Distribution Today: Interview With Steve Dominick

Steve_Dominick_w150.jpgSteve Dominick is the President of Central Wholesale Supply Company, a family-owned distributor based in Norfolk, VA. Central has been a member of the NBMDA for 30 years. According to Dominick, the greatest challenge facing the building material distribution industry in 2014 is the economy. “With us, it's been hit and miss. We'll have a few good months, and then it goes flat. So our biggest challenge, I think, is the economy.”

That is not to say that opportunity does not exist for the industry in 2014. When asked which fields might prove fertile in the coming year, Dominick replied “I think it'll be the commercial business, the commercial side, for us anyway, versus residential. We have some pockets of the residential that are starting to pick up, but primarily, it's the commercial side of the business.”

As a family-owned firm, Central is gifted with unique advantages not enjoyed by companies with different ownership structures. “We're pretty agile,” says Dominick, “when it comes to the marketplace. Pretty much, the buck stops with me. I can make quick decisions, versus some of the larger distributors have to go through a process, since they're so big.” Having been in business for 55 years, Central has had ample time to hone its practices. As a result of their size and their consolidated executive power, Central is quick to adapt and able to change to meet shifting market conditions.

Central has three distribution centers, and covers a territory stretching from eastern North Carolina through Virginia. “Raleigh's doing well,” says Dominick. “I think because the Triangle area is pretty unique, because there's a big mix of residential and commercial in the Raleigh market.” This is in contrast to other markets, such as Roanoke, VA, which is “really residential, and kind of flat.”

An awareness of cost efficiency drives innovation at Central. “We always look at our costs when doing business, and we've implemented a lot of green projects, where we recycle all our cardboard now. We recycle all our steel banding from the units, our plywood, especially stuff that comes from China and overseas.” These techniques cut costs in multiple ways. “One is money comes back from recycling, another is it takes a lot of it out of our dumpsters, and lowers our dumpsters cost.” Other cost-saving techniques include working to improve delivery efficiency. “We're constantly are updating our routes on our trucks to be more efficient. We do that pretty much monthly. We re-evaluate our customers and our routes, and try to get the most economical route, but also to try and increase our service level.”

New technologies play a role in increasing Central's efficiency. For starters, GPS technology both on office computers and inside trucks helps Central re-evaluate their delivery routes. Also, Central uses technology to improve their processes and attempts to be as electronic as they can. “We're pretty savvy,” says Dominick. “All our sales guys have iPads, and they have instant access to the inventory. They can place an order right in the customer's place with the iPads. We developed an app that goes directly into our system. All they do is hit the app, it brings the system up, and they can place an order, check his (the customer's) account, do a return authorization--they can do it all right there in front of the customer, with their iPad.”

Central's philosophy regarding manufacturer-distributor relations is to stay with established brands. “Our key is to stay with very well-branded materials. We try to partner ourself with good vendors, for example Dupont Corian, Formica Corp., Blum Hardware, just to name a few. I think our relationships with these key big vendors is important, and I think it's good right now. I think they're still looking at distribution as a key point, because we are so versatile, and so agile. Some of these big vendors, that have gone directly to market have lost a lot of market share, and I think they regret it in some places.”

When asked what challenges he sees confronting the markets of Central's end-users, Dominick replied “I think in residential end-user markets, the Chinese cabinets. I mean, they're tough. They're priced very competitively.” Dominick reports seeing large numbers of Chinese cabinets entering the distribution stream from third party vendors, “these guys who are just setting up kitchen dealers, and they're bringing in containers from China full of these cabinets on their own. And it hurts all of us.” While lawmakers attempted to regulate pricing to prevent the dumping of Chinese birch, the effort has failed.

Still, Dominick sees opportunities for end-users. “For the residential part, I think it's in custom--that they can do a little bit of everything right then and there, and make it not so cookie-cutter. I think there's an opportunity there, and on the commercial side I think it's specifications. I think specifications are very important, and educating the A&D (Architecture and Design) community on what's out there, and what's available, and what can be done and design options.”

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