McKillican Strives to Be 'Ever Better'

Mckillican.jpgGary McKillican says the fundamentals of the business have not changed since he founded his wholesale building material distribution firm in 1978. “Customers want to know what you have, when they can get it, and how much it is,” says the McKillican International CEO. “The companies that can consistently answer those questions in the best way will garner a larger share of the customers' business.”

At his own company, that response begins with the selection process, which reflects a broad-based product offering that the distributor bases on customers' buying patterns. From there, the primary concern is the ability of the customer to procure a desired product when needed. Finally,  there is the issue of reliability, or a consistent level of service, which is crucial for locking in long-term customer loyalty. “We try very hard to be easy to do business with, and we prize relationships,” McKillican says. “If you wrap all that together, it formulates our value proposition to our customers.”

Those customers span both the western United States and western Canada. Aside from a slightly more European influence in cabinet construction for the latter, the products for the two are highly similar. Customers in both markets also share a common dilemma: choosing from a seemingly endless smorgasbord of options. Distributors have expanded their offerings to include more products that may not align with their historical product line-ups. “This can cause challenges both culturally and from the standpoint of knowledge and experience in the area,” McKillican says. Moreover, within each product group, there are even more decisions to be made in terms of good, better, or best brand selection. “Consumers want to choose products that fit their taste, quality, and budget; but they need to have the process made easier,” he says. “The tremendous variety of information on the Internet helps consumers know what is out there, but closing the loop to supply and install is often difficult.”

McKillican International supplies in excess of 10,000 products and services a population of 100 million North American customers via 20 full-scale distribution centers. While its founder and CEO does not deny the struggle of providing top-notch leadership and service at all times and to all markets, he believes the current campaign to “add focus” to each product department will aid the company in this respect. “We have a broad product bundle,” he acknowledges, “but with our focus on leadership and accountability, leading and coaching the teams and managing the numbers is at our core.”

Part of that focus is gleaned from the company's “Ever Better” motto. The mindset was introduced to McKillican International by its president, Jamie Barnes, who transplanted it from his hockey-playing days at the University of Alberta. At the distributor, “ever better” speaks to a commitment to continuously evaluate strengths and weaknesses — individually, as well as at the organizational level — then to identify and take the necessary steps to make improvements by setting small goals and working to achieve them. One example is in the area of productivity, with the company measuring as much as possible and continually pursuing upper-quartile results against all of those metrics. That, in turn, drives efficiencies in order to lower selling, general and administrative expenses. McKillican says that “business is an adventure, to be sure, and one that with dedication, discipline, and a strong well-executed plan can lead to great results.”

As it continues to work toward its goals, McKillican International also is keeping a close eye on distributor-manufacturer relations, with its chief noting that NBMDA has provided a great platform for fostering continuous development of the discussion and of the relationships. As the organization's volunteer president in 1992, he should know. “NBMDA has been a steady source of education and information as well as a great networking format for over 30 years,” he says, “which has helped me personally and allowed me to meet many great people over the years.” 

In addition to his appreciation for the loyal relationships spawned through the organization, McKillican expresses gratitude at the opportunity to work for 38 years in what he feels is a “great” industry. With that recognition comes an acknowledgement that challenges will inevitably arise, but also a certainty that his company will be ready for whatever hurdles cross its path. “McKillican International has always had a great sense of confidence in addressing the issues," he attests, "along with a sense of pride of having become one of North America's largest privately held distribution companies.”

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