The 2020 Mid-Year Economic Update_long

Everyone is Counting on Distributors as Essential Businesses: 4 Ways to Handle the Responsibility

The conversation during MDMs first live discussion on COVID-19 last week made clear that the next couple of months will be critical for distributors as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold. MDMs John Gunderson reflects on how the distribution speakers who participated in the conversation are leading their teams during this health crisis.
Manager working online while sitting in a warehouse office

On Friday, MDM held a live event with leading distributors who shared how they are managing their business through the coronavirus shutdowns. We will be having such live webcasts weekly, so please join us for the next one (watch for the sign-up and links to last Friday's program in tomorrow's Update). 

It’s an unsettling time for everyone. Our distribution speakers from the first live discussion – Bob Dill (Hisco), Ted Stark (Dalco Enterprises), Kirk Zehnder (Earnest Machine), Joe DeMarco (LINC Systems) and Mark Sommers (Blackhawk Industrial) – shared how they are leading their teams and business through this health crisis.

4 Ways to Approach the New Environment

Here is what I took away from the MDM Live session:

1. Take pride in being an essential business. All of our speakers focused on how they are finding innovative ways to serve their customers in the medical, food, institutional, key manufacturing and construction sectors to keep their essential businesses running.  

Every speaker’s pride in being a part of the supply chain to help frontline healthcare and critical industries going was evident. It was uplifting to hear each person’s story of how they have associates showing up every day to make sure they are getting the materials to all their key essential customers.

2. Keep teams safe and connected.  Each leader emphasized how their teams are working to keep people safe by having associates who can work from home do so, and making their warehouses as safe as possible. 

Every leader is holding daily calls and communicating with their teams virtually as much as possible to help them stay connected. As humans, we all need personal interaction, and it’s very unsettling for everyone to go into a grocery or walk outside and have to move away from each other for safety reasons. Your teammates are struggling with this new “human disconnect” and each leader shared some great ideas on how to help handle it during this time.

Also see: “COVID-19: Distributors Work to Keep Pace with Demand.”

3. Focus on what is in front of you this week, but plan ahead. Mark Sommers shared ways he is working to reset his team’s short-term sales goals and keep them focused on today’s business while preparing for the new normal future that is to come. Bob Dill shared how his team is focusing on key-order expediting and planning ahead for if/when one of his warehouse associates contracts the virus. Every speaker has a plan to help their teams focus on what needs to be done this week, and each is developing a plan for how to run their business in the future.

4. Leadership — it’s time to show it. Human beings crave certainty almost as much as we crave human contact. Today, you have associates who are looking to you for true leadership because the future is uncertain, and they are limiting their contact with others everywhere in the world. 

It was inspiring to hear in these unprecedented times. I’ll share one quote about Sommers from a former leader we both worked for. Steve Margolius, CEO of Distribution International, said this about Sommers: “He could be assigned to walk 100 miles through the desert in blazing heat, alone, and he’d say WTF (which to Mark always means Wow That’s Fantastic).”

Please don’t misinterpret me, as it’s far from a fantastic time, but we are in that desert right now and we all need to walk our way through it. That ‘we can do this together’ resolve is critical. Bringing a ‘we will overcome this together’ attitude with your team is how every company in this industry will build their stronger future. 

For many years in my career, I struggled to explain to people what I did for a career. It was hard as a distributor to explain to an average person what the company I worked for did. We didn’t have a brand name they could recognize, and the average person doesn’t think much about the supply chain and how what they buy gets to them as a consumer. 

Also see: “Distributors Adapt Like Never Before.”

In the future, I can’t wait to be able to be in a room with other people again and tell those new people what I do. I will be able to tell them, “I work for a company that helps ‘essential’ distributors and manufacturers who get the critical supplies we all counted on during this crisis to you.”

At MDM, we want to say to all our manufacturer and distribution readers all over the world, thanks for being ‘essential’ and thanks for what you are doing to keep us all safe and supplied.

We would love to get your feedback, so please feel free to comment below or reach out to me at john@mdm.com.

Register for the next MDM Live Event this Friday 

John Gunderson is VP of analytics & e-business at Modern Distribution Management. Prior to joining MDM in 2018, he was a senior distribution leader for 20 years, leading sales, category management, marketing, pricing, analytics and e-business with companies such as Crescent Electric Supply Company, HD Supply Power Solutions, HD Supply C&I White Cap, Anixter, and EIS-INC a Genuine Parts company.

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