Coronavirus Accelerates Timeline for Changes at Stellar Industrial - Modern Distribution Management

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Coronavirus Accelerates Timeline for Changes at Stellar Industrial

The industrial distributor is encouraging a company-wide focus on opportunities to improve operational efficiencies, including making some COVID-19-induced changes permanent. President and CEO John Wiborg is also elevating ROI expectations from existing technology investments.
coronavirus : man with protective mask and gloves drives the forklift

As President and CEO of Stellar Industrial Supply John Wiborg puts it, the moment the stars cleared from its “punch in the face” courtesy of the COVID-19 shutdown, the industrial distributor last month got to work on making the most of the forced change to its business operations.

“We started challenging our team,” Wiborg said during Friday’s MDM Live webcast, “what are the good things that can be permanent out of this?”

While some changes will be temporary, Wiborg sees a number of opportunities for Stellar to improve efficiencies and save costs. They include re-examining how outside sales and customer service operate, becoming more selective with strategic partnerships and accelerating the timeline for years-long plans down to a few months. 

(Listen to the live recording of Friday’s MDM Live webcast here.)

Time for Strategic Investments

In Wiborg’s experience, such as during the 2008-2009 recession when the company made three years’ worth of changes in six months, people are more amenable to accepting change in times of disruption. It’s an exciting prospect, he said, one that makes having a robust data analytics engine more important than ever. “We're making some very intentional and strategic investments in technologies to do things that we've had on our radar,” he said, citing the automation of accounts payable as an example. 

In addition to new technology investments, Wiborg said now is an excellent opportunity for the company to improve the return on investment from its existing technologies. For example, although he would currently give Stellar’s CRM a five out of 10 on optimal return, the company is creating internal power-user working groups to establish best practices. The groups will examine how to best get employees up to speed and accelerate progress on improving ROI in existing technology investments. 

Also see: “Why COVID-19 Has Manufacturers Re-examining Their Distribution Channel Strategy.”

The goal, Wiborg said, is “a single source of truth” through which all company data are funneled, rather than the myriad dashboards the company now uses. The pandemic highlighted this need for efficiency. “I wouldn't want to be in this environment stumbling around in six different places, trying to get basic reports on the status of our operation,” he said. “We've gotten much more sophisticated about forecasting. That's really important in an environment like this.” 

Stellar keeps a running list of proposed potential changes. To take advantage of the accelerated mindset for change, the company moved up its annual offsite executive meeting and will be converting it to a series of Zoom meetings. During the discussions, executives will categorize and prioritize proposed changes with the goal of creating several focused work streams to move forward. “We have some re-engineering to do,” Wiborg said.  

To hear more stories of how distributors are making the most of the coronavirus disruption, register for this week’s MDM Live by visiting The free webcast will take place on Friday, May 1 at 2 p.m. EDT. 

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