It's been a tough year all around, but it's been a bit easier for a group of East Coast distributors who meet four times a year to advise and help one another. We call ourselves the "1% Club" because if we don't do nearly everything right, that's all we have to celebrate at the end of the year!
We sell shampoo, pie filling, dental floss, light bulbs, safety masks, french fryers, and hinges. Several of us have kids in college, and one of us just had a baby a few weeks ago. We are all in multi-generational family businesses; some with fathers who are, um, "actively engaged" in our businesses, others with fathers long retired. Some of us are the chief cook and bottle washer; some of us don't remember how to wash bottles and would frighten our teams if we tried.
What we have in common is a commitment to our customers, communities, and co-workers, and a belief that closely-held distribution businesses are part of the backbone of the American economy.
Our meetings last half a day; our conversations are wide-ranging, confidential, and filled with real life "best practices" – with specific examples and lessons learned. Like YPO or TEC/Vistage, we exist to help each other and learn, but unlike those groups we are all distributors and face many of the same challenges. Our group contains the highly analytical and the highly creative, born sales people and born people leaders – so far, there hasn't been a problem one has faced that the others can't help with, either by sharing personal experience or asking the right question.
Between us this quarter we are implementing CRM, purchasing a new ERP system, changing banks, hiring a CFO, contemplating an acquisition, integrating an acquisition, moving to a new headquarters, and starting a new trade association. Some of our businesses have fared better than others in this economy, but we all are moving ahead and facing 2010 with resilience and optimism, in large part because we have each other's experience and friendship to count on.
We have no pride of ownership – how about starting a "1% Club" in your region and help your business and our distribution industry navigate what's next?
Julia Klein is CEO of C.H. Briggs, one of the largest independently owned distributors of specialty building materials on the East Coast (www.chbriggs.com).