Since Memorial Day this year, Dirk Beveridge, distribution expert and founder of UnleashWD — a design, innovation and strategy firm that helps distributors become market leaders — has been touring the U.S. in his 38-foot RV visiting independent distributors across various industries.
The tour will result in eight episodes (find episodes 1-3 here), each telling the story of a different family-owned independent distributor. As a supporter and sponsor of We Supply America, the American Supply Association has had four of its distributor member companies visited so far: Porter Pipe and Supply, The Granite Group, First Supply and Wiseway Supply. Beveridge is currently visiting three distribution businesses per week, gathering knowledge, passion and stories along the way.
So what gave Beveridge the itch to wrap an RV in the now recognized We Supply America logo and spend his summer on the road? He says three things led to the creation of We Supply America: A desire to tell the story of the noble calling of distribution, the universal yearning for connection and optimism (after a COVID-stricken year), and the emphasis of Labor Day as an inflection point in the industry.
“We are all yearning for optimism and forward-looking stories,” Beveridge says. “I truly believe that independent, family-owned businesses are an untapped source for those stories.”
Beveridge believes that telling these types of stories will help move the country and the distribution industry forward.
“As businesses, we look at Labor Day as a point where we’ve made it through the summer and we’re ready to come back and finish the year strong,” he explains. “So I thought, ‘let’s use distribution as a canvas to tell these stories, propel our industry forward and move toward 2022 optimistic and strong.’”
When Beveridge arrives at a distributor’s door, he spends about four hours with them meeting the people, enjoying a celebratory lunch and holding a Q&A session with leadership.
Dirk Beveridge with Stephanie and Nick Porter or Porter Pipe and Supply.
“There’s and exciting energy when I get there with the RV and employees know they may be on camera and get to tell their stories,” he says. “And the lunch provides a great opportunity for leadership to say ‘thank you’ to their employees; the whole thing is truly moving and fun.”
The episodes feature eight different distributors from eight different trades. Beveridge notes the We Supply America team is learning new things with every visit, and there are certainly notable commonalities among independent distributors across varying industries.
“It’s amazing to see that no matter the industry, there are takeaways each distributor gives us that can be applied to any industry; it’s inspiring.”
Pillars of independent distribution
So far, Beveridge has identified seven pillars of distribution that separate independent, family-owned businesses from corporations: Purpose, people, family, ownership, customer centricity, depth of expertise and profit.
“These companies have a larger calling than just moving boxes,” Beveridge explains. “Their focus on people is real and what I’m learning is when I visit these places, I don’t see four walls, I don’t see a distribution center; what I see is a platform for personal professional growth — that’s what these businesses do for people.”
During Beveridge’s visit to First Supply, the company invited fellow Wisconsin-based industry businesses to attend: Milwaukee Tool, Bemis Manufacturing Co., Bradley Corp (represented by ASA Sustaining Supplier Partner and Milwaukee-based rep firm Herkowski Stickler & Associates), Kohler and InSinkErator. Photo by Mike Miazga.
Beveridge notes the word “family” is thrown around a lot in business, but he’s having the opportunity to dig deep and find out what it really means. “There’s a bond within independent distributors that is unlike other businesses,” he says. “It’s not just relationships; there’s deep, caring, connections and respect for the employees you don’t see in other places.”
Speaking of employees, Beveridge explains the ownership pillar is proven through the commitment of these family-owned businesses to help their employees succeed — in terms of both career development and personal growth.
We Supply America behind the scenes filming at The Granite Group.
Beveridge adds that independent distributors’ ability and passion to connect with customers cannot be matched by digital-centric competition. “The longevity of the individuals in this industry results in knowledge and expertise that is incredibly valuable.”
“Lastly, Beveridge points out that profitability can often been talked about in a negative way, but the profitability of these independent distributors is noble and should be talked about in a positive light.
“Without this profit, the companies wouldn’t be able to build the family foundations to donate to charities like they do,” he points out. “They wouldn’t be able to invest in or help their employees succeed, so the way I see it, this profitability is noble as heck.”
Beveridge isn’t sure exactly what all will come of We Supply America following this summer’s tour, but it’s clear the road won’t end when his RV pulls in back home. He’s gathered a tremendous amount of content and great stories that need to be told, so I encourage you to follow along on his social media channels, and tune in to watch the remaining episodes every Thursday at 3 p.m. EST.
“To sum it up, it’s been inspiring to hear from distributors that until now, they haven’t thought about their business in this way, even though they’ve acted in a noble way,” Beveridge says. “They haven’t communicated their noble cause internally or externally, so I’m proud to share these stories, encouraging the industry to take ownership of a different narrative: Distribution is sexy, it is noble, and it’s what builds this country.”