More than 1,500 local Winsupply owners and staff along attended the distributor’s bi-annual Strategic Planning Meetings and Vendor Showcase, March 11-16, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville.
The record-attendance crowd had plenty to celebrate:
$3.2 billion in revenue for the last fiscal year ending Jan. 31.
A 7 percent gain year over year for same store sales opened at least 24 months.
“We’re tops in many product categories,” said Monte Salsman, chief operating officer during the general session. “Plumbing, top three. HVAC, top five. PVF, top seven. Waterworks, top seven.”
600 locations, in 11 new locations for the fiscal year along with five acquisitions (with another six more possibilities this year).
$82 million in profit sharing, an all-time record.
While much of the five-day event is set aside for various seminars and other training, the one-day Vendor Showcase, March 15, has become a veritable trade show over the years.
“The last time we held the event in Nashville was six years ago,” Eddie Gibbs, vice president of vendor relations, said during a one-hour media-only Q&A session. “At that time, we had 115 vendors and around 145 booths. This year we have 226 vendors and about 240 booths.”
Many of the booths took up more space than the traditional 10 by 10 space, too.
“Even I’m surprised by that,” Gibbs said. “We just were at the HARDI convention and some of the booths are on par with what we saw there.”
Another highlight are the one-on-one meetings, which have also exploded as vendors make their presence known during the event.
“We held a little less than 900 meetings six years ago,” Gibbs added. “By the end of this show, we will have done more than 4,300.”
Gibbs also shared this factoid that’s testament to the increased presence of the vendors and strengthened relationships within what the wholesalers prefers to call, the Winsupply Family of Companies.
Ten years ago, Gibbs explained the distributor’s top 1,000 vendors comprised about 78 percent of overall sales. Currently, those top manufacturers make up 93 percent. This, despite the fact that local Winsupply companies do not have to buy from preferred vendors or buy from Winsupply central distribution centers.
“And yet our preferred vendors grow about three and a half times faster than our non-preferred vendors,” Gibbs said.
While the event was cause to celebrate, Winsupply officials also discussed other plans that will keep the party going.
“We’ll raise our game by being different on purpose,” said Salsman during the general session.
Much of Salsman’s speech was given over to talking about a relatively new initiative, what he called both a “bold” dream and a “simple” dream.
“We envision Winsupply as being the best company in the world to do business with,” he said. “The kind of company that everyone who does business with us, says, that was the best experience I’ve ever had. And we don’t just mean within just the wholesale-distributor market, but we mean anywhere.”
Salsman said the goal would be achieved when everyone becomes the best in their local markets. That’s the bold part of the initiative. For the simple part, Salsman told the heart-felt story of his father.
“My dad would fly off the handle anytime he got bad customer service,” Salsman explained. It was only as he got older, himself, that Salsman began to understand his dad who left home at 17, hitchhiked from Missouri to Southern California and began raising his family.
With not much money to go around, Salsman said he “had the weight of the world of his shoulders living on the financial edge with no clear path to rise out of it.”
And so every time, his dad got bad customer service, “he felt a little smaller and a little less respected” for a man who just wanted to do the best for his family, Salsman said.
“My dad just wanted to feel like he mattered,” he said. “Things could have been better if someone had treated him differently, showed him a little kindness and a little caring.”
When Salsman set out on his career, he did it with the intention of treating customers like he wished his dad was treated.
“Every customer I’ve ever served,” Salsman added, “I’ve felt my dad’s presence.”
Salsman, however, initially worked for large corporations and didn’t have the decision-making power to always treat customers in that manner. But then, Salsman joined Winsupply in 2006.
“I was so fortunate when I found it,” Salsman added. “Here we get to decide how people are treated.”
With that said, Salsman talked about the Mastery Academy, a series of instruction modules designed to elevate customer care and even turn a customer into a friend.
About 40 people have already gone through the program and were easy to pick out in the crowd thanks to their yellow polo shirts.
The core curriculum of the coursework focuses for these business principles:
Getting Paid for What You are Worth
“Just like our procedural manual,” Salsman added, “these practices are timeless, and they work.”
Salsman talked more about the details of the training, which is available via classroom or online video on demand.
“If you were to ask any wholesaler, what their unique selling points are, they all say, service and relationships,” Salsman said. “It’s the only answer I ever hear. So, your USP is exactly the same as everyone else. And, then, people wonder why they sell on price.”
Participants in the Mastery Academy spend a day and a half on each principle with additional coursework and assignments. To develop product expertise, participants pick one product to study backward and forward so that “they can talk about the product better than even the manufacturer can,” Salsman explained.
For the relationship component, Salsman described his philosophy of four different “seats.”
For example, most everyone starts out at the “counter seat.” It’s entirely transactional. It may get your product sold, but not much more. Then there’s the “office seat.” That’s when a wholesaler gets invited into a customer’s office to discuss what can be done, say, to help that customer win the bid on a particular project.
That’s definitely a step in the right direction, but after that, there’s the “board room seat.”
“That’s when you act like a profitability consultant and help a customer determine how to make the business make more money,” Salsman said. “That’s a big advantage for us since we have 600 owners who know about that profitability experience.” Salsman added that some Winsupply local owners are literally a part of their customers’ boards of directors.
Finally, there’s the “confidant seat,” another big plus for the Winsupply business method with owners “deeply embedded in their local markets,” Salsman said.
While there’s no such thing as an unbreakable relationship, Salsman explained, distributors can be strategic about them and move from one seat to the next.
“That way you end up insulating yourself from the vast amount of the competition that’s clustered at the counter seat where there’s less loyalty and more price debate,” Salsman said.
Winsupply also used the event to honor its top local companies and vendors, during an award’s banquet, March 12.
Two highlights of the evening were Kent Best honored with the Winsupply Lifetime Achievement Award, and Sante Fe Springs Winwater earning its second consecutive Company of the Year award. It’s also the third time in the past four years that the distributor earned the honor.
The top companies and presidents in their respective industry plus individual award winners were:
Showroom Awards: Aurora Winnelson; Lexington Winnelson; Myrtle Beach Winnelson; Lawrenceburg Winsupply; Winsupply of Essex; Winsupply of Owensboro; Winsupply of Indianapolis; Winsupply of Savannah; and Security Plumbing & Heating Supply of Albany.
“Winsupply selected the very best of our many excellent suppliers in each respective industry,” said Roland Gordon, president and CEO, Winsupply. “They earned their awards based on several criteria including growth over the previous year, volume sold over a period of years, being one of the leaders in growing our business, and selling to a breadth of locations that buy the vendor’s type of product.”
The vendors also partnered with the distributor’s 600 locations and Winsupply Sourcing Services to provide products and service.
“Our relationships with them made a significant contribution to Winsupply’s fourth record sales year in a row,” said Salsman.
Winsupply currently has about 50 local companies beta testing the wholesaler’s new-and-improved online sales platform. The first company was trained the week before the Nashville event with others following in the weeks afterward. What’s more, about 100 people showed up for a Sunday training program.
“The plan is to work out the bugs over the next six months and then open it up to everyone,” said Steve Edwards, chief marketing officer during the Q&A session with the trade press.
Edwards said Winsupply has had an ecommerce program for about five years. But with more and more local companies asking for more features and benefits, Winsupply decided to regroup about two years ago to develop the new package.
The new platform goes well beyond checking price and product availability.
“Anyone can put up a website,” Edwards explained. “Anyone can offer a way to purchase something online. But like it or not, Amazon has set the bar on what people expect and they have set the bar high. But it’s what everyone expects now.”
As a result, content is just as valuable as product information so the new platform includes material designed to drive people regularly to the site.
“We prefer the term ‘digital commerce’ over ‘ecommerce’ because we consider ecommerce as just another transaction,” Edwards added. “But digital commerce is another way to have a relationship with our customers in an online world. So while it is about checking price and availability, it’s also about reading business-building blogs and other information that’s unique to Winsupply.”
For a glimpse at what’s possible, Edwards brought up on stage during his remarks at the general session, Chris Lopez, owner of Albuquerque Winnair.
“We wondered what kind of impact a couple of customers would make and how it would benefit the customers and how it would benefit our business,” Lopez said.
As a result of these relatively small-sized moves, Lopez went from selling $5,000 online in 2016 to $1 million in 2017, by concentrating his initial efforts on two customers. Not bad, considering Lopez is currently using Winsupply’s original digital platform and will transition to the new platform.
For anyone sitting on the fence, Lopez gave this advice: “I would say this, if someone told you, you could be more profitable, grow your business, save labor and own the customer relationship, would you do it? That’s ecommerce.”
Other ecommerce naysayers may also think that this technology could get between a wholesaler and customer. Lopez thought that too, but he said his customers are “highly engaged.”
Lopez shared the funny story of one customer who went online to order some thermostats, noticed the stock was getting low and reminded Lopez he’d better order some more.
“I thought, ‘Does he work for me?’” Lopez said. “Online sales really help your customers become part of your company.”
He told the audience that within the next four years, he plans to have 80 percent of his business come through online sales.