The minute you enter the Jones Stephens headquarters in Moody, Ala., you can feel the incredible energy and enthusiasm brewing among its management team and employees. There is a new sense of purpose and drive here, much of which can be attributed to the changes the employees chose to implement in late 2012.
There continues to be an emphasis on some of the core values that “brought them to the dance” — particularly broad inventory and fast shipping — but there is also a new focus on building the brand bringing greater efficiencies to the table.
To say Jones Stephens has a diverse offering is an understatement. With 22,000 line items that run the gamut from decorative product for the showroom to tools, copper, commodities and behind the wall items, they can meet most of the traditional needs of today’s plumbing wholesaler. Jones Stephens carries everything from behind the wall, the rough in, specialty products, toilet seats, commodities like copper fittings, PEX malleables, brass, Drains (cast iron and plastic), grab bars, decorative products, tools.
“When I first met with the board of Jones Stephens to talk about the company, their concern was how to sustain the company’s legacy without stalling out,” said Dennis Allen, Jones’ new CEO. “They felt our brand was solid in the marketplace, but that we needed to exploit our full capability, and the core values: fast, accurate, high service delivery. “I’ve been really impressed with the independence the investors grant to Jones Stephens, and I am honored to be working alongside our managers here.”
“I’m not a turnaround guy; I’m a business builder. Our managers came to look at it this way: The recent years at Jones Stephens are equivalent to driving a Corvette in 2nd gear – that’s just not right. You’ve gotta get to 5th gear, and enjoy the power, run fast.
“Jones Stephens has a very strong balance sheet and an honorable reputation in the market. Customers know the company and its strong points, and the team has done a great job over the years connecting well with their customers.
“Ultimately, our managers concluded we had a rich product line, but we weren’t in a business building mode. The board was supporting a stronger play in the market, and our managers could show us what we needed to improve on.
As a former Air Force officer, Allen learned the importance of a good wingman. He’s also extremely disciplined, and has significant business experience. He worked under a number of private equity firms when he held leadership positions in software, oil & gas, and the lumber industry. Allen has been impressed with the openness and congenial nature — and good business sense — of the people he has met throughout the industry at various meetings over the past six months.
“I’ve been surprised at the incremental pace of market recovery here versus other industries,” Allen remarked. “ I really appreciate how welcoming everyone was here. I wondered if the leadership here would be nervous about the changes, but their loyalty is impressive. They sincerely like the company, they care about the industry, and they want to help their customers succeed. They’ve quickly adapted to our strategy going forward. There has been an avalanche of ideas. People are excited.
“The first quarter we set up an objective on quality of sales in the market. We wanted to see if our folks had an ability to adapt and talk to customers in a certain way. The goals we set for people when it comes to sales, inventory turns, etc., are right on track. We’ve also created a marketing department, started the journey toward a lean process culture, and we upgraded our ERP system.”
According to Allen, the short-term goals for Jones Stephens were focused on cultural, and process transformation, with a newly designed catalog, a new website that rolled out recently and a marketing-centric viewpoint.
“”What happens over next couple of quarters,” he noted. “is about taking the fast/accurate/serving values we’re known for and integrating all that with processes and technology that give us excellence and efficiency - to allow our people to continue improving what they already do well —serving our customers.”
It’s a team effort
Allen is surrounded by an incredibly talented and dedicated team at Jones Stephens — many of whom have lengthy service with the company.
• Vice President-Supply Chain Mark Williams has served in a variety of roles, including regional sales and purchasing, during his 17-year tenure at Jones Stephens. And prior to that, he actually worked at the original Jones Manufacturing, where Joey Stephens was his mentor. He’s now responsible for buying everything that comes through the Jones Stephens doors, which means travel overseas to build relationships with suppliers. Jones Stephens currently sources from 11 different countries.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes over my years here, and people sometimes refer to me as the ‘resident historian’,” he laughs. “The biggest difference I’ve seen since last Fall is how we decided to focus the structure of Jones Stephens to succeed and to grow.”
“Whenever you have a change at the top, you never know what the plans are going to be,” Williams said. “But once I got to meet Dennis — who is a very upfront person — I understood what he was trying to accomplish, so it’s been easy to mentor and coach our people to achieve those goals.
“We decided we want our managers to run their side of the business. If we agree on a path, it’s done; we’re ready to go on it. That is very refreshing.
Now we bring people to the table to talk about budget, goals, where we want to go. We have financial goals by region, along with profitability reviews.”
• CFO Blue Akers joined Jones Stephens in January, after serving in a similar capacity for Chester’s Fried Chicken. He also had a background in distribution, involving automotive, textiles and chemicals.
“I spent several months talking with Dennis prior to coming on board. We’ve been able to articulate our Vision.Jones Stephens wasn’t broken; it was more a matter of ‘we want to grow to the next level.’ We really believe in our vision for next few years, and that it’s very attainable.
“Our investors have expectations, and we all know exactly what their goals are. We are together on annual growth rate in terms of revenues, improving warehouse and administrative operations, serving the customer even better. “We don’t have much bureaucracy here; there is a tremendous trust in us from the board, and they give us an opportunity to get out of our foxholes and lead. Everyone in the company has some level of involvement in achieving these goals. As Dennis is fond of saying, the big thing for us is ‘keeping the main thing the main thing.’ We want to meet customer expectations with fast, error-free services and a broad inventory range. Jones Stephens stresses quality, delivery, service and cost. At the end of the day, without a satisfied customer, we are nothing.”
• Vice president John Marshall is the newest addition to the team, joining them as Vice President of Sales in May. He has traveleed extensively both domestically and internationally providing products, services and management around the world. He has experience in business development, strategic marketing, team building and executive management. Marshall has served in solely owned proprietorships to multi-national corporations in the public, private and non-profit sectors. He has also worked at the senior executive level in diverse industries, including recreational, durable consumer goods, software, electronic hardware manufacturing, lumber, dental manufacturing, restaurants and retail.
“I am very excited about joining Jones Stephens and working with this talented team that is already moving in the right direction under Dennis’ leadership. I was impressed with Dennis and the team’s customer-centric attitude from the first time that I met them.
“Our initial goals are to bring focus to the selling process and make it easier for our current and new customers to do business with us. With such an extensive plumbing specialty product offering, it can oftentimes be overwhelming. We are also working quickly to empower our team to see a broader perspective of the market and identify the critical needs of our customers.”
• National Sales Manager Lance Hunter has been with Jones Stephens for 14 years. He is actively involved with customers around the country, and is especially pleased with the changes at the company.
“We have more structure than we’ve had in a long time,” Hunter commented. “When we throw out ideas these days, the action plans we’re developing after the meetings have been a breath of fresh air. We get things accomplished, we fix problems, and then we move on. We’re actually making things happen. We are letting each department stand on their own and be held accountable for running their departments. By allowing us that freedom, it has generated more ideas, creativity and enthusiasm.
“We are focusing on what the customer needs rather than what we are trying to sell them. We’re asking more questions these days than ever before. We want to be honest - to hear all sides — the good and the bad. We want to know what customers really think so we can get better as a company and as a sales team, and get stronger in the market place.
“Customers say we look like a different company. We look excited. They are very impressed with the changes they are seeing. We’re doing things differently, in that what goes us ‘here’ won’t get us ‘there.’ And we are now all very excitedly focused on the future. At the end of the day, it’s still people doing business with people. We are putting more people on the street and traveling more together.”
One of the key initiatives earlier this year was redesigning the Jones Stephens catalog. The team talked with customers, and, really listened to what they wanted to see. The results are a much more user friendly catalog that has generated a lot of positive feedback. Jones Stephens will also be rolling out a newly redesigned website this summer that will make the customer experience even better.
“We want people to discover more of what is in our catalog,” Hunter said. “Our goal is to translate that book into value for a customer. We want to help our customers identify how we can help them going forward. And it’s another great example of how the team effortmade things happen — it used to take six to eight months to put together a new catalog; this redesign was accomplished in a month!”
Jones Stephens is also an approved vendor for several industry buying groups. Hunter is very vocal about the benefits they have provided the company.
“At each buying group, we are sitting down with 200 to 300 people — at least. The relationships that the members of our team and I have made have been phenomenal. I put my heart and soul into each meeting and with each customer. I remember the conversations and I really focus on what they say. From my experience, if you’re not in a buying group you’re on the outside looking in.”
• Director of Operations Gary Hurst is in charge of managing the 260,000-square-foot Moody warehouse and its 140 people, along with a 100,000-square-foot facility and 30 employees in Pottsville, Pa.
“We’re continually ‘re-slotting’ the warehouse based on the velocity of items, which is calculated by how many times we go to a bin for products,” he said. “We put the fastest movers closer toward the dock so it’s easier to pull. It eliminates extra steps and helps get job done quicker. Our 20-foot-high vertical racking system allows for overstocks to be replenished easily, which helps promote a consistent flow of operations.”
The Moody warehouse is actually comprised of three warehouses under one roof. The first is the primary shipping warehouse where all of the picking and checking processes are done. The second is a carryover of the receiving and re-packaging area of products that Jones Stephens buys in bulk. And the third is a bulk storage warehouse that also houses some of the company’s receiving processes. They pride themselves on efficiency and accuracy — with on-time shipping running at 99% and an accuracy rating of 99.9%.
“Once the orders are picked and brought to the shipping dock, a finisher makes sure that nothing is backordered that is in house,” Hurst explained. “Then the order moves into a checker’s lane. They take the order and all of the products on the pallet, take out each product one by one, verify it’s the right product, meets our quality standards, and preps the order for shipping.
“We have a leader in each area who takes the responsibility of training new employees. We have a documented process for training each individual. Then we certify them as being cross trained in a certain area, whether it’s their home base or an area that they can move into to help out when the situation is needed. We are using cross training to help expedite the flow throughout the day to process orders. We use more pullers earlier in the day and then move some to the checking function later in the day. It all helps us promote on-time, error-free delivery, which supports our overall mission.”
The Jones Stephens warehouse runs on a staggered schedule, so there is no wasted or down time, with pickers coming in at 6 a.m. and checkers coming in at 8 a.m. The replenishment crew comes in on an offset schedule - so as shipping for the day is completed; they replenish the bins to be ready for the next morning’s pulls.
“We’re processing an average of 700 orders a day/15,000 orders a month,” Hurst noted. “That equates to well over 100,000 line items a month that we ship. We use a combination of both LTL and small packaging shipments. There are eight full trucks that go out of here every day as standard carriers. They keep a trailer on the docks at all times and are loading all day long — 40 to 50 trailer loads a week.”
Dennis Allen wrapped up our conversation with an interesting observation that he borrowed from “The Great One,” hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “Don’t skate where the puck is, skate where it’s going to be.” He thinks that is an ideal philosophy for the Jones Stephens team to live by.
“Our people listen to our customers, and they’re telling us where we need to be,” he commented. “I love watching them get excited about the future at Jones Stephens.”