s incredible support made one thing obvious: I have to visit her and the team at Advanced Electrical Supply in Chicago, Illinois! So, we’ve added a stop to our tour and I am thrilled to join them tomorrow at their Chicago location.
Thank you, Michelle, for inspiring me. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!
One More Thing
In the spirit of the behind-the-scenes sharing that is embedded into our We Supply America Tour, I asked my marketing agency, Zen Media, to lift the curtain and share our and other proven strategies.
On Tuesday, we’ll be hosting a bonus webinar, that will be specifically geared toward marketing for wholesale distribution. From creating credibility and thought leadership, to standing out among the competition and increasing revenue—you will learn marketing strategies to increase engagement, reach your target demographic, and tell your story.
Join us on Tuesday, August 3rd, 3:00 pm–4:00 pm CST to learn all of the marketing strategies, tips, and tricks that Stephanie Chavez, CTSM, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Zen Media, that you’ll be able to put into practice immediately—like we are doing with the We Supply America tour.
Register now! https://lnkd.in/dnEhmuw
Back on the Road
Next up, I’m headed to Chicago, Illinois to visit Advance Electrical Supply—and maybe have a Chicago Dog or some Chicago deep dish! And that’s just the start of a We Supply America packed week with tour stops in Davenport, IA; Moline, IL; Mooreland, IA, and then back up to Minneapolis! I’m so grateful to all of you who are following my journey.
If you’re west of the Mississippi, I’d love to meet you and your team. I want to tell your stories as we continue to build this larger story—the story of the noble calling of distribution.
Text MEETUP to (847) 744-8570 so we can set up a visit!