Meet the Wholesaler: Tom Boutette
Reflecting on new platform value and mixing business with family
Name: Tom Boutette
Title: President, CEO
Company: Johnstone Supply, B&B Trade Distribution Centre
Number of Locations: 5
Number of Employees: 92
Year Founded: 1948
Tom Boutette’s father founded B&B Distribution Centre in 1948. Over the course of his own 50-year career, Boutette has seen the Canadian operation expand to serve customers throughout southwestern Ontario.
Boutette has stayed active through the decades in associations including RSES Canada, HRAI, and Refrigerant Management Canada. Now, he is preparing to take the reins as the chairman of HARDI’s board of directors later this month. He shared some observations in this edition of Meet The Wholesaler.
What was the worst business advice you ever got?
Boutette: To invest in a purebred horse. A buddy of mine was involved with Egyptian Arabian horses. They were described as an investment in fine art that would only appreciate in value with time. Well, after three years, the breeder declared bankruptcy and I lost the whole investment.
What was your favorite college or high school course? Was it the content? The teacher?
Boutette: St. Claire College marketing. Mr. Sharma and I would argue (debate) in class about the effectiveness of some marketing techniques. It was fun, and I still remember many after-class discussions around marketing. I now have a marketing department where I sometimes give friendly advice.
How have your company’s training and business management offerings for contractors evolved over the years?
Boutette: We consider training as selling. We started doing training in the lunch rooms, and this year, we built new dedicated training rooms in every branch. We also encourage our staff and customers to use Johnstone University for online courses. We have a technical service advisor on staff who can do technical training, plus a training committee with a training schedule on our website.
Would you tell us about the hardest decision that you have had to make in the HVACR business?
Boutette: To make the decision to let my daughter go from the company. It really shook me up, but I knew she would never fit in or lead our company in the right direction. To this day, she does not speak to me.
Have you picked up any lessons learned or key ideas with regard to organization and planning when it comes to other family members in (or out of) the business?
Boutette: Just because a family member wants to work in the business, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can. I would say entitlement is the biggest detriment that can become a huge issue. It can be demoralizing to the staff who witness this behavior and can hurt the culture of a company.
Is there a development or trend from the last two or three years where you feel your company has done a good job of adapting and responding? We’d like to hear about your successful approach.
Boutette: Several years ago, I set my mind to hire a good management team so I could concentrate on our vision. Three years ago, we joined the Johnstone Supply Cooperative, which has enabled us to implement many tools to become more competitive in the market. We learn a lot by networking with other members to learn about their best practices. Our new website, e-commerce, and B2B platform is transforming the way we do business. Approximately 15 percent of our customer orders are entered by e-commerce.
Longer term, what has been the biggest challenge for the company since you’ve been in your current position?
Boutette: Inventory turns and hiring talented people. It seems some manufacturers want us to stock more and participate in “stocking” programs so they can get their turns.
Hiring the right people is a challenge. Recently, our HR department had job appointments set for five different individuals. None of them showed up.
What would be your dream job outside of this industry?
Boutette: My dream job is just what I am doing. People ask me why I haven’t retired, and I tell them that I am having too much fun. I have a great team of people. When my dad started our business in 1948, they had three employees and one store. Today, we have 92 employees and five branches.
Wrapping up, any piece of advice you’d offer to other distributors?
Boutette: If you haven’t invested in some form of e-commerce platform, it may already be too late. Our customers are becoming more sophisticated and are looking for business solutions. Giving them the ability to look at their prices and inventory and place orders 24/7 is certainly a competitive advantage and will be a necessary solution in the future. Also, get involved in your industry associations. It’s great place to network and share ideas that will help you in business.
See more articles from this issue here!