Balance. Such a simple-sounding concept that often proves downright exasperating to achieve in the real world.
Considering how challenging it is just to balance two sides of a scale, it’s no wonder finding the right balance in our endeavors is an elusive quest. One small change in priorities, situations or environment — or an unexpected crisis — can stall even the best-laid plans and sputter a smooth-running engine.
The challenge for distributors is that changing times and increasing competition require investing in new ways of doing business that maximize efficiency and profitability, while continuing to place a strong emphasis on the personal relationships, loyalty and flexibility that brought them to the dance.
Idaho-based Robertson Supply is an example of a company that has found its groove when it comes to making decisions and implementing procedures that have helped it achieve the right balance and has led to consistent growth. They get it.
When the company was established in 1948, it had one location in Nampa, Idaho, with four employees. Since then, Robertson has added eight more locations, grown to 120 employees and has diversified to residential and commercial plumbing, showrooms, builder appliances and lights, hydraulic areas, HVAC and a pump operation that includes a fabrication shop and offers products in-ground water, irrigation, municipal, industrial and custom-built pumps that fit virtually any application.
The leadership’s willingness to diversify has been a major contributor to Robertson’s ability to grow its locations, territories and products. The company strategically chose to add product lines that fit within its current infrastructure — areas such as builder sales, appliances and custom pumps. This type of internal adjustment allowed for growth without substantially adding to cost.
In describing its strategy, Robertson Vice President Byron Morgan tells me: “Our people and leadership have been the biggest asset and strength in building Robertson to where we are today. Tom Malson had a vision for the growth of the company. His foresight, leadership and the example he set has led us through several phases of growth.”
But Malson’s vision for growth didn’t end with simply the company itself.
“Tom always believed in growing the company, but beyond that he wanted to help us develop our strengths and increase our abilities,” Morgan adds. “Developing people is developing a future — for them and the company. Tom has developed a strong team here, many of whom have a long tenure of service. Mark Michels (vice president) and I are proud of this history and the opportunity to develop under such great leadership.”
The skill sets Morgan and Michels — each of whom have been at Robertson for more than three decades — bring to the table complement each other well.
Morgan’s strength and background is rooted in sales and marketing. He is very engaged on the customer side of the company, while Michels is more engaged on the operations side, including banking, accounting, technology, etc. Although their strengths are divergent, each also is capable of making decisions on the other’s behalf. Both have great knowledge of the day-to-day operations, as well as a long-term vision for the company.
Similar to the way Malson encouraged them to learn and grow as they worked their way up the ranks, Morgan and Michels developed a steering committee comprised of trusted colleagues equally dedicated to the company’s future.
“Communication is vital to keep your team pulling in the same direction,” Morgan shares, “and we believe in pushing ‘open communication’ among all team members.”
Over the years, Robertson has learned how valuable technology can be. An early adapter of software solutions, technology long has been at the core of Robertson’s operations, and given them many tools needed to lower costs, enhance capabilities and increase profitability. The company, through its relationship with a software solutions provider, has implemented such technologies as signature capture, warehouse barcode readers and a sales-management tool that helps identify customer opportunities, as well as create marketing campaigns.
This spring, Robertson Supply hosted its bi-annual Intermountain Expo in Boise and I was delighted at the invitation to be their guest! As I walked around the expo with Morgan and Michels, it was easy to see the genuine warmth shared between them and their customers.
I also was blown away by the crowd of customers they drew, as well as the quality of manufacturers and their executives on hand. The Intermountain Expo gives customers a chance to meander through booths, meet with vendors and get a feel for some of the new products on the market — many of which are working displays.
In addition, it’s a true buying show and an educational resource for Robertson’s customers. Seven classrooms held 30 continuing education classes that allowed customers to fulfill CEU credits required in their trading area.
“We always have been committed to educating and informing the industry,” Michels says. “Years ago, we’d have large displays in local tradeshows, but then decided to develop our own show. We’ve been holding it every other year since.”
It takes about nine months of advance planning to ensure this mega-show goes off without a hitch. The Expo takes place in scenic downtown Boise with customers driving in from as much as seven hours away and vendors coming in from across the country.
This year’s show featured more than 100 booths spread out over 40,000 sq. ft. of convention space. Because of its quality, the expo is well-attended by principals, their key employees and personnel that make purchasing decisions for customers.
“We believe in partnerships and understand it is important for our customers to be successful in their businesses for us to be successful,” Morgan notes. “We provide tools like the expo to help them grow their business and that makes us stronger.”
Michels adds: “We strive to add a fun factor to the show, too. There are a lot of drawings for prizes and giveaways, and customers could earn their way into the ‘Money Booth’ where jets of air circulate paper bills and customers have one minute to grab all they can.”
Relationships, people matter
Robertson Supply leaders also credit its memberships in the Omni and Luxury Products Group buying groups for its success — not only in vendor relationships but among their peers around the country as well.
“Many of our vendor partners recognize Robertson Supply always overachieves whatever they do,” Morgan notes. “They know we do things right from marketing details to supporting their products every chance we get. A solid membership in our buying groups — Omni and LPG — also helps to cultivate these relationships and partnerships that transcend time.”
When it comes down to it, though, a company’s team is truly its best asset — and that philosophy is firmly entrenched at this Idaho distributor.
“We are passionate about our industries and giving our employees the best and most rewarding environment in which to work, and trying to make a difference by being involved with the Omni and LPG group leadership,” Morgan says.
Michels adds: “We have an open-door policy and try to keep those communication lines as open as we can. We also regularly publish company newsletters to let all employees know how we are doing, where we are going and what our future looks like.”
For Robertson Supply, that future is very bright.