Bravo: Distribution Group Poised to Make Its Mark
Originally published in Floor Covering News, September 5, 2016
By Ken Ryan
They comprise 14 of the floor covering industry’s most successful distributors, including top-ranked Haines. Collectively they represent more than $2 billion in annual sales of flooring and related supply products.
Until recently, Bravo Services LLC (bravoservices.com) has preferred to go to market quietly while wielding a very influential stick in the marketplace. In November 2015, John Carney was hired as executive director with the task of taking this consortium of master distributors to the next level.
“What he is starting to look at are areas where we can use our combined strengths and knowledge,” said John Sher, president of Adleta, a Bravo distributor based in Carrollton, Texas. “He will drill down on those things that will help not simply the members but those we buy from and sell to. We are, in short, asking John Carney to give us direction.”
Bravo Services was established in 2000 by 12 U.S. master flooring distributors with the idea that one voice could better serve their customers, leveraging their collective strengths in sales, purchasing, operations, logistics and transportation.
Soon thereafter, Shnier and Buckwold Western were added from Canada to form a North American consortium of 14 master distributors whose sales and service capabilities span all 50 U.S. states, 10 Canadian provinces and three territories.
The geographic footprint of Bravo allows it to service flooring retailers swiftly and efficiently across North America, often within 24 hours of order date. Ed duDomaine, president and CEO, Gesco/Shnier, Canada’s largest floor covering distributor located in Brampton, Ontario, said the size of the organization allows it to leverage its assets and scale in order to derive benefits for each of its 14 members. “But make no mistake; the benefits don’t come to the group unless they are realized first and foremost by its customers.”
Bravo has taken on the responsibility of being a third party warehouse for its customers, incurring virtually all of the investment. “We are essentially a bank, too, through credit services, as well as an outside marketing resource, which includes training,” duDomaine explained. “Also, one of the principal value-adds today is bearing the great cost and risks associated with importing goods from afar. We bear all of that and quite rightly so.”
Sher concurred, adding: “Bravo distributors are well capitalized experts in their local markets and as such carry larger than average inventories. If we are out of something, we can access it from another Bravo distributor. We have also pooled our resources to invest in technology.”
Retailers have told the group that its 24/7 online ordering placement system is superior to all other in-market competitors. As a powerful network of distributors, Bravo has the wherewithal to go out and attract the best manufacturers and, in turn, seek out the best products. “The fact that we are well capitalized allows us to search for suitable products, take the needed time and not rush to market,” said Allen Gage, president of Tri-West, Santa Fe Springs, Calif. “We give our customers the best of both worlds being locally centered with superior market knowledge, yet nimble enough to make changes quickly with a national influence.”
The true benefit to the retailer flows from the collaboration with Bravo members, according to Scott Rozmus, president of FlorStar Sales, Romeoville, Ill. “At times we will share inventory to preserve orders. The formality of our organizational structure facilitates that. We continuously strive for excellence. We help each other get over the speed bumps.”
A Collective Effort
The collaboration among Bravo distributors works on many levels, from brainstorming to sharing best practices, as well as pooling financial resources and strength. “Bravo is essentially 14 entrepreneurial organizations, fully autonomous yet operationally exceptional in their respective regions,” duDomaine explained. “We are able to share best practices, which elevates our individual performance and sales/service capability.”
Specifically, these distributors know their local markets better than any national manufacturer. It can compete with anyone on the technological front, and it can be more efficient for its retail partners.
Bravo has nearly 60 suppliers in its portfolio. In a given week, there could be 20 to 30 new product demonstrations that the group shares amongst its 14 members. Bravo’s product committee looks for what it calls true strategic partnerships, which will add value throughout the chain.
One common denominator among the Bravo consortium is that all 14 wholesalers carry Armstrong Flooring. Several members described a rock-solid relationship with the manufacturer, which has never been stronger under the leadership of Donald Maier, CEO.
“We have been carrying Armstrong for 34 years. I love what Don has done,” Tri-West’s Gage said. “Today, like no time in the recent past, we are excited about winning together with Armstrong. When we are fully aligned, we are a very powerful market force.”
That sentiment was shared by duDomaine, whose Gesco/Shnier company has been working with Armstrong for nearly 60 years. “The relationship with Armstrong has never been stronger. We are in a sense rediscovering the brand. Hats off to Don Maier. He came from outside the industry, which I think is an asset affording him a unique perspective. He listens and he involves and implicates all the constituent parties in the process. He, too, is shifting the culture in the right direction and he’s achieving results. We at Gesco/Shnier like to say ‘the best is yet to come’ and for Armstrong I believe that also applies. You will witness some amazing things in the next 12 to 24 months, in part as a result of the heightened interaction at all levels between Bravo and Armstrong.”
Rozmus added that over the past couple of years the current leadership has been open and receptive to feedback from the Bravo group in a very positive way. “It is relatively unprecedented to see that level of engagement; the fact that Armstrong is listening to input from us and developing strategies based on that input. It is enormously valuable to our retailers.”
Sher gave special credit to Maier. “He just has such a can do spirit.” He noted that since he became CEO of Armstrong Flooring he has personally visited Adleta four times.
Carney added, “There is a sense of optimism and enthusiasm for what Don and the new executive team have been doing.”
The same could be said of Carney, the new Bravo executive director, whose role is likened to that of a sports commissioner who oversees a league of entrepreneurial owners.
Carney, who earned an MBA and graduated from Harvard Business School in the Executive Management program, has operated companies similar in size to the Bravo members. His experience, leadership and business acumen make him the ideal candidate to take Bravo forward, members told FCNews.
“John is very collaborative and knows how to manage a diverse group,” duDomaine said. “When you have 14 people in a room, you have to work hard to manage the group dynamics. We have never had someone as highly qualified or capable as John has been in doing that. He can and no doubt will bring more value add than we may currently anticipate.”
Rozmus said Carney’s challenge “is to stay focused on the bigger picture, help facilitate, collaborate and challenge the status quo. John came in with no preconceived notions. Board members I know intend to give John the full latitude to do his job and he has to have the ability to handle 14 different owner/operators just like that of a sports commissioner. His track record and performance to date give us all great confidence in his future and that of Bravo.”
The 14 members of Bravo Services LLC in alphabetical order:
- Apollo Distributing
- Belknap White
- B.R. Funsten
- Buckwold Western
- Cain & Bultman
- FlorStar Sales
- Haines & Co.
- Ohio Valley Flooring
- Reader’s Wholesale
- Gesco / Shnier
- W.C. Tingle
- William M. Bird