What exactly do I do?
Well the Vegas convention was a good one and I found myself answering the same question many times over as distributors wanted to get to know more about me and the consulting services I provide… and that question was “what exactly is it that you do?” My gosh I’ve got to work on my marketing! ;-)
Here’s what I do… I provide operational and financial consulting services to beer and beverage wholesalers focusing on operational improvement and driving corporate change. Now of course the next question is… what the heck does that actually mean!?
First let me state a few facts:
1. I don’t claim to know your company or territory better than you. If you need me to come to your distributorship and teach you about your territory… you have problems I can’t solve.
2. I don’t claim to be able to run your distributor better than you do. That’s not what I do. I am an expert in analyzing and building new systems. I do this with your people. Almost everything I do is with you and your employees. I manage a process… together we analyze and design new systems. It is impossible to do it by myself. Working together, I help you improve your business in every possible way.
3. Every single distributor is different. You have different goals, different market shares, brands, retail base, consumer patterns, etc. There is no single thing that is right for all. And in many cases it comes down to “six of one, half dozen of another”, i.e. the choices will often generate similar results... this one might be stronger here, that one stronger there… which do you want? The magic isn’t necessarily in the design, but in the commitment and execution. Ensuring the entire system operates as a single system - cohesive, coherent, and seamlessly integrated. And of course effective management, good old management 101.
4. There is no magical answer. There are trade-offs with every decision. There are realities which neither you nor I control. We just need to ensure that whatever we do, it addresses these realities.
5. To get this out of the way… I admit I am biased towards selling. There are many, many very real threats to this industry and if you examine them, and the tax situation, I believe now is a good time to run to the door… but only for a premium price. Give me 4X+ annual gross profits for distribution rights and I’m out the door! Consolidation is not good for my business. It’s better for me to have more distributors, not less. But I call them as I see them, and this is how I see this one. If you don’t want to sell, then please, please, please look at forming a state-wide association. If the present situation doesn’t look good for your business, then change the situation.
Let me answer the earlier question by discussing some of the “products” that I provide:
· When someone is considering making operational improvements to their distributorship I generally recommend we do the following. Organizations evolve over time and seldom (if ever) do you look at your business as a completely blank slate, as a completely new entity. My approach is the blank slate approach… the roads are where the roads are, the retailers are where the retailers are… but almost everything else is ours to change if we desire. With that in mind, I generally:
o Begin by conducting private and confidential interviews with ownership and all levels of management (if possible I like to talk to groups of all employees from every department). The goal here is to discover ownership’s goals and objectives and investigate the reality of the organization from a collective management and employee perspective. Here I follow a simple rule of thumb… if one person says something it may or may not be true, if five people say the same thing then there probably is some truth to the issue.
o Quick review of sales and financial trends over the past 3 - 5 years.
o With the above completed, I can quickly come up to speed on the organization and then we move on to a classic corporate strategy and planning. In this process we analyze national and regional trends for all areas which might impact the business, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the wholesaler and their competitors, and analyze all threats and opportunities which present themselves. In effect we come to a collective agreement on what the most likely future(s) hold and discuss various strategic and organizational methods and designs that address these realities.
o From here we basically we start with a blank sheet of paper and build your organization(s) from the ground up to address the collective future(s) we all agree upon. Some consultants offer to do an “analysis” of your organization first – a word to the wise, this is just generally a paid sales call where you pay to have someone come in and sell you a project… and once you purchase this project you know where you will generally start? Right where I begin, at the strategic planning level. I generally consider this “analysis” both a waste of our collective time and unethical. I don’t really care how you do things now, I think the more important and relevant question is how should you be doing them to achieve your goals in the operating environment you presently face? It might be exactly as you’re presently doing, it might be a small change, it might be a complete change… but I don’t start with what you’re doing now. Implicit in doing so would be the assumption that your present method is the best possible. I have no idea what the best method is for you, so we start from scratch and build anew.
o At the completion of this, we will have built an entirely new organization(s) on paper. One which is designed specifically for meeting your goals and objectives and addressing the realities you will confront, today and tomorrow. It is then a fairly simple matter to compare this new possible organization with your present org… look at cost savings or increases, improved sales and communication, etc. and determine whether the potential benefits of the new organization are worth making the change. We can generally accomplish all of this in 1 – 2 weeks of my time. If you decide to move forward with changes, you can either use my services to help make the changes or do them yourself.
o An added benefit of using my services is my ability to help stimulate individual change… I help owners and managers become better managers. In my opinion this is at least 50% of the value I bring to the table, but it is difficult for most to identify this “magic”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client happily gushing to a potential client about how much I helped improve their business yet when pressed by the potential client they have a difficult time expressing exactly what I did. Generally it comes down to a statement like “all I know is since Conlin helped us our business has never run better, morale never been better, it was a transformation”. I always joke with my clients to note pre-Conlin and post-Conlin results, they have never been disappointed.
What these clients missed is just how much the intangibles matter… the soft side of management… the warm and fuzzy. Owners often find me a challenge… I think in almost every case they will be cursing me at some point in a project… often smiling as they call me an SOB… but I do challenge everyone’s thoughts, actions, and management techniques. It can be a real growing experience for owners and senior management since I will talk to them like few (if any) others will. When you hire me I become your mercenary and I take that responsibility VERY seriously. I will always tell you what I believe to be the truth, whether you want to hear it or not. Generally those things we don’t want to hear are the ones we most need to hear if we want to improve. Most owners NEVER receive this type of honesty, and neither do many senior managers. Many a low-level manager or employee has bought me a beer or three for stating the truth to top management… something they would have liked to have done but couldn’t for the risk of possibly upsetting the big dogs. No single client pays my mortgage so I am not so limited. This freedom helps us together to become better and more effective managers.
· I also can help build the state-wide associations of which I am a strong advocate. I have a number in the works and they range from the total disaster to still trying to decide to actively moving forward.
· I’m also working on the operational and ownership issues of a merger. As usual, the operational aspects are not terribly difficult; it is the emotional and people issues where the trouble starts.
· I help wholesalers both buy and sell. I am an operational expert and understand what we can and can’t do from the reality of the street. Unlike a lot of these brokers who can create wonderful organizational savings and cash-flows on paper (but who have never built an actual new organization in their entire lives)… I live where the rubber meets the road. Not only do I help in the analysis, I’m also the one who has to help ensure these actual cash-flows become reality - unlike my broker competitors who are off cashing their hefty commission checks when the real work starts… hey, on second thought maybe I’m the sap here! ;-)
· I do valuations but I’m not really an accountant-type so if you desire a valuation whose worth is measured by the weight of the report in pounds, I’m not your guy. I always recommend Andy for detailed valuations.
· I just finished some management and sales training – this was unique in that it was stand-alone. I prefer to look at a distributorship as a total system (which all businesses are) and address it from that perspective. That’s the reason I begin most operational jobs with the blank-slate approach described above.
· And surprisingly, there still are a lot of driver-sell organizations (almost all A-B) who are looking to convert to pre-sell, I help in this process. See above for the process we go through.
· Warehouse layouts, product acquisition/deletion policies, strategic brand analysis, pricing analysis, inventory control,… the list is long… if it has to do with any aspect of beer wholesaling or any type of organizational change, that’s what I do.
Now I hope I’ve answered at least part of that dang question.