Two vignettes intrude sharp as thorns into my memory when I recall visits to LBM operations across the country this summer. At one, I saw a giant cartoon character on the showroom wall and asked about it. Oh, that was the mascot for the company that used to be here, the manager said. At another, a fellow gave me his business card. The card's logo carried the name of the company that his current employer had acquired–10 years ago. To me, the old mascot and old logo both signal problems with the parent companies' ability to extend and implant their corporate cultures after they took over an outlying operation. It's a common challenge; by ProSales' count, there have been at least 215 deals since 2006 in which construction supply operations changed hands. Even when companies didn't change names, we know hundreds of sales reps have shifted allegiances over those five years.
Dealer executives often regard the companies they buy and sales reps they poach as opportunities to expand territories and grow market share. But they appear to think less about how those newcomers could poison what the acquirers already have by introducing bad, or at least contrary, ways of doing things.
History shows that getting acquired companies to buy into the new owner's business philosophies is a far more complicated process than just changing the sign outside the store. I believe one reason why ProBuild has had problems in recent years is because the company lacks a single, consistent culture to replace the mindsets that prevailed in the 50-plus companies that were rolled up to form it. During my travels (and in September I'll visit my 48th state as part of this job) I have met several local ProBuild managers who grumbled about getting orders from Denver and who had trouble buying into the company's "Power of One" mantra.
Or take ABC Supply. Its culture strategy relies heavily on evangelizing the tenets of its now-deceased founder, Ken Hendricks, much as WalMart has done with Sam Walton. But in taking over Bradco Supply Corp., reports are ABC has found it tough to bring into the fold the employees of what once was ProSales 100's No. 7 company. The same is true, I hear, for Stock Building Supply with its acquisition of former No. 14 Bison Building Materials in Houston. Employees of purchased companies often feel they played no role that led to their former employer's demise, so they bristle when told they have to change how they do things.
All this isn't to suggest that building from scratch a strong, unified culture will absolutely guarantee financial success; if that were the case, 84 Lumber would be on top of the world. But I believe that your employees need to identify with who they work for today, not who originally hired them. You can help ensure that happens by eradicating all the old logos and visual reminders of past times, focusing instead on the company whose name is on the paychecks–not to mention the business cards.
Craig Webb, editor