- Written by: Dale J Rappaneau Jr.
- Produced by: Victor Martins
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
In 1963, Alexander R. Hill opened the first Building Plastics Incorporated (bpi) location in Memphis, Tenn. The company began with only eight employees in a 7,500-square-foot warehouse facility and provided distribution services for Formica Group-brand plastic laminate and Kentile Floors plastic flooring.
Between the 1970s and ’90s, the company expanded to form strategic, long-term relationships with businesses in various industries. Soon, bpi expanded product lines to include hardwood flooring, American Olean-brand ceramic tile and more, all for the sake of becoming a one-stop distribution shop.
Overtime, bpi grew to earn the prestigious title of the largest commercial distributor in the region, going on to create private label programs for hardwood, ceramic, carpet, sinks and luxury vinyl tile flooring. These expansions have helped bpi to further extend geographic reach. Now, in 2014, the company’s distribution operations encompass 11 states, a total of 765,000 square feet of warehouse facilities, over 400 associates, employee-owned and more than 5,800 buying customers.
Without a doubt, bpi has grown into an impressive example of how a company can come to dominate a specific commercial distribution industry.
The modern bpi
“In 2013, we celebrated 50 years of service,” says John Anderson, president of bpi “We are a company steeped in tradition, but we’re never afraid of change.”
Anderson’s mention of the company’s willingness to change is an important part of bpi’s current success. Specifically, in 2005, the company became an employee-owned company, and Anderson stepped into his current leadership role.
“Our people are the most important asset, and because of them, bpi will continue to be a leader in the industry,” says Anderson. “We stand so strongly behind our people that we provided ownership.”
By including employees into the company’s stock success, bpi encourages the company’s team members to produce the most worthwhile, quality of work results. Thus, employees strive to go above and beyond with every job, because when the company does well, the team members do well.
However, while the company’s infrastructure shifted to ESOP, bpi’s mission still remains the same as when the company was founded 50 years ago. “We will always remember that our customers make us who we are,” says Anderson. “Our mission is still to distribute quality brand name products while also providing service and value that exceeds our customers’ highest expectations.”
Anderson adds that as an employee-owned company, the business operates with the highest integrity, manages its assets and maximizes the team’s fullest potential. “Our success stems from listening, communicating, leading change and profitably growing our business,” he details. “But ultimately, our customers determine if we are fulfilling our mission.”
Achieving customer satisfaction requires the company to rely on what it does best, providing customers with the necessary products to complete flooring, tile or kitchen projects. “We’re a full-line floor covering distributor and full-line ceramic tile distributor,” says Anderson. “We also distribute counter surfacing products and cabinets.”
Laying the foundation for financial gains
“We sell to both commercial and residential customers,” says Anderson. “From mom-and-pop shops to large retailers, we sell to them all, but we are a wholesale-only company. Everything we sell goes through a retail store, commercial contractor or building contractor.”
The company’s website currently features 914 products, from such companies as Miracle Sealants Company, W. F. Taylor Co. Inc., Laticrete International Inc., Para-Chem and many more. All of these options allow customers to find the perfect products for a specific project or retail section.
Moreover, the company features 10 locations across the country: two in Tennessee, one in Arkansas, three in Texas, one in Mississippi, one in Louisiana and two in Alabama. Throughout the 10 locations, bpi maintains approximately 400 employees – all of whom have the option of entering into the company’s ESOP.
Keeping those employees busy requires a lot of work, which Anderson happily admits is not a problem for bpi. “On the commercial side, we supply a lot of flooring to hospitals, schools, resorts, motels and hotels,” he says.
Anderson says that salespