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Essendant CEO Dochelli Talks Culture, Communications and Third-Party Logistics

Essendant CEO and President Harry Dochelli has seen plenty of twists and turns during his nine-plus years with the company, but a few pillars, such as communications and culture, have always held true.
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Essendant leaned on its culture while also improving its communications during the pandemic, but also focused on what’s next on the technology front for for the company, said CEO and President Harry Dochelli during a recent MDM.com podcast.

Dochelli said Essendant, which was acquired by Sycamore Partners two and half years ago, has more than 30 distribution centers across the United States with more than 9 million-square feet and roughly 10,000 customers. Headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, the company has 4,2000 associates and 50,000 SKUs in its warehouses across seven different product categories.

Essendant — which changed its name in 2015 from United Stationers — was publicly traded starting in 1981 as an office supplies wholesaler. It has undergone multiple acquisitions, product category diversifications and spinoffs over the years.

Communication is key

When the pandemic hit, Dochelli said Essendant focused on the safety of its employees with new safety protocols in its distribution centers. Essendant also upped its communications, both internally and externally, by increasing the number of its virtual town halls.

“And then, we did the same with our customer base,” he said. “We were doing virtual customer town halls with 1,000 people on them. [We were] sending out written communications on updates. We really wanted to stay ahead of everything and try to make sure that even though we’re all faced with unique challenges, that at least nobody was surprised with what we had to say and were well informed so they can manage either their businesses or their personal lives.”

Company culture a core focus

Essendant also stayed laser-focused on its customers during the pandemic, an approach that Dochelli said was part of the foundation and culture of the company. Essendant’s leadership team also learned to make the company more agile — a mindset that has continued into this year.

“I think our core focus on the customer has been pretty consistent and has really helped us through it,” Dochelli said of the ownership changes, acquisitions, spin-offs and rebranding the company has gone through over the past 10 years or so. “But as you know, culture has to evolve with time. The need to move with the speed that you need to move with, developing those new elements of your culture, I think as you have distractions and changes within your business, it does get harder to make those changes and embed them into your organization.

“But it is the foundation of how any company really operates. It’s all around their culture. That’s what makes you go. The strategies, the technology investments, all those things, they don’t work if you don’t have the right culture set into place.”

A refresh on segmentation model

Starting a year ago, Essendant also took the time to re-segment its customers and then reorganize its sales and care teams to reflect the new segmentation model. Dochelli said the process aligned “the right resources against the right opportunities to support our customers better.”

“We came out this spring with a whole new sales organization and care organization design as a result of that work that we started in August of 2020,” he said.

With the continued importance of e-commerce, Dochelli said his company has enhanced the content around its products as well as now providing its resellers with consultation services for capabilities around improving SEO and the user experience.

“We’re just about to make another investment in a new PIM system to raise our bar up again on our content so that we can stay ahead of the game,” he said. “Content is king, and you’ve got to stay ahead of it. We’re about to make a pretty significant investment in that area to stay ahead of that game.”

3PL Fulfillment Services a growing opportunity

A few years ago, Essendant started working on a new offering for its suppliers called Fulfillment Services. The goal of Fulfillment Services is for Essendant to become the third-party logistics (3PL) company for its suppliers.

“We find ourselves in a position to really help our suppliers in unique ways that they never thought about us before,” he said. “We’ve got a really great pipeline with our best strategic partners where we’re becoming the 3PL for their companies.

“It’s been a great energizing event internally at Essendant. I think it’s going to be a great future for us as we go forward for us, our suppliers and for their customers that they’re trying to service through this 3PL Fulfillment Services opportunity.”

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