Data Drives the Distribution Bus
The days of going along for the ride are long gone.
The last issue of Distribution Center reopened my own eyes to the importance of total involvement, with a spotlight on Comfort Supply of Nashville, Tenn., (March 2012, pg 1). The open-book style of management implemented by President Clay Blevins illustrates the importance of everyone in the company being informed about every level of the business.
At the tender age of 24, Blevins and his father purchased Comfort Supply. The young president gradually adopted a comprehensive plan to harness "the knowledge and experience of the people who had worked at Comfort Supply for a number of years."
It is a great story; our team at Distribution Center hopes you found time to study that spotlight on Comfort Supply and were able to make good use of it. However, an interesting statement by Blevins prompted my thoughts about how the distribution bus rolls down the road. Blevins said, " ... I track the data very closely because we're a data-driven business."
Talbot Gee, executive vice president/COO at the Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) must be smiling somewhere. I've heard him hammer the point made by Blevins innumerable times during the past two years.
Some distributors may refer to the process of tracking business performance data as benchmarking, and others may simply consider it among the many rigors of daily paperwork, some of which is only sifted occasionally. The near-instantaneous communications available to managers provide data from which to make business decisions and gauge success - in real-time daily, hourly, and even up-to-the-minute formats.
I recently sat with my own boss discussing market share positions and revenue performance. As I referred to a printed report in front of me, he pulled out his iPhone to get an update to the statistics. In less than a minute he had advanced our discussion.
To Blevin's and Gee's points, decisions about today's distribution businesses must be based upon data that reflects what is happening now. In years' past, data might only have been available in the form of a monthly printout that reflected what happened over a period of time. What was happening "now" was determined from 30 days of information, meaning that perhaps 12 times each year a review occurred and if necessary a new direction might be charted. It is highly unlikely that today's distributors and wholesalers would scoff at a monthly reporting format, but it is just as unlikely that any of them actually limits their information intake on the business to 12 times per year.
In other words, important information that is available to business managers can literally be in the palm of their hands, available at any moment of the day when tactics and even strategies might need to be tweaked in order to operate effectively and profitably.
TOO MUCH DATAIn a world of email, texting, permission marketing, and intrusion marketing there is certainly an abundance of information flowing through, around, and over my own simple head. Perhaps you, too, feel overwhelmed with communications and would sometimes prefer to just take a break. Managing the flow of data is an important aspect of managing one's business. What is important? What is not? What do you need to make good decisions, and what just gets in the way?
One of the smartest pieces of advice I ever received was from an old guy. I was being overwhelmed with the demands of the job and he reminded me of what was important when he asked, "What do they pay you for?" Selling equipment, I replied. "Then that is what you should be doing. All the other stuff they throw at you won't get you fired if you don't do it. Do what they pay you to do," said the sage white-haired guy.
Regarding the myriad of reports that are available to you at all hours of the day, pick out those that really tell you what you want to know; the ones that are important to the decisions you need to make. The ones that are extraneous to your focus may be important to other people in your company. So, like Blevins at Comfort Supply does, involve everyone in the company in every aspect. Delegating decision-making to others requires that you also delegate information with which to do their jobs.