Belknap-Haines Summit: Top distributor poised to prosper
Oxon Hill, Md.—“Plan, Adapt and Prosper” was the theme at the Belknap-Haines Loyalty Club Summit here recently, and by all indications, the industry’s No. 1 distributor is checking all these boxes.
The annual summit commenced with news that the Belknap Group had increased its equity stake in Haines to 100%, with the latest investment—another 30%—finalized in late February. “They have a lot of great brands,” Paul Castagliuolo, president, told FCNews†
Another draw was Haines’ footprint. “We saw it as a good opportunity to grab market share,” Castagliuolo explained. “Our assessment was there were a lot of really good employees, but at the senior management side maybe not the greatest direction. But we knew the bones [of the company] were good. We have done a good job identifying distribution targets that we can turn around and put back on track. Belknap is a very well-oiled machine. We know how to operate distribution.”
The completed transaction ushers in a new chapter for Belknap-Haines, a $600 million wholesaler, with a footprint that stretches from Maine to Miami and as far west as eastern Ohio.
Belknap-Haines said its plan is better collaboration with suppliers, listening to their needs and providing prompt service. Sounds basic, but in the past some Loyalty Club members said their needs were not being met. One dealer said Haines’ attitude in the past was more akin to: “You need us more than we need you.”
That attitude—or perception—is no longer the case. “The Mancinis [Belknap owners], hug their customers because we know they have options,” Castagliuolo said. “We have ownership very engaged in the business.”
Brian Green, chief sales and marketing officer-South, who is one of the remaining executives from the previous regime, said today is about being accountable and engaging with suppliers and retail members to achieve common goals. “The people here are reinvigorated,” he explained. “They see that we want to grow our business. Our turnover has been very minimal.”
Having the ability to adapt is always a crucial element to being successful and staying relevant. But it’s not always easily achieved for larger companies, especially one that has been around since the 1870s. As Green noted, “In the past, we were a very cumbersome company to do business with—slow to react, layered. We’ve become easier to do business with—flatter and less cumbersome.”
The transition to a more seamless company was fueled by its sales reps, or “account executives,” as they are called. They are tasked with making decisions on issues on the spot. “We empower our people to make decisions,” Castagliuolo said. “This is a fairly simple business but when you try to over-complicate it, things can go sideways in a hurry.”
Some suppliers have noticed a difference in the sales organization in the way it interacts with them. “The people who work for Belknap-Haines, the sales organization people, are really the difference makers,” said Daniel Lang, vice president of sales and marketing for Inhaus. “They’re growing with us very well. with the [account executives] we will be able to get our message out about PVC-free products made in Germany and our recycling story.”
Loyalty Club retailers also praised the distributor for its focus on service. “Our rep (Stuart Taub) has been consistently great for us, and if you have a great rep that makes all the difference in the world,” said Tom Goering, co-owner of The Floor Doctor/The Wood Floor Store, Sarasota, fl.
Others like Greg Bruce, co-owner of Fredericksburg Hardwood Flooring Supply in Fredericksburg, Va., agreed. “The response time with our reps is getting better and we’re starting to see some better stocking situations with product.”
Meeting challenges head on
The ongoing global supply chain slowdown has forced companies of all sizes to adjust strategies. During the summit, Fred Reitz, chief operating officer-South, talked about Belknap-Haines’ move to “Just in Case” procurement. This model, he noted, requires excess “safety stock” to reduce the chance of stockout in case of unexpected spikes in demand or supply chain disruptions. “With our data, we can pick and choose top performing SKUs,” Reitz explained. “A winning 2022 supply chain procurement strategy will involve narrowing down your current SKU catalog so you can focus on high-velocity products that drive sustainable growth.”
By planning smart and adapting to market conditions, Belknap-Haines has been able to prosper in a meaningful way. Loyalty Club purchases were up 14% in 2021 vs. 2020; meanwhile, Belknap-Haines’ sales volume increased 12% vs. last year on the strength of residential remodels (up 15%) and builder (up 12%). Even commercial saw gains (9%).
“In 2019, we got our feet underneath us,” Castagliuolo said. “In 2020, we turned things around, and 2021 was great. We think we are on a great track.”