This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands®, Catherine is joined by David Kinsella, President of the Electrical Division of Affiliated Distributors (AD), to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the world of distributors.
LISTENING TO MEMBERS AND THE MARKET
When many businesses started shutting down their less critical projects or going into ‘survival mode,’ in March of 2020, the electrical distribution industry was no exception. David and his team at AD dropped most of their travel and expenses – “which was okay, because everybody was sitting at home anyway!” he explained.
Next, AD paused to fall back on one of their core values: listening. They listened to what their members and suppliers needed. They also listened to what the industry was doing, and where the needs and shortcomings were starting to appear. Through this investigation, AD determined where to react and which programs to create in order to move forward successfully.
David has been in the electrical distributor industry since before the recession in 2008, and through such crises he has seen AD members checking their efficiencies and tightening their belts to better drive purchasing sales and operations. They’ve also taken advantage of the rise in ecommerce as well – and for some of them, a robust ecommerce package is what kept their companies from going under in 2020.
COLLABORATING TOGETHER, SUPPLIERS INCLUDED
AD’s attention hasn’t been restricted to just their distributors, either – they have also looked into various ways to support their suppliers and maximize their sales as well. Challenging times like these may make potential issues with job cancellations and contractor payments more frequent. In response, David and his team focused on ways that they could improve communication between distributors and suppliers. So although AD as a company was cutting down their own expenses, they were also helping their members to maximize their rebate values and investment opportunities. This meant that every single dollar that their suppliers put into the relationship would be returned to their distributors.
Another fascinating development early on in the pandemic was the creation of a virtual, nation-wide message board. AD put the board into place so that their community could discuss challenges and brainstorm potential ideas together – mainly related to improving their businesses’ pandemic responses.
Chats ranged from how to handle now-remote employees, to how businesses could establish social distancing, to setting up plexiglass barriers around front counters. Establishing rotating shifts of smaller employee groups, as well as daily temperature checks, were among some of the most popular suggestions. Of course, David admitted, many such practices are now considered standard or even “common sense” as of 2021. However, at the time many of the solutions were still incredibly novel and untested.
EXPANDING RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH VIRTUAL NETWORKING
Another major adoption that AD undertook early into the pandemic was the digitization of their marketing programs, and the transition to fully virtual meetings. There is still much to be said for the personal touch of dealing with a human being face to face, but whenever that’s not a possibility the company still has digital tactics that will most likely be here to stay.
One of the notable benefits to this is that AD has been able to expand their gatherings to introduce members and suppliers that may never have otherwise met. In their North American and Spring Network meetings, their regional sales people, marketing teams, and even product management members were able to sit in together and interact like they never had before. Teams on the back end of the industry were able to talk with people from the “front lines,” and members were able to express their issues and ideas directly to the people that were being affected.
Despite the setbacks of the global pandemic, AD ended 2020 with one of their best quarters in company history. It’s a testament, David insisted, to the strength of their members and their suppliers as well. AD is driven to track programs to help mitigate issues, drive sales, and drive back in rebate opportunities. Now, as a result of their hard work, many members of Affiliated Distributors are now looking at the spend they’re buying from outside the group and reconsidering, in favor of finding ways to partner up with AD suppliers directly. Since AD can help manage the relationship and verify the credibility of the supplier, it makes the distributor’s job just that much easier.
Of all the learning opportunities David has had in the past year, he and his team have observed just how incredibly nimble independent distributors are. They witnessed just how quickly their members were able to make and then enact decisions, far more efficiently and effectively than many larger organizations. Challenging times like the Covid-19 pandemic are also opportunities that bring to light precisely who true leaders are, and AD members stepped up in 2020 to make the community strong.
To find out more about AD, you can visit their website adhq.com. Next week, Bright Ideas is going to dive into how to improve your corporate social media presence.
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