The Value of Being Independent

desk with 40yr CE

I recently read that two of our industry’s largest distributors have agreed to merge. Combined, they’ll generate revenue of more than $17 billion dollars each year.  That’s one-seven billion!

It made me stop and think that “large” doesn’t always fit, and the value a smaller distributor can bring to the market.

I believe that it’s always been about your (our customer’s) experience. Did you get what they needed, when you needed it? Were you treated well? That last part, treated well, means with respect at Capital. This can sometimes be the most difficult part to provide, especially for large companies.

Getting a specific message out, with all teams rowing in the same direction, can be very difficult. And, generally, large firms take a long time to execute any plan… let alone a plan to influence a customer’s experience.

In corporate speak, large generally equals shareholders. Shareholders that expect immediate and continuous returns on their investments. Whether respect is given to the customer (you) isn’t their concern; share price and the dividend, in other words the money, monopolize their focus.

Plans are created, executed, and quickly changed if results aren’t immediately accomplished. If they don’t, people will sell their shares, share prices will fall, and cutbacks and layoffs will begin.

It’s not about the long-term creation of a customer base that is treated well, it’s about share price. In that world, customers (you) can be viewed simply as a means to an end. Sure, the reps on the street have relationships but a corporate adjustment can wipe that relationship out with the click of the “Send” button.

Some will correctly point out that I’ve never worked for a publicly traded company, so there’s no way I can know what I’m talking about. It’s true. I’ve always worked for small, private companies; however, I interact with many large, public companies every day as clients and vendors. I see and feel the impact of share-price decisions regularly. I’m fairly certain you’ve experienced these effects as well.

Being an independent, privately held company isn’t all rainbows and unicorns either but at least there’s local control of decision making. There’s a direct connection between a customer’s need to the creation of a solution — and open feedback to make it even better.

At least that’s what can happen and regularly should if you’re going to stay in business.

The ability to listen to customer feedback and adjust is the most important skill I can think of as a business owner. There’s a saying that we hold to be true at Capital: a customer who tells you what you’ve done wrong is your most valuable customer because now you know what to fix!

Sometimes that fix is something applied to your current process. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your company but is a pain-point your customer has that you find a solution to solve. Either way, the conversations leading to the solution happen by building a relationship of trust, asking good questions, caring enough to listen well and finally being creative and nimble enough to be able to solve the problem. Coming up with a “better mouse trap” that positively impacts customer’s issues is why we exist… not shareholders.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Independents are also interested in creating profits. The difference is that profits generated by independents stay close to home, which provides the ability to expand and create even more solutions.

In fact, the agility with which we provide solutions is evolving at Capital right now. We are increasing our value to customers by taking some of the pressure from the field and making it more predictable with our pre-fabrication services. What we’ve heard is that due to the skilled and unskilled labor pool of today it’s critical that any and all employees are focused on tasks that add value in the field. Any tasks that can be done off-site should be. Therefore, hours on-site are truly spent as profitably as possible.

Pre-fabrication turns something that may be unpredictable and expensive into a predictable cost that’s repeatable and arrives only when it’s needed.

As an independent company, Capital has the ability to add this service now. We also have the ability to change it when needed without going to a board of shareholders. Small, agile, dynamic, versatile, timely and fast is the service we strive to bring to you, our customers.

Sure, you can buy products elsewhere but when you do are you receiving the best value?