It’s really no coincidence that Brent Anderson is a beekeeper. He’s got several hives on his property, and carefully tends to the tens of thousands of bees that inhabit them. It’s not an easy job, and there’s always a danger of getting stung, but he’s rewarded every time he collects their honey to share with friends and family.
Beehives are deeply rooted in Utah’s heritage, and are symbolic of the industrious spirit, inspiring leadership and community cooperation of its Mormon settlers. In 1847, Brigham Young led the first group of Mormon pioneers over the Wasatch Mountains, and looked out over the barren valley below. Young proclaimed “This is the Place” — a scene that has been captured in a monument at the site — and called the territory “Deseret,” a term used in the Book of Mormon for honeybee. Over the next two decades, more than 70,000 pioneers settled in what is now Utah. Those settlers, and later their descendents, have embodied the characteristics of honeybees by working together to build a culture of prosperity spanning the valley.
Back in 1881, the Desert News described the symbolism of the beehive like this: "The hive and honey bees form our communal coat of arms…. It is a significant representation of the industry, harmony, order and frugality of the people, and of the sweet results of their toil, union and intelligent cooperation."
And today, depictions of beehives are prevalent all over the state — on everything from a sculpture at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City to the state flag to manhole covers along city sidewalks.
The Mountainland method
The beehive represents a sense of community rather than individuality. And as the President of Orem, Utah-based Mountainland Supply, Anderson’s role is similar to that of the beekeeper. He leads by example and has created a culture of oneness among the company’s employees scattered across 13 branches. Anderson has preserved much of the philosophy begun by his predecessors while being firmly committed to making the changes necessary to take the company to new heights. He is very candid about some of those changes — including a few tough personnel decisions that he believed were necessary to position the company for growth. The management team believes in his vision and leadership. Together, they have created an extraordinary environment of selflessness, hard work, loyalty and trust. They describe the way they do business as the “Mountainland Method.”
I got an up-close look inside Mountainland Supply during a visit to Utah this summer, and will share more about their business philosophies and practices later in this article. First, though, let me start by telling you more about their culture. Nearly every company touts its people, and usually for good reason. But there is just an extra something within the team at Mountainland that takes it to another level. The sense of community is palpable in their interactions and conversations. They’re truly nice people, and it’s genuine to the core. They really extend themselves — meaningfully — to become a part of the lives of those they surround themselves with. And while not related by blood, they consider themselves family."
I first got a sense for that when I sat down with a group of managers, and Executive Assistant Lenore Stevens began telling me about a Mountainland team-building rafting trip scheduled for next year — and the fact that she is terrified of water. “I was really struggling with how I would manage to actually do this,” she related. “But then I realized, James [Calvert] would never let me drown. And neither would Ben [Mecham]. Or Brent [Anderson]. Or anyone in this group. I know they all have my back. That’s when I decided I could conquer my fears and do this.”
There’s also a never-ending stream of laughter when two or more of the Mountainland team are gathered. It seems that everyone has nicknames for each other that mostly stem from humorous incidents they’ve shared, and there is a lot of fun that is poked— but all with great affection.
But perhaps the most telling sign of just how genuinely these folks respect, admire and downright love each other is the way that they jumped in — totally unprompted — to sing the praises of each other during our interview sessions. Sitting around a conference table for two days with different groups of managers, I threw out questions to each person about their backgrounds and the type of responsibilities they hold at the company. Inevitably, after one would share a thumbnail sketch with me about their roles, multiple colleagues would chime in to rave about the value that person brings to the organization, just how talented he is and what an honor it is to work with him. It was obviously very unrehearsed — but an impressive indication of the way they feel about each other.
And that feeling goes far beyond the office. They count each other as true friends, their families are close and much of their social life revolves around each other and their customers. And not because it’s part of their job. It’s because they actually want it to.
As Human Resources Director Brian Haskell described, “There isn’t anything that we wouldn’t do for each other. We’ve all grown up here together, and it’s just an unwritten bond. No one has to ask or assign; we all just do whatever it takes to help each other.”
The view from here
One of Brent Anderson’s favorite words is “remarkable,” and that is exactly the word he hopes will come to mind when people do business with Mountainland. His team has picked it up as their mantra as well. They are firmly committed to elevating Mountainland through their intent of making their customers’ businesses better.
“When I took over from [former President] Bob Rasmussen a few years ago, I inherited a very good company,” he said. “Bob had taken us from $6 million in sales in 1985 to an $80-million company in 2008. But there were some challenges, too, and I knew we could set our sights even higher. It was a huge responsibility, and there were days that I felt a heavy weight about the changes that were needed. But I was boosted at every step by a team that is full of commitment and integrity. They believe in me, and gave me the confidence to go forward and put Mountainland in an even better position.”
