Winsupply’s President on Building Better Employees, Supply Chains

Winsupply has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to find and empower the next generation of leaders for the construction, industrial supplies and equipment distributor.
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Earlier this year, Winsupply President John McKenzie, who started as a customer service rep at the company in 1996, helped create and launch a scholarship program that was designed to educate and train future Winsupply presidents from all walks of life.

During a recent MDM podcast, McKenzie talks about how Winsupply is addressing supply chain constraints while also crafting employees to be future leaders.

“I’m always mesmerized by the opportunity that’s provided by Winsupply for an entrepreneur to be an owner or a president, and to set his or her own destiny,” McKenzie says during the podcast “I’d like to see hundreds and hundreds more come into the organization. We have markets we wish to open up to new Winsupply companies. We call those organic starts.”

McKenzie challenged his leadership team to create a scholarship program that pays for the education and training of employees in the hopes that they would one day become presidents in new Winsupply markets. Winsupply had some existing opportunities for employee sponsorships at the local level, which could eventually include a new president having the opportunity for a small piece of ownership in a new Winsupply entity. There were also finder’s fees for locating potential new presidents.

“But what we’ve never done is say, ‘Well, why doesn’t Winsupply create a scholarship program that pays for the education of the president and training?’” he says. “And then when that president moves on to open up a company or to take over a company, he pays back half of his compensation that Winsupply paid for over a period of five years.

“It’s kind of like a GI bill in reverse. We’re giving them the money today and the training today and they pay back tomorrow. I’m absolutely shocked with the reception we’ve gotten from the local companies and the desire of the local company presidents to participate. In fact, we have over 37 incumbents into the program already for the first year.”

Through the program, Winsupply is investing several million dollars into recruiting, training and promoting future local company presidents. Once people have been approved to take part in the program, they will be embedded in a local president’s company. McKenzie says they will also go through some rigorous LMS (learning management system) and classroom training from Winsupply’s training department.

While the labor shortage has come into sharper focus this year, McKenzie says the talent drain for distributors has been underway for five to seven years as baby boomers continue to retire. In addition to the traditional recruiting channels, distributors need to cast a wider net when seeking new employees.

“I keep coming back to sometimes it’s a better use of effort and money to build a person than to try to find them from a competitor or from a manufacturer,” McKenzie says. “I would encourage everyone to start looking at trade schools, look at community colleges, go to any of your local universities that have business programs or technical plumbing or HVAC trade programs. We even go to high schools and look for folks.

“Let’s find some people who know nothing. Let’s train them. That’s exactly what happened with me. I think I’m a good testimony that it works. So why not build people?”

Winsupply beefs-up inventory

In April, Winsupply announced it was building a new, 318,000-square-foot regional distribution center in Oklahoma City, which is slated to open next year. That distribution center will give Winsupply a total of six regional distribution centers with the other five locations in Dayton, Ohio, Denver, Middletown, Conn., Richmond, Va., and Jacksonville, Florida.

McKenzie says Winsupply is seeking to alleviate supply chain constraints, which he expects will continue into next year, “by forward-positioning even more inventory in our distribution centers.”

“One of the many reasons we’re building out in Oklahoma City and beyond is because we can and will provide safety stock,” he says. “We’re working diligently with our vendor partners to make sure that the Winsupply DCs can access products at the rate they need to. We’ll always rely on the local autonomy to fulfill customer needs, but nationally we are working to create regional pockets of safety stock.”

Winsupply is ranked ninth on MDM’s 2021 Top Distributors list after coming in 11th in the previous edition.

To learn much more about Winsupply, click below to listen to the full podcast with McKenzie.

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