Distributor Roundtable Discussion
Distributor members of the NBMDA steering committee are
seasoned, successful industry veterans and leaders in their markets.
These folks understand the building products distribution business
inside and out, and they know how to deliver over-the-top service
and exceptional value.
S&P reached out to distributor members of the NBMDA steering
committee and asked them to identify the key attributes and
values that help make their businesses successful.
Here’s what four of them had to say:
JIM ELLIS, BUSINESS MANAGER FOR BENNETT SUPPLY CO.,
headquartered in Cheswick, Pennsylvania. “Place value is a key
value that we bring to our customers. Place value is having the right
product in the right place at the right time. It’s about providing good
lead times and availability. We work with a lot of small to mid-sized
firms, and for these customers’ planning, forecasting is absolutely
critical. Knowing that they will have what they want where they want
it and when they need it is hugely important.”
CRAIG GOODMAN, BRANCH MANAGER OF AMERHART LTD.
in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “The way Amerhart has been managed
for 75 years is the number one benefit for our customers. We are
strategically aligned around people, technology and services, and
we reinforce this alignment on a regular basis through education,
training, skills development, monthly product meetings with key
vendors and accountability at every level. What this means for
customers is that they can always count on getting a complete,
correct, accurate answer in a timely manner from us.”
Relationships Built on Trust, Respect and Integrity:
AL HARRISON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE INDUSTRIAL DIVISION OF INTERMOUNTAIN
WOOD PRODUCTS, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. “For us, it’s pretty simple. We develop
business relationships/partnerships that are built on trust, respect and integrity. Our customers
trust us to deliver consistently superior products, consistently incredible service and consistently
fair pricing. Our salespeople are steeped in the industry, and so our customers have confidence
in our knowledge and our experience. They ask our advice because we talk their talk. This is a
tremendous value to them, and we consider it a high compliment to us.”
KEVIN SLABAUGH, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. DIVISION OF MCKILLICAN
INTERNATIONAL, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “We create value for our
customers by developing deep relationships in order to gain an uncommon understanding of our
customer’s needs. We engage our customers in a five-step selling process that begins with a
discovery phase, where we learn about their challenges, opportunities, goals, objectives and about
their customers’ needs. It is a highly evolved form of consultative selling. For example, a customer
may be focused on improving quality or increasing throughput or reducing price. This knowledge
allows us to offer our customer a unique solution that meets their needs and improves their return
Supplier Roundtable Discussion
JEFF TAKAC, MANAGING DIRECTOR –
NORTH AMERICA, IVM CHEMICALS
Milesi Wood coatings is a brand of IVM
chemicals, a leading manufacturer of high
performance European wood coatings sold
through distribution partners in over 70
countries worldwide. Based on our experience
working successfully with distributors
all over the world for over 60 years, we find
that the most successful distributors are the ones that
seek a true partnership approach with their suppliers. This
is what we at Milesi look for in building long-lasting, mutually
profitable distributor relationships, one in which each
partner adds value and expertise.
So what does this partnership approach look like? One
in which both parties are willing to invest in the mutual
business of being successful by synergizing the respective
strengths of the supplier and distributor. This approach
means constant communication among all levels of the distributor/
supplier organizations. It also includes jointly developing
target goals, a mutually agreed business and action
plan as well the willingness of both parties to invest in this
programmed approach. Other elements that manifest out
of this partnership approach to support success are the
commitment to training, advertising, defining market needs
and much more.
When top management of both the distributor and supplier
embrace this strategy, both parties and their respective
organizations realize long-term growth, profitability and
success. It truly is a winning combination.
Passion from the Top Down:
ALLEN ELLIS, REGIONAL SALES MANAGER, VALSPAR
What do I look for in successful distribution partners?
After 25-plus years in the industry, my answer can be based anecdotally
– my own observations of successful distributors of wood
coatings versus those that achieve less-than-desired outcomes. Of
course, there’s more to touch upon, but here is my opinion.
• Planning – Jointly developing a sound
plan that outlines mutual goals and
steps to achieve success.
• Commitment – Having the right people
in place to execute the plan and providing
them the proper tools to do the job.
• Communication – Passion that comes
from the top, ensuring everyone
understands the goals and the
importance of success.
• Accountability – Distributors that hold
themselves AND their suppliers accountable. Is everyone doing
what they committed to do?
• Review – Does the outcome meet expectations? There’s always
room for improvement. What adjustments do the distributor and
manufacture need to make before moving on?
Performance is Key:
CHAD CANNON, BUSINESS
ROSEBURG FOREST PRODUCTS
Here’s what we look for in a distribution
• Full-line distributor (diverse portfolio)
– We manufacture a variety of panel
products, so depending on the market,
targeting someone who sells multiple
product lines works great for Roseburg.
The relationship between supplier and distributor is critical for
the success of both. Surface & Panel asked supplier members of
the NBMDA steering committee to describe the qualities they
believe are most important in good supply chain partners.
• Multiple locations/branches in a geographic area – Here at
Roseburg, the outside reps cover large territories, so getting
someone on board that has multiple branches helps greatly.
• Reputation/history – We like to partner with folks who have a
solid rep in the market.
• Financial health – It’s self-explanatory. We need to partner with
customers who pay their bills.
• Performance/volume – As you search for new customers, you
always review volume potential as it pertains to the product you
• Shipping areas – You want to review geographic shipping areas
just in case you currently have distribution set up in that market.
• Knowledge of the market – This is key. You want to partner with
good experienced people who know the market and what the
customer expectations are.
• Value-added services – This could be anything from extended
credit terms to vendor-managed inventory programs.
Invest in People:
BROOKS BOWEN, EASTERN REGIONAL
MANAGER, M.L. CAMPBELL
It would be easy to say that the best distributors
are those with the most locations in the
largest markets, the most delivery vehicles,
largest warehouses, etc. The fact is that
those items are only a small part of what we
consider when evaluating a distributor.
At M.L. Campbell, we have several longstanding
relationships with some of the top distributors
in our industry. The partnerships we have established are
based on a mutual commitment and investment in the
key drivers of our shared business, as well as a trust and
respect for each other’s business practices. This commitment
and investment extends well beyond inventory and
infrastructure, as we both recognize the importance of
investing in our people.
Wood coatings are often the most technical product
our distributors sell, and the training requirements to support
this business are extensive and continuous. Our top
distributors recognize this need and actively invest in training
and developing the best people to represent our products.
Additionally, our distributor partners typically have a
portfolio of other highly recognized and respected brands
commonly used in our industry.
The underlying reason all the while is to provide top level
products and service for the end-use customers who
depend on us every day.
Mutual Understanding of Success:
MELISSA HERMAN, SALES PROGRAM MANAGER, FORMICA
First and foremost, a good distribution
partner has a management team that is
focused and engaged. They have command
of their marketplace, the customers, competition
and opportunities for growth, and
they own it.
They challenge us, the manufacturer,
to provide the right products and services
for their market. We have a mutual understanding
of how each company defines success,
and we work to align goals accordingly. A good partner values
the Formica brand and leverages it in the market.
In addition, a good partner makes investments into the organizational
capabilities both with their people assets, as well investments
into their physical assets, such as inventory, equipment, etc. As a
result, they outperform competition in the market utilizing an excellent
service platform that complements and enhances the Formica
brand service model. They remain flexible and actively adapt to
changes in the marketplace.