Change isn’t easy, especially when it involves personnel and operational decisions. But when it comes to the best interests of the company, changes are sometimes necessary to further growth. Those strategies are obviously working.
“I’m so proud of how everyone within the company has embraced the changes that we’re making,” Anderson said. “In analyzing all of our key personnel, I knew I had to make some tough calls. At the same time, I saw some real talent in a few of our younger guys and knew they had so much potential. I looked at some of our veterans and realized what an asset they could be in bringing these younger folks up through the ropes. So we restructured our management team and put people in positions in which I believed they could really excel. And the best part is that they’ve all risen to the challenge and are exceeding expectations. By accident, or design, or just in time, we’ve got the strongest team we’ve ever had.”
Director of Sales James Calvert added, “It’s that ‘Mountainland Method’ at work. We surround ourselves with people who have the right chemistry. People who believe in putting our customers first, who listen and discover their needs and then exceed them. Every customer is different, and we pride ourselves on having people who are totally customer-oriented.
“It’s all about relationships. We build long-lasting relationships — whether it’s internally, or with our customers or vendors. And with us having branches in so many small markets, we are very careful to create a true footprint there, employing people who have roots in those communities. We also use local contractors wherever we are building or renovating locations; we want to enhance the local economies as much as we can. When we support them on a local level, we find that support returned to us.”
The sense of selflessness and community is contagious throughout Mountainland, and seems to be the driving force among employees as they take on their responsibilities each day. They all look out for each other — and do what is best for the team.
Anderson added, "Our warehouse and service personnel, sales staff, receptionists, purchasing, IT staff, AR, and AP represent the best of our industry. They provide our customers with everyday dedication and commitment to making their business better. They are on the front lines each day from sun up to sun down making our vision a reality. We couldn't do it without them. Each person in our company is important; each belongs on the cover of this magazine. I could tell you countless stories about our employees being remarkable, going the extra mile, putting in extra effort, saving our customers from disaster or helping them in the middle of one. I wish we could fit them all in. They are the real reason you're here visiting with us today."
Anderson also described how several veteran members of the management team have stretched themselves and taken on new roles outside their usual area of expertise. At this stage of their careers, many would ask why they would be willing to do this? But their answer is simple. They believed it was the way in which they could best impact the organization and be of service to those they work with. For example, Danny Muhlestein, who has spent the majority of his career in sales, is now the Information Systems Director. He virtually learned hands on and taught himself the intricacies of the company’s system. And having someone with a sales background — who can discuss software and technology in a more layman’s manner, and who has the best interest of those in the field at heart — has proven to be a tremendous benefit.
“We actually asked a small group of people to help us ramp up our IS department and Danny rose to the top,” Anderson noted. “Once again, it’s the Mountainland method at work. You find people’s strengths and let them rise.”
And Haskell, who originally planned on a career as an art professor but came to Mountainland part-time in college to earn extra money and never left, spent most of his career in sales and operations before being named Human Resources Director recently. “I wanted to give in a way that I thought would be beneficial to the company,” he said. “As I saw what Brent was trying to accomplish with some of his personnel moves, I went to him and volunteered to take on this role. It’s a stretch for me and out of my comfort zone. But I think it’s a good fit because I know the business so well and want to make sure we have the best people and processes in place.”
Building that type of selfless attitudes start by the examples being set at the top. And it’s evident that Anderson and his predecessor Rasmussen charted that course.
As Salt Lake City Branch Manager Michael Funk described, “Shortly after I was hired to manage another branch, we moved to a new location. First thing that morning, Bob and Brent came driving up and helped us move everything personally. It was such a great feeling to know they cared so much to help; and they worked really hard all day. That attitude bleeds over to all of us. There’s not one of us that wouldn’t drop in a second to help another. No job is above anybody in this company.”
Vice President of Operations Ben Mecham added, “We all just do what is needed. When we hire, we look for people who aren’t afraid to get dirty, who aren’t above helping load a truck, making a delivery or cleaning up after an event. And while doing these things helps us provide the best service to our customers, ultimately it also earns us all respect among each other and those we supervise. I actually correct people when they call me their ‘boss.’ I don’t want to be on a pillar; I’d rather lead by example.”
The heart of the matter
And then there is the headquarters environment itself. It’s evident that Anderson has a great deal of faith in the judgment of Stevens, and so when she suggested to him that new colors, new artwork and new furniture would generate an improved attitude and motivation, he listened. So the walls got repainted, furniture replaced, and unique pieces of artwork (some of which were created by Mountainland employees) were added. And sure enough, Stevens was right. She gave Anderson the credit: “He’s the kind of leader you can go to with ideas, and he always listens and thanks us for sharing. He embraced this idea and let me roll with it.”
In turn, Anderson praised Stevens for her insight. “When Lenore came on board, it was shortly after I took over in this role, and at a very critical time for charting the course of the company’s future. She saw so much and had a vision for what we could accomplish. She took our ideas and goals, developed a plan to achieve them, and got everyone on board.”
Since 1977, Mountainland has been headquartered in a 61,000+-square-foot facility that sits on 10 acres in Orem, about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. They picked the location 34 years ago because a thriving steel mill was operating nearby and they were major suppliers. When the steel industry dried up, Anderson’s “just in time” belief was evident again; Mountainland had just opened an Irrigation Division that brought them a whole new market and set of customers, which more than made up for the loss.
Currently, the company’s markets are divided almost equally in thirds:
To put it simply, said Mecham, “I tell customers that if it touches water, we sell it!”
Company-wide, Mountainland carries approximately $15 million in inventory throughout its branches, and at any given warehouse they maintain roughly 40,000 SKUs. Inventory management primarily rests on the shoulders of Chris McGarry, a former college football quarterback who had spent much of his career with Mountainland on the sales side. Again, having someone with a sales background in such a key role has proven extraordinarily beneficial for the company.
“We’ve got to be very diligent in controlling our inventory because it’s such a huge portion of our financial investment,” McGarry said. “There’s a line between inventory and sales, with a series of check and balances. It’s not financially sound to carry too much inventory that’s not moving, but we also want to make sure we’ve got the products on our shelves that customers need. Before the recession, many of our customers stocked a lot of product, but that was one area that they really cut back on and now they have gotten into the practice of ordering on an as-needed basis — which usually means ASAP. We’re fortunate to have some dedicated purchasing agents on our team who each have lines they specialize in. They do a great job of researching demand to determine whether an item is really needed before we stock it. We have to be very mindful of turns.”
Mountainland engages in central warehousing when it makes the most sense, but often has product shipped directly to the branch locations to improve efficiency.
“For some items — like commodities —it is more effective to bring them into our headquarters and then deliver to branches as needed,” McGarry explained. “Trucks go out to replenish our branches every week, and we also do branch transfers when necessary. Ultimately, we want to reduce our delivery costs with private carriers.”
They are also very loyal to their vendors, and mindful of their buying group relationships.
“Working with our Omni vendors has immensely helped with our profitability,” Anderson shared. “We wouldn’t be able to compete in the market today without the strength of our buying group behind us. Bob Hoff, who heads up Omni, has done a great job with their FBI Program, which allows us significant one-on-one opportunities with our vendors. It’s good open communication and that is based on a platform of accountability and responsibility.”
Calvert echoed those comments: “On the plumbing side of our business, our Omni vendors are the first ones we look at. If we’ve made a commitment to you — especially as an Omni member — we stick with it. I would estimate that 70% of our plumbing buys are done through Omni.”
Part of Calvert’s role is to strengthen the bond between vendors and customers — looking out for their best interests, as well as Mountainland’s. “We are always considering what best serves our customers,” he said. “Nothing is ever off the table. We have cut ties with two 50-year vendors, because when things become a fight it’s not worth it. We want them to work with us; we don’t want to go to battle against them. At the same time, we have added lines that I never anticipated partnering with because they stepped up to the plate and proved that they would make the effort and support us and our customers.”
Catching the limelight
Marketing Director Tim White juggles a lot of responsibilities — not the least of which has been to unify the Mountainland brand. The organization of today is comprised of two separate companies — Mountainland Supply (which was originally founded as Provo Plumbing Supply in the late 1940s) and 90+ year old Mountain States Supply.
The brand unification has been a well-thought-out process that began several years ago when White started working as a consultant for the organization — and in Stevens’ words, “held our feet to the fire on what our intent was. He kept asking really deep questions to get us to answer the questions of ‘why?’ on all kinds of topics. He wanted to drill down and get to our intentions going forward because we had never really defined it before.”"
Ultimately, some of the things that came from those discussions were to create an unconditional family within Mountainland, support local communities, strengthen customer relationships, and boost customers’ profitability because all of that, in turn, means that Mountainland will realize improved results.
White has been instrumental in developing marketing programs that bridge vendors, customers, Mountainland and the community. One of those is their Peak Rewards program. In a nutshell, it rewards customers for purchases while often pairing them with members of the Mountainland team in redeeming their rewards.
“So far, customers have earned cruises, pheasant hunts, fly fishing trips, weekend getaways, NASCAR races and much more,” White described. “We try to partner with local businesses on many of our rewards. It’s a great way to gain the support of local businesses while also furthering our relationships with customers. Plus, some folks aren’t comfortable or able to travel distances for big trips, but they can really enjoy going to the movies or a nearby restaurant.
“I play the customer when considering our marketing programs. I try to think of what they want, how will they use it, and how not only a customers’ owner, but also their employees can be rewarded. Too many programs are focused solely on the owner, and we try to spread that respect to all of their employees. Today’s employee is tomorrow’s owner — and they’ll remember how you treated them.
“So we came up with a two-part system — one for the owners who earn points for the sale, and the other for the people who come into our branches every day. We want them to feel good about doing business with Mountainland. And the fact that we’ve involved local businesses as part of the rewards is even better. It’s opened the doors for us to do business with them, or be referred by them, and so it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s also an opportunity for fun and creating memories that are now entrenched in all of our minds.” In just a short amount of time, 3,000 people already hold Peak Rewards cards. And according to White, Mountainland has experienced a $1 million increase in sales among customers. They’ve also significantly upped their social media presence, regularly posting on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn.
“James [Calvert] has been critical to our Facebook following because he has such strong roots here and literally knows all of our customers. We’ve realized just what an important vehicle this is for connecting with customers, and we’re continuing to refine and innovate that presence.”
In August, Mountainland hosted several cool events at their Orem showroom designed to spark discussion among customers, including “Mommy Bloggers.” At the first event, they invited five women who are professional bloggers on DIY and design topics for a VIP experience and dinner.
“We let them mingle around our showroom and get a lot of personalized attention from our showroom salespeople and vendors,” explained White. “We also had them experience the MicroSilk technology in our demo unit, have a seated massage and hear from our Danze rep about their new line of faucets. They helped promote our ‘Ugly Sink Contest’ to their fans, which turned out to get an incredible amount of entrants and was a huge success. Later that evening, they were joined by another 40 or so bloggers who got to experience the same message and take part in some raffles and giveaways. These bloggers used their forum to help us promote an Open House we hosted a week later. Our goal was to show our core customers that we are reaching out to the community through social media and blogging to unite end users, plumbers and suppliers to help them make the right choices, buy quality products and maintain their warranties. By having the bloggers involved, it gave us the credibility of a virtual referral. It’s really amazing to see the power of connectivity.”
One of the critical keys in the way Mountainland is positioning itself for the future has been the ongoing work of a committee made up of the executive team that discusses pros, cons and everything in between of topics including:
“Brent had the foresight and trust to put this team together and encourage us to collaborate,” said Executive Vice President Mike Edwards. “We’ve made some great business decisions that have made a big difference in who we were a few years ago versus who we are today. Our group often makes better decisions than individuals.”
“We evaluated and refined a lot of processes with our customers in mind. And then we create action plans for how to implement our changes. Don’t get me wrong — we’ve had some big debates. Everyone is respectful in the way we address each other, but we’re also passionate about our ideas and are not afraid to tell each other the truth. Brent expects that of us and depends on us. We’ve all put on our thick skins in the interest of the company, and we’re better today because of it.”
As Manager Larry Skinner emphasized, everyone at Mountainland takes tremendous pride in the way they go to market and who they partner with.
“We are firm in our commitment to operate honestly and with integrity,” he said. “I’ve walked away from some accounts because they wanted to do business in a way that wasn’t comfortable. And when it comes to vendors, we evaluate them on how they conduct themselves, and we choose not to align ourselves with those that don’t share the same philosophy.
“We don’t want to be an industry follower; we want to be an industry leader.”
With all predictions pointing toward nation-leading growth for Utah County in the coming years Mountainland Supply is poised for expansions and acquisitions.
“There is great potential ahead for us,” Mecham said. “We may also look at new businesses areas that are complimentary to our current markets. We want to explore a variety of ways to cast a bigger net. I like to tell customers that I ‘think outside the box; it blew out of my truck on my way here.’”
Muhlestein added, “We throw some big goals out there. Brent’s pretty audacious about that. We believe we have a lot of room to grow. We have laid the framework with the people and practices we have put into place. That means embracing new technologies and changes in our thought processes to utilize it to grow our business.”
It seems the sky’s the limit for the future at Mountainland Supply — thanks to the direction of the leadership and the dedication of their entire team. It’s something that makes Anderson very fulfilled.
“It’s rewarding to know that I could walk away from this business today and know that this team, who are equally as devoted to this business, would continue down path we’ve charted," he said. "I’m so excited about the people who are in place to facilitate our growth into the future. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come, our relationships, and our reputation — but most of all I’m humbled by the commitment I experience every day with this group of people.”