I’m sure you’ve seen by now that MDM will soon host our biggest event ever: SHIFT | The Future of Distribution, to be held Sept. 25-27 in Broomfield, Colorado. The event will showcase perspectives from numerous distributors, industry consultants, service providers and technology experts about different aspects of digital transformation.
In MDM’s latest podcast, I was able to speak with someone who has a particularly interesting perspective on this. It features my chat with David Ruggles, who is both president of Martin Supply — a highly-regarded full-line distributor of industrial supplies — and the 2022-23 chairman of the Industrial Supply Association.
That gives Ruggles — who leads Martin Supply alongside brothers Doug (CEO) and Gordon (CFO) — an operational overview of a $100+ million, family-owned industrial distributor and one of the core associations that serve such companies.
David’s father, Don Ruggles, had a similar history. He was Martin’s president before David and still serves as its chairman. He has held numerous leadership positions at different industry associations and had a major role in the formation of ISA — having served on the board for the Southern Industrial Distributors Association (SIDA) that would merge with the National Industrial Distributors Association (NIDA) to form the Industrial Distribution Association (I.D.A.). He served as I.D.A. president from 1992-93 and a one-year stint as its executive director. He then helped spearhead the merger of I.D.A. with the Industrial Supply Manufacturers Association (SMA) to create what we now know as ISA.
“Sitting in the same seat that he sat in almost 30 years ago is very meaningful,” David Ruggles told me.”I’ve personally served on a lot of different committees and different things within the association, so I have a pretty good understanding of where the association has been and some ideas on where it’s going. The relationships that are built on these boards and the networking with a phenomenal group of leaders is invaluable. Some of the most profitable initiatives for Martin, quite frankly, came directly from my time on these boards and networking with these phenomenal individuals”
A key reason Martin Supply has been successful for 87 years is constant innovation, and today, the company is at the forefront of digital evolution. Ruggles said Martin Supply’s online sales have doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he credited the company’s membership with buying group AD and their eContent solution for giving Martin an entry point into eCommerce at a fraction of the cost it would have been without it. Cost, as Ruggles noted, remains the biggest barrier to entry for many distributors in their digital journey.
“When you’re thinking about digital presence, I think size matters,” Ruggles said. “And obviously, the bigger you are, the more you can invest in digital and the more state-of-the-art your offering is. And the main thing from a margin standpoint, and also from an industry standpoint, is that we have to continue to keep investing dollars. And those dollars keep going up. And the cost of entry continues to go up.”
The greater industrial distribution sector — still largely comprised of independent distributors — has made strides over the past few years in digital modernization, but certainly still has a long way to go toward getting anywhere close to what consumers experience in the B2C world. Ruggles noted that while distributors don’t need to match what’s happening in B2C, they can’t pale in comparison either.
“Our customers — the folks who are sitting at their desk during the day at a manufacturing site or otherwise — are going home at night and they’re shopping online at Amazon and other world-class retailers that obviously have a very robust site for these people. So when these customers come back to the office the next day and then they go to their local distributor or they go online to buy from a national distributor, they’re really looking at our site vs. the B2C site. And the thing is, I firmly believe this, we don’t have to be 100% as good as those B2C sites, but we can’t look rudimentary in comparison. If we do look rudimentary, it makes our companies look bad, and our customers will ultimately go elsewhere.”
Ruggles and I explored the digital initiatives Martin Supply and ISA have rolled out in recent years, the value of having great website content that goes beyond just promoting products or suppliers, and Martin’s recent acquisitions and awards — one of which is directly helping the company recruit new talent.
Check out our 40-minute conversation via the audio player above, and you can find our full library of episodes at our MDM Podcasts page here. That library includes our 2020 interview with Martin Supply CEO Doug Ruggles.