“I’m just the middleman – I make the deal and send the goods.
“Soft skills are soft – we have to focus on closing the sale.”
“We’re too small to implement technology.”
Does the industry truly look and think like this anymore? Not according to Dirk Beveridge, founder of UnleashWD, a design, innovation and strategy firm that transforms legacy distributors into nimble and innovative market leaders. Beveridge, who just finished his 97-day We Supply America tour, will be a featured speaker at the 2022 FEDA Annual Conference. His presentation will explore what more than 175 dealers from a variety of industries experienced during the pandemic, how they responded and how they’re operating today.
One of the most important findings from Beveridge’s tour is how dealers stepped up during the pandemic – more than other industries – to take care of their people and their businesses. At the same time, they were forced by rapidly changing business conditions to suddenly shift to “tomorrow” by “embracing the hardness of the business and working tirelessly to innovate, improve and grow,” Beveridge says. That unparalleled performance should not go unnoticed, nor should the positive contributions dealers made to their communities and employees during the lowest point of the pandemic. In recognition of those accomplishments and the new type of leader that emerged from this difficult period, Beveridge wants dealers to think of themselves in a new light: as the “noble generation.”
Despite these successes, Beveridge recognizes that one of the biggest hurdles distributors face is how they see themselves. No matter how well dealers performed, contributed and evolved into a stronger industry during the past few years, many are still reciting the same false narratives and self-deprecating beliefs that hold them back – an enigma Beveridge finds perplexing. This damages the industry, Beveridge says, especially as distributors emerge from the pandemic ready to launch into an exciting new phase of innovation and profit. He notes it’s important for dealers to recognize how many of those assumptions they’ve already shattered in recent years. “These false notions need to be obliterated because they prevent dealers from recruiting and retaining top talent, outperforming the market and staying ahead of the competition.”
To break this negativity cycle, Beveridge says distributors must obliterate the six primary false narratives that are detrimental to their ability to recruit and retain top talent and outperform the market.
False Narrative No. 1: Distribution Isn’t Attractive
There’s a prevailing sense within many companies that distribution isn’t cool. While Big Tech companies make the latest gadgets and tap into the power of the internet to connect people in new ways, the work distributors do is largely invisible. But that work is invaluable for connecting people and products in the real world.
False Narrative No 2: Some Distributors are Too Small to Implement Technology
Implementing a new technology can be a daunting task. It interrupts day-to-day operations, requires employees to learn new skills and demands new investment. Because of these reasons, many small distributors delay much-needed technology projects or don’t pursue them at all. Beveridge says that’s a mistake. It doesn’t always take a big expenditure or time investment to introduce technologies that will make a difference. New software and systems that can enhance a distributor’s capabilities and make them more competitive in the industry are more within reach than they may realize.
False Narrative No. 3: People are the Greatest Asset
Beveridge believes businesses should expand on their efforts to support employees during the pandemic and see them as individuals with goals and dreams. This can be accomplished through a new perspective on leadership. In talking with dealers, Beveridge learned that many emerged from the pandemic with an enhanced leadership style that is special and unique and human because, at its core, distribution is human. He calls this a “fourth wave” of leadership emerging in distribution, the latest stage of an ongoing evolution in leadership. A long time ago, most industries led by managing people with fear and intimidation. Beveridge dubbed this “Wave One: Controlling.” The next stage, “Wave Two: Managing,” was focused on maximizing the productivity and efficiency of processes and systems; people weren’t considered at all. He points to “Wave Three: Leadership” as the beginning of movement from simply managing people and processes to creating a vision and building aligned teams to create value. Beveridge believes that dealers are now in a leadership stage called “Wave Four: Noble Calling,” in which leaders embrace the humanity of business to create growth, opportunity, meaning and success for all individuals.
False Narrative No. 4: Middlemen Don’t Add Value
Foodservice operators and the larger market need the expertise of dealers to get the most out of their purchase, Beveridge explains. They require training on how to use the product, follow-up support, and industry knowledge to guide them to the best solution for their problem.
False Narrative No. 5: I’m Just a Driver or Warehouse Picker, I Don’t Make a Difference
The individuals in the distribution center who load equipment onto the trucks or the drivers who deliver it to its destination intact may not always get the glory, but those positions are vital to providing great and timely service. As Beveridge observes, every job and every position is respected and dignified in distribution.
False Narrative No. 6: Soft Skills are Soft
Soft skills are the cornerstone of any relationship between salesperson and customer. Having strong active listening skills and being able to parse a client’s underlying concerns are critical to solving problems – and closing a sale. As Beveridge says, “Your business is dependent on the personal values and relationships among all employees.”
It can be difficult to reassess long-held beliefs – even ones that may be holding a business back – but Beveridge believes distributors have earned the success ahead of them. “Personally, I am moved and inspired by the people – from the warehouse floor to the c-suite – who make up independent distribution,” he says. “Let’s celebrate the essential nature of your expertise and that you are the backbone of this country. And while doing so, understand that your journey to win the future is ongoing.”