Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot in all industries, including building distribution. However, a company’s definition of what constitutes innovation often risks becoming too limited, focusing only on technology or another area of their business practice. For George Pattee, chairman and CEO of Illinois-based Parksite, innovation is all-encompassing -- a push towards best practices in every aspect of the company. Parksite markets branded and specialty products, focusing specifically on educating clients about the products that offer the best fit for their projects. Mr. Pattee was recently kind enough to speak to NBMDA about how Parksite defines innovation and how that definition has helped them continue to expand their market share, even through the recent recession.
As with many in the building distribution industry, Pattee believes the recent recession is finally coming to an end, bringing new challenges and opportunities. Parksite, he reports, intends to face those challenges and take advantage of those opportunities through growth, with several different potential acquisition prospects on the horizon. All that being said, business continues to be soft in many markets, and only the strongest companies will be able to adapt to those ongoing difficulties. To ensure Parksite is among them, Pattee and his colleagues actively work to demonstrate the company's advantages to all prospective customers and business partners. One of the ways the company achieves that goal is by contacting architects and builders to sell them on Parksite’s advantages. According to Pattee, those contacts can then help show customers the business opportunities Parksite offers along with top-of-the-line products. Additionally, Parksite spends a lot of time training its sales force, ensuring they can bring the experience and extensive industry background customers are looking for.
A 100 percent employee-owned company, Parksite has also invested in traditional innovation with a number of major technology outlays in recent years. The use of tools like Salesforce.com and Qlickview, for example, allows Parksite to track and share internal metrics with each other, with customers, and with suppliers. This means they can see data not just about specific projects, but also on wider industry trends. And, as with many building distributors, Parksite has implemented such new warehouse technologies as voice picking, which allows its warehouse workers to pick orders efficiently, accurately, and safely.
While technology has pushed innovation in how products are distributed, Pattee points out that the products themselves are often not seeing the same rate of change. “I think one of the challenges that we, and many NBMDA members see, is the fact that there has not been a lot of innovation in our industry in terms of products, although we have improved a lot on the service front/automation,” he says. As markets continue to recover from the recent recession, Pattee believes that will begin to change, especially if distributors are willing to say “Here’s a need, let’s go after it.”
Products and technology are an essential part of innovation, to be sure. For Pattee and Parksite, though, the most important part of innovation is not limited to what they are selling or how they are transporting it. Innovation should also be focused on how a company goes about communicating its value to current and potential customers, an area where Pattee admits building distributors have room for growth. “Distributors offer a lot of value, but traditionally we have not been very good at reminding people exactly how valuable we are,” he observes wryly. To change that, Pattee calls on distributors to leverage multiple channels available to them, particularly via the Internet and social media. This will become increasingly more important, he predicts, as Millennials become the driving force in business. “Unlike previous generations, they actively seek out information online first, so you have to be out there giving information, communicating as much knowledge as you can on multiple fronts.”
Ultimately, Pattee says, distributors need to broaden their definition of innovation in order to continue to grow their business. “We could spend the whole interview talking about what innovation means to us, but the bottom line is we need to come up with more innovative products, with ways of getting those products to consumers, and with ways of making ourselves more user-friendly in general. It’s important to do business the way customers want to buy. As distributors we need to be easier to work with, easier to buy from.”