As I set off on the inaugural We Supply America tour to champion the noble calling of distribution, a key premise was that: distributors are much more than the products on their shelves. While those that know distribution often identify the business by the products they sell—a building materials distributor; a pipe, valve, and fittings distributor; or an electrical products distributor for example—what we have learned is that these noble businesses have a calling that transcends their product.
For these distributors, the business is much more than “simply” pick, pack, and ship. These noble distributors rally around a pursuit that contributes to a greater good. They, in essence, yearn to make an impact—an impact on employees, local communities, our country, and society at large.
PURPOSE is one of seven ethos that drive the noble calling of distribution, and it might even be considered the first ethos. While all seven ethos differentiate those with a noble calling, it is purpose that serves as the foundation from which the others seem to evolve.
Julia Klein, CEO and Chairwoman of C.H. Briggs, knows that a successful company is a company that commits to a deeper purpose. Her company is one of the largest diverse distributors of specialty building materials in the country. Part of their success is built on their unique purpose: to tell their customers’ stories, and in that, to understand how they —the business of C.H. Briggs and every employee—contribute to something greater than selling specialty building materials.
C.H. Briggs designs and installs surfaces for a variety of customers. Without stable and well-designed surfaces, C.H. Briggs’ customers wouldn’t be able to perform their roles and create the necessary outcomes—in short, they wouldn’t be able to serve their own customers. And this is the foundation of C.H. Brigg’s purpose initiative. When they tell their customers’ stories, whether they are talking about a medical practitioner whose countertops are from C.H. Briggs or a foodservice company with C.H. Briggs surfaces, or a school, or a hotel, or anywhere else—they are creating a narrative that not only celebrates the important tasks of their customers but also shows where C.H. Briggs fits into the story.
Julia and the C.H. Briggs leadership team have deeply internalized the importance of their role in their customers’ stories. They understand that it isn’t just about distributing great hard surfaces, it’s about what those hard surfaces do for their customers—the doctors or the educators or the chefs. And the chain continues from there to patients, students, and society at large.
When I spoke with the C.H. Briggs team, they often spoke of healing rooms within hospitals. These rooms are calm, functional spaces that enable a peaceful and medically sound environment for those recovering from illness and surgery, and the C.H. Briggs team have a deep understanding of the importance of these rooms. Without thoughtful and functional designs, the medical professionals who attend to healing patients cannot fulfill their purpose—helping patients heal. The C.H. Briggs team is collaboratively driven by the same purpose. They are completely committed to helping patients heal through the environments they help design and supply—and yes, the products they sell.
Your purpose, in many ways, is your “why”—it’s understanding why you do what you do and how you impact others. The clearer you understand your “why” the more your business strategy will fall into place. And the more meaningful your “why” is, the more engagement, passion, and commitment you’ll generate from your employees and customers alike. This has been clearly illustrated by Almo, a third-generation family-owned business that supplies appliances, electronics, A/V equipment, and more.
I was honored to help Almo’s CEO, Warren Chaiken, and VP of Sales, Jack Halperin, develop their purpose—their “why”— nearly a decade ago. At the time, they sought clarity in their vision knowing they wanted to help their customer base of independent dealers.
Through discussion, training, and collaboration, Warren and Jack built values into their business model and company culture. Their company, and everyone in it, come together under a shared commitment to the noble responsibility of promoting American prosperity by empowering mainstream, independent appliance dealers in small-town America. And they don’t just want their clients to succeed, they want them to grow, excel, and prosper in a sustainable way. This customer-centric purpose is at the foundation of Almo’s strong partnerships—and those partnerships are symbiotic, benefiting both Almo and their clients.
Having a purpose that is specific to each individual—helping each staff member understand their importance—is vital, but a purpose that is able to act as the foundational drive for an entire company should stretch outward to a greater mission—supplying America. A strong and thorough purpose is one that enables you to look at your business in terms of its holistic value, while still drilling down to the value of each individual. Including both the micro and macro view is an important element of developing a strong purpose statement.
Porter Pipe has one of the most distinct and strong purpose statements I’ve ever seen: “Partnering to Build a Better America.”
This statement is on the side of each truck, in the minds of each employee, and is spoken proudly by their CEO, Nick Porter. The statement, which is derived from a fervent belief in what they do (their “why”), is also the driving force that motivates not only their own team but their customers as well. They boldly acknowledge that America doesn’t exist without their customers, and their mission statement is a way of honoring their customers and the partnerships that they forge. Those partnerships extend from two companies partnering together to each individual person-to-person partnership. It refers to the truck drivers who bring pipe to their clients, to the account managers who handle orders and shipments, and to the partnerships between the employees themselves.
Porter Pipe is proud of their employees—and they want their employees to be proud too—to understand it isn’t just about putting pipe on the truck, it isn’t just about picking and shipping—the Porter Pipe staff enables cities to be built. They are the first link in the chain that results in skyscrapers, homes for families, schools and banks, hospitals and grocery stores, and transit systems. Each employee has a role to play, and they put their full effort, care, and excellence into their work—because they understand their purpose—that they are partnering to build a better America.
Porter Pipe’s purpose initiative runs through every department and every bit of communication that employees receive so that every team member is tuned into the value system they have in place.
Purpose is the foundation of the noble calling of distribution. When we see the noble calling of distribution at play, these distributors are doing much more than providing product—they are part of this larger constellation of distributors who keep America supplied. And each of these distributors has identified their true calling that provides deep meaning and significance for all they do and for every one of their employees.