Listening to customers can be a surprisingly rare trait in businesses of any kind. But, those firms that take the time to listen to customer wants and needs, rather than just trying to sell them what they have, can find themselves led in all kinds of interesting directions.
This could be said of BK Resources, a plumbing and commercial equipment supplier based in Altamont, Ill. They began in 2001 as a supplier of components to the food service equipment manufacturing industry. By listening to and understanding the needs of their customers, they saw an opportunity for growth.
“We began as an outsourcing element to import components used in the manufacture of food service equipment,” recalled Mike Hamann, president of BK Resources. “What we found over the course of time was that the development cycles on those items was somewhat problematic and not keeping pace with the potential growth of the company. We had customers telling us they had a need for finished goods and equipment, meaning sinks, faucets, etc. We began introducing those items in 2003 and 2004, and then the company really started to take off.”
As the company grew into a new space, they had to evolve to serve the market they sought.
“As returns started to come in, we began making investments into faster and more proven efficiencies inside our building so we could get an order in and ship it out the same day or the next day,” said Matt Woelfer, vice president of Sales and Marketing at BK Resources. “We were in growth and development phase in 2003 to 2007 and in that time frame we made key partnerships with overseas suppliers. We still have our core product line and we’re still partners with the same people. A lot of importers can’t say that. They shop the market every time they need a new faucet. BK has long-term, established relationships with the same suppliers, and that’s how we get consistency.”
That consistency and reliability was key to BK’s organic growth over the past decade.
“What we found over time was that as we introduced products and serviced our clients well, we earned a good reputation and customers began to ask us to produce and develop new items,” Hamann said. “Customers would say, ‘Do you have this item? And if not, can you develop it?’ That has been a significant driving force in our product development strategy.”
“With our food service background, we were selling faucets already. We knew there is a carryover between the commercial side of both the food service and the plumbing wholesale markets, so for us it was a logical step to enter the market,” Woelfer said. “It was a matter of having the proper resources and network in place to help support the needs of our new client base.”
To help guide the company’s passage into the plumbing wholesale market, BK Resources turned to an experienced executive and longtime player in the plumbing wholesale field, Tony Wasch.
“Food service is what Mike and I know,” Woelfer continued. “We needed to have expertise and with Tony coming on board, we’re fortunate to have someone with resources and knowledge of the plumbing wholesaler to help us get into that market. We have a great product and he knows the players and how the industry operates.”
With moves like bringing Wasch on board and developing a new set of marketing philosophies, BK is putting more emphasis in getting the word out in the marketplace. But, the company has not taken their eyes off the core principles of superior product development.
“Tony has been helping us bring in new product that is plumbing wholesale specific,” Woelfer said. “These products will be introduced at this year’s ASPE Expo.”
This fall, BK Resources will be making its debut at the ASPE Convention and Exposition in Chicago, exhibiting in Booth 2329.
“It’s going to be our first venture into the ASPE Expo. Traditionally, BK Resources has not marketed itself via trade shows, but we made the decision to participate in this expo due to the reputation of the ASPE community,” Woelfer said. “Location is a big factor. I think Chicago will draw a lot of people to the expo. We’re extremely excited. We’ve invested significant resources in preparation, and I can’t think of a better place to make our debut into the plumbing community.”
Looking forward, the team at BK Resources intends to keep its positive momentum rolling.
“We want to be a full-line plumbing wholesale supplier. Once we get online with representation around the country and the plumbing wholesale industry has a chance to experience what BK is all about, I see great things,” Woelfer said. “We’re a service company and a distribution company. Our objective is to be proactive in responding to customer needs, accurately and efficiently, from receipt of an order to its delivery.”
With an impressive array of products already added to their arsenal, BK intends to keep that momentum going, too.
“Product development is what drives the core of our business and customers expect that,” Woelfer continued. “We produce a catalog every quarter and customers expect at least a page or two of new products every quarter. In my 16 months with the company, we’ve introduced more than 250 new items. We’re going to implement that same model into the plumbing wholesale market. A customer who looks at our catalog today will see a nice assortment of products they sell every day. What they will see in future catalogs 24 months from now will be vastly different. We have a quality product and we like to say that we deliver solid quality and solid service. ”
“I want to go further and say that our ultimate objective is to be a solution provider for our customers and to bring the best value to the market,” Hamann added. “Not the cheapest, but the best value overall.”