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Distributors’ perspective: Simple advice leads to lifetime success

By Robert Hagood

Volume 26/Number 20; February 18/25, 2013

On my first day on the job, my father woke me up and drove me to work. In the car he said, “Son, I woke you up this morning, but from now on, I expect you to get yourself up.”

At 15, this was a transitional conversation. It was June in 1982, but his words still have an impact when my iPhone buzzes early every morning.

It was more than 10 years later when I became a full-time employee, but that first discussion about expectations had its affects. My early days were mostly spent as a stock boy for the paint department, sweeping warehouse aisles and emptying trash cans. Back then, our company was many things—a local retailer for paint, hardware, wall coverings and light fixtures; a contract glass installer and a flooring distributor.

Much like the future entrants of Lowe’s and Home Depot, we were a local dealer separated into departments. In many respects, the diversification was good, but it came at the cost of focus. In the late 1980s, my father, Ben, and older brother, Maybank, divested many of the businesses in order to focus on floor covering. By 1994, my first full year at the company, we were solely a flooring distributor. We were well positioned. But there was more to do.

Before retiring in 1993, my father’s final strategic plan was to get our company focused on the Atlanta market. In 1990, we bought the George D. Bridges Co. and with it came a line of prefinished hardwood flooring we would soon find to be very beneficial for our future.

Soon after we understood the full magnitude of our acquisition. Armstrong asked us to pilot the RDC business model it was implementing with Lowe’s and Home Depot. This brought volume and scale for residential products. From there, we were able to grow with our suppliers westward.

My first 10 years with the company were strictly focused on warehouse and delivery operations. I learned a great deal about service operations, reliability and process engineering. Eventually, we centered on our logistics operations. Tran South Logistics was born in 2003, and we were able to offer our services to many of our flooring distribution brethren.

I became president of William Bird in June 2009, and it was the worst sales month we had in 10 years. The good news was all we could do was grow; the bad was that many tough decisions had to be implemented quickly. Sometimes, we are defined by how we fall. My big thought was, can we fall gracefully?

Today, I lead our team knowing hard work counts, but smart work keeps the wheels turning forward. The biggest lesson is however, it is our team that matters, and the best people get the best results. A fellow businessperson said, “We don’t have problems, because we have the best people who are looking for opportunities.”

Last year, my father was recognized with the 2012 NAFCD Lifetime Achievement award. Through my family’s many years in the industry, NAFCD has supported us by building strong relationships and providing the opportunity to share ideas and solutions. This inspired me to serve on NAFCD’s board so I can contribute back to the industry.

Those working in this business know that distribution is challenging and important. I am honored to work alongside so many interesting and accomplished individuals and appreciate organizations like NAFCD that provide the support to grow our businesses, provide relevant education, and offer a venue to network and exchange ideas. As a result I look forward to and feel more prepared to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.