Distribution is an American success story, one conceived from blood, sweat and tears and passed down through generations. This passion lives within the hearts and souls of the people themselves, but rarely gets recognized.
“The customer is always right.” It’s an old adage that has been attributed to numerous businessmen and women over the years. I think Marshall Field is the true origin of the quote, but regardless of who said it first, it has certainly been said a lot. I don’t doubt that it has been said by distributors from time to time, though the relationship between distributors and the businesses they supply goes beyond a right or wrong dyna
Distributors play a unique and important role in our society because they are, quite literally, in the middle of everything. Distribution is in the middle of every industry. There is a myth that those in the middle, standing between manufacturers and the businesses that serve consumers—middlemen—don’t add value.
As I continue on this final leg of the We Supply America tour, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve accomplished. One thing I keep coming back to is telling the stories of distributors. The last episode of the We Supply America eight-part docuseries aired last week. With each stop of our tour, we continue to hear about the importance of championing the noble calling of distribution.
I rolled into the headquarters of General Air in Denver, Colorado in the early morning last week. Even though it was the industrial part of the city, it was still beautiful with the majestic mountains in the backdrop. Immediately upon my arrival, the team at General Air whisked me through the locker room and on in to meet with the team.
The Granite Group is “in the service business, 100%,” according to Bill Condron, President and CEO. But he isn’t just talking about their customers. During my visit with The Granite Group, the “service business” was redefined to encompass everyone that the company serves, and at the center of that are employees.
Championing the noble calling of distribution—this has been our mission from the moment the We Supply America tour rolled onto the streets of America. For too long distribution—the backbone of America—has been the silent partner in making this country work. Each of the 30,000 distributors in this country (mostly independent and family-run businesses) provide the goods that keep America running while creating a $6.9 trillion economic engine and 6 million jobs.
Many consumers think of Amazon as the top innovator in the industry—and they have certainly accomplished a lot (take a look at my letter to the new CEO of Amazon). But Amazon wouldn’t exist were it not for the distribution companies who paved the way. In reality, distributors have been paving the way for better technology, more compelling customer service, and higher quality products for years—long before Amazon transitioned from a bookseller to a massive multi-product sales platform and distribution company.
If I were to describe the We Supply America journey in the simplest and perhaps most humorous terms, I’d say this: I’m traveling across America to rile people up about distribution. There’s something about getting into the We Supply America RV and traveling the country that makes me feel like the best type of cheerleader, the type of cheerleader our industry needs (but, you know, minus the mini-skirt and pom-poms).
The We Supply America tour had a GREAT week visiting Coburn’s Supply in Lafayette, Louisiana, participating in a customer appreciation day, and then heading north to St. Louis (with a little accident thrown in—see below). I had two great visits with Holt Electric (you have to check out their branding!) and Cee Kay.