Advanced Distribution: Interview With John Anderson

According to John Anderson, Vice President of Building Plastics, Inc., (BPI) while it is difficult to serve both flooring and countertop markets, BPI handles the problem by separating the workload into separate divisions. Its counter surfacing and supplies division handles counter surfacing products, cabinets, Formica, and post-form tops, as well as HanStone and maple surfacing products. “On the flooring side,” said Anderson, “we have four additional divisions.” Anderson pointed out that each division has a specialized sales force for most metropolitan areas.

BPI has been selling Formica products for 50 years. “We've had that for a long time,” said Anderson. But just two years ago, the company added cabinets to their program. “And that's developed very well for us.” Anderson attributes the success of this new product line to the availability of quality inventory.

When asked where he sees the greatest challenges ahead for the industry, Anderson replied, “The greatest challenge, I think, is sourcing product, and being able to keep product in inventory.” This is a result of reduction of production capacity during the recent downturn. “Several of our manufacturers are up to their capacity,” said Anderson. “They will have to make some capital expenditures in order to increase their supply.” In the wake of the recession, “everybody's reluctant to spend the money right now, not knowing how long this correction's going to last, this time.” On the other side of the equation, he sees great opportunity for the industry in the recent spate of new home construction. “That's going to be a huge opportunity, especially in our Texas footprint.” He also thinks commercial construction will also provide good opportunities in the years ahead.

What separates BPI from other companies in the field? Anderson said, “People.” He ranks BPI's associates as the company's greatest asset. “We have a lot of longevity in our employees. We're not a good company to work for - we're a great company to work for. And we've always maintained that. So, we always strive to get the very best people that we can, and train them well, and keep them as long as we can. And we've had a lot of people that have been with the company forty-plus years, and several of them have retired from the company.” One of the reasons BPI's employees are so loyal is that BPI is an employee-owned company. Like other companies in the industry, BPI has had some moderate difficulty finding new employees for their sales and customer service divisions, because they seek employees with a background in the industry.

“From a technology standpoint,” said Anderson, “we're probably one of the most advanced distributors in the country. We're totally, fully, automated, bar-coded. Our entire inventory is on our system. All of our orders are picked using wireless hand-held scanners. All our forklift operators have a handheld computer - that's what they use to pull inventory. We have no paper in our warehousing operation. Customers are signing an iPad, with their complete order on it. Those are being wirelessly sent to our billing department, so they can bill within hours of delivery by our trucks. Our inventory accuracy, this last year was better than 0.0002 percent. At our selling price, we carry around $40 million worth of inventory. We measure the accuracy of all the orders we pull; the accuracy of those orders were 99.89 percent at the end of last year.”

As far as the current state of distributor-manufacturer relations on the decorative surfacing side of BPI, Anderson reports that the relations remain very good. “We have a 50 year relationship with Formica, we've got a great relationship with HanStone, our quartz surfacing, our cabinet vendors, great relationships with vendors all around our Floor Covering Divisions."

Within BPI's geographical area, Anderson sees the natural material looks continuing to strengthen, as materials like wood and stone continue to grow in popularity.

NBMDA and the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors, NAFCD, continue to deepen their relationship and join together each year to co-sponsor an annual convention. Anderson is in support of this alignment. “I'm very pleased with it,” he said. “We've been a big supporter of both organizations, and with NAFCD, we've been on committees. In fact, I'm on a committee right now with NBMDA and NAFCD. We're active in both organizations. I think the partnership is great. I think it works great for us; we can go to one show, and do all our business at the same time. We can share some of the speakers, and some of the costs. I think that works out really well.”

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