Mike Miazga: In Closing

The black book

September 1, 2012
I have a black book.

Mine’s nothing like the one Fonzie in “Happy Days” used to carry around and it certainly bears no resemblance to the one former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss is said to have kept. It’s probably closer to the NFL’s media directory, which is called the “Black Book.”

My boring black book is 6 in. by 4 in. and has a leather cover. I picked it up during my travels and use it to take notes and write down contact information at industry events. I fi nd its size very convenient for on-the-gotravel and suitable for back pants pocket or inside suit pocket placement. My only problem is I’m down to about 20 blank pages and have no clue where I can get a new one.

The bottom-line commonality with these black books — nefarious uses aside — is they provide an important organizational resource.

How strategic is your company’s long-term vision?

There’s even a black book floating around our industry these days. Longtime former wholesale executive and current industry consultant Brent Grover has written “The Little Black Book of Strategic Planning.”

Grover comes from the family wholesale business. Back in 1914, his grandfather founded National Paper and Packaging Co., which was a distribution company. Grover joined the business after a several-year stint at

Arthur Andersen. When his father died unexpectedly at a young age, Grover and his brother, Jeff, bought out other family members and continued to grow the business until they sold it to a private equity fund in 1999.

Grover now is managing partner of Evergreen Consulting, serving as a distribution channel adviser on strategic planning, acquisitions, strategic pricing and profitability improvement. The crux of Grover’s message is quite simple. Wholesalers need to have a firm plan of attack in place in terms of long-range focus; but what is in the plan can make a major difference.

“In the last 20 years a lot of wholesale distributors got the message you should have a plan,” Grover tells me.

“Saying you need a bigger computer system or a bigger warehouse or you want to do a better job servicing customers, those are solutions aimed to fix gaps. If you have a lot of gaps to fix you probably are not ready to execute a change in strategic direction. The strategic plan is not really about fixing what is broken.”

Instead Grover stresses having a broader-based view of your company. “The plan is how to get from where you are now to where you want to go,” he says. “Have a strategic plan and then link your annual plans. Do one each for three years and link those each year. What do you need to do in the next year to get you closer to the big goal?”

Grover notes taking a step forward can be as easy as enhancing your sales force. “Go get great salespeople.

Either develop your own or hire good ones from competitors,” he says. “Other strategic initiatives can be opening new branch locations, taking on a new product line or service or making a series of small acquisitions. Those make things happen. In most cases, getting a new computer system or getting a website going is not a strategic initiative. That’s fixing a gap with something customers want you to have, but you don’t have.”

Grover puts a lot of stock in extending that strategic plan to how a company approaches pricing, particularly zeroing in on the optimization of available data. “Use pricing information harvested from your company’s database and analyze that data and develop a strong foundation for consistent, market-driven pricing,” he says.

We all know this industry has gone through tumultuous times over the past few years. A recent flurry of new association financial reports shows the industry continues to make positive recovery strides, but at a little slower pace than anyone would like. You can get a snapshot of those updates in our news section on page 8 and a full rundown of recent ASA, HARDI and Affiliated Distributors reports can be found at www.supplyht.com.

Companies and executives have learned from the economic craziness of the last few years. They’ve come out the recession leaner and better equipped to move forward.

But in this day and age where there are smaller slices of the pie and more people wanting to sample the pie, having your black book filled with a sound business roadmap can be a real game-changer.

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