Back in 1986, the company consisted only of a single branch along with another location operated under the banner of parent company Mountain States Supply Co. These days, the company, which checks in at No. 72 on the 2015 Premier 150 list, has swelled to nearly 300 employees working in 13 locations throughout Utah and in Rock Springs, Wyo.
But while a booming local construction market coupled with an established reputation for superior customer service has translated to recent and further future growth, Mountainland Supply isn’t resting on its laurels.
“We have to stand up to what we’ve created and go beyond that standard,” says Danny Muhlestein, Mountainland’s director of information systems and a 21-year company veteran.
The company, under the direction of President Brent Anderson, continues to look for ways to take things to the next level for its employees and customers alike.
“There are a lot of buzz words out in the marketplace today. The phrase ‘core values’ has replaced mission statement and you have others such as integrity and honesty,” Anderson says. “We don’t want to have a mission statement and a bunch of buzz words.”
Instead, Anderson notes the company has four defined areas of focus for its employees that drive a culture of service
- A commitment to making customers’ businesses better.
- A commitment to embrace progressive change.
- A commitment to have a remarkable outcome.
- A commitment to create wealth for customers, employees and the community.
“They all are pretty simple,” says Anderson, the current Chairman of the Board for the Omni buying group of which Mountainland is a 16-year member. “Is this a decision that will make a customer’s business better? What are we doing to embrace change and not resist it? And in any program we have is the outcome going to be remarkable?”
Item No. 4 is the most recent addition and one Anderson says is exciting, particularly from the community end. “Not only do we want help build our customers’ businesses and help them become bigger and better, we want to make our company bigger and greater, and create employment and growth opportunities,” he explains. “When we do that we can take that added wealth and invest that back into our local communities.”
Embracing the new
Anderson is not afraid to hit the ground running with his second line item — embracing change. For starters, Mountainland is in the process of converting all its warehousing operations to RF scanning. Executive Vice President Mike Edwards says that process will be completed by July.
“The RF capability has been huge with our fill-rate confidence,” Anderson says. “We’ve zeroed in on how we receive it, pull it and deliver it. How do we get 100% fill rates? That’s a tall order. Should we be satisfied at 98 or 99%? Why should we be? The goal has to be 100%. Many people already are using RF scanning, we did it and it’s been huge for us.”
Anderson adds the addition of an Eclipse ERP system has greatly helped with the delivery portion of customer service process. “A system such as this one helps speed up the billing process so our customers can do the same for their customers,” he says.
“We always are looking for ways to improve our services,” says Edwards, a 31-year company veteran. “Business isn’t done the way it used to be. Customers have different expectations and formats they want to function in whether that’s texting in an order or ordering off a website. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and facilitate their needs in the appropriate fashion.”
Change also has come in the way Mountainland views the hierarchy of the supply chain. The company has started advertising on TV and radio a more end-user-driven marketing strategy focused on working backward through the supply chain.
“There was an item on the ‘Today’ show recently that talked about certain geographical areas going on Amazon and hiring a plumber,” Mountainland Director of Internal Marketing Lenore Stevens says. “Our thought is reaching the consumer and working backward. There are consumers who will go to the big-box store and pick out the product and then pick out a plumber out of the phonebook to install it. There is a real demand out there to go straight to the consumer and connect them with plumbers we are familiar with and help them make an informed decision on the types of fixtures they are interested in. It’s a win for the plumber, the consumer and us.”
Anderson adds: “We are focusing on ways to drive the consumer decision back through the supply chain. If we want to sell cheap, we can race to the bottom and win that quickly, but it doesn’t do anybody any good. With fixtures, water heaters, disposers, self-cleaning toilets or touchless faucets, those types of decisions usually won’t be in a consumer’s hands. We want to give them the opportunity to make that decision and we want to connect them with someone we know will make the proper installation. We’re helping drive the plumber to an installation opportunity because we helped them make that sell.”
And Mountainland isn’t afraid to venture outside of its plumbing, waterworks, turf and irrigation, agricultural and industrial PVF comfort zones. Anderson is testing out a showroom relationship with a local furniture chain in the southern part of the state where Mountainland, which has five kitchen-and-bath showrooms, will have a presence in one of the chain’s stores.
“We’ll be in the store branded as Mountainland Supply with our own separate signage and we’ll be there with their furnishings, carpet and paint shoppers,” Anderson says. “We’ll also have access to their designers. I’m excited to see where this will go.”
Mountainland, an ASA member, also has an affiliation with Northwest Pipe and Supply Co., which operates out of the Dakotas and Montana. Northwest is an investor in Mountainland.
“I love that we are affiliated with multiple companies,” says Anderson, who has been working lately to create greater efficiencies with Mountainland and parent company Mountain States (of which Anderson is president and CEO of). “This gives us additional opportunities to share allegiances and best practices. We’re quietly aligning ourselves with other companies that give us greater territory, volume and purchasing
opportunities. We’re looking at possible new divisions to become involved in with easy ones being appliances and safety. There are many fun opportunities out there that will continue to help differentiate us in the markets we serve.”
The company backbone
While embracing change and constantly looking for new opportunities will continue to be high on the priority list, Anderson stresses none of that would be possible without the Mountainland staff.
“I have the privilege of overseeing a great team here,” he says. “I could go on for a long time about them whether it is guys coming in at midnight to respond to an emergency call or a salesman driving 80 miles one way on his first call of the day because that’s the territory he wants to grow.”
Stevens adds: “Our employees trust management and they feel management trusts them. They feel the work they do here is meaningful. If you have a workforce that feels that way, they will do great things. It’s inspiring to see what they do. They are remarkable — that’s our word.”
Vice President of Operations Ben Mecham says a family-focused culture has created an optimal work environment. “We have a lot of high-quality people here,” he says. “We look at Brent more as a leader than a boss. It’s like coming to work with your family and being here with my brothers and sisters. It’s a feeling that goes above and beyond any monetary takeaway. It makes you want to come to work and do your best. I do my best to make everybody else feel the same way.”
Mountainland makes sure its employees are receiving the highest training levels possible. Senior managers are involved in the national Vistage executive business coaching group, while sales managers are active in the local Business Minds training initiative. Customer appreciation days and lunch-and-learns also are commonplace at the various branch locations.
“We invest heavily in training,” Anderson says. “Our focus with our customers is to let them have the confidence in the number of years people have been with us and the experience we have. This creates a confidence where our customers can get inventory fulfilled and get their questions answered.”
Stevens adds: “Instead of customer service, we’re focus on the entire customer experience from when they decide to do business with us through meeting their needs. How do we enhance their experience with us and are we making their business better?”
Anderson also is committed to helping the Omni buying group continue to provide the highest level of benefits to its membership.
“We’re continuing to grow and we have great strength with our leadership, Omni staff and our members,” he says. “I have such a short stay as chairman. I want to make sure we keep our programs fresh and encourage members to participate with each other and with our vendors. There are so many benefits in Omni beyond the obvious rebates. We’re helping our members and our vendors have profitability access they can put back in their companies. Omni is an exciting place to be right now.”
Anderson and Stevens add plans are underway to eventually roll out a new awards program that will highlight Omni member and vendor
“We want to recognize and reward the charitable and philanthropic endeavors of Omni members,” Stevens says. “We want to encourage members to continue and increase their efforts and ultimately leave the world a better place. This industry hits very close to home. Every day more than 1,500 children around the world die from not having clean water and sanitation. It’s one of the reasons I come to work every day. If we come together we can make a difference in a statistic like that. Our hope is a vehicle such as this awards program will further raise awareness and create a real buzz.”
Looking ahead, Anderson likes where Mountainland is headed in the short-term and has a plan in place beyond that. “We will have appropriate or short-term growth this year,” he says. “From a profitability and growth standpoint, we are ahead of the budgeted curve. I have a five-year plan and am confident we can accomplish that, plus I will challenge the next guy to have a 10-year plan.
“Everybody expects us to stock it, price it appropriately and deliver it. Where we have turned the corner is with the customer experiences and the relationships we’ve developed. A commitment to the culture we have here and to the customer experience will keep us viable in the market.”
Muhlestein sums it up in four words.
“We sell remarkable service.”