Ever since I went into management, I have been put on a mushroom diet: kept in the dark and fed dirt. I find myself hanging out at the water cooler just to hear the rumors.
The latest word is that a few “Mega Builders” are going to take over the entire building market. They seem to control all of the developable land in America and have direct deals with every building product manufacturer. Independent builders are going to be forced out of business, followed by any independent supply houses in their markets.
Why does everyone know what is going on but me? Here we are having another solid, profitable year serving primarily home builders and remodelers, but we are supposed to be going out of business. What are we thinking?
Like me, Pete didn't know what was “expected” of his company, either. His Independent Paint Co. had been supplying Big John's Building Co. for quite some time. When one Mega Builder bought Big John's, Pete found out that Super Paint International (SPI) had a national program with Mega Builders. Pete was expected to step aside and let SPI take over his account. This did not sit well with Pete; what was he supposed to do, go back to college, get a new degree, and start a second career in his mid-40s?
What Pete did know was that others were counting on him. The folks at Big John's had been his customers for a long time and they depended on his quality products and services. Independent Paint employed a lot of people, and they relied on Pete's sales efforts to keep the doors open. (Pete's family was also used to eating on a regular basis, a luxury funded by his commission checks.) So Pete got motivated, and kept working and taking care of his friends the way he always did. In the end, he did better, making a deal of his own with this particular Mega Builder that was as good as the one it had with SPI. “Texas Pete,” as we like to call him, messed up a perfectly good national program.
I like Pete's approach to change. Rather than accepting the fate a Mega Builder seemingly inflicted on his company, Pete found new opportunities. Had he stepped aside, his associates and his customers would have lost right along with him. Guys like this can be found at many great independent building supply companies that operate professionally and profitably in the service of the construction industry.
The message Pete learned, and the one independents should remember, is that just because the word on the street is predicting our end, doesn't mean we have to sit back and allow it to happen. Sometimes we need to go against the “trends in the industry” and mess things up a bit. No matter how big or small the building contractors are, they benefit from this dynamic, innovative, and competitive supply chain that we support.
Riding out the winds of change isn't always easy, but sometimes it can lift your sails and send your profits soaring.
Bill Hofius is senior vice president of Norcross, Ga.-based Ply Mart. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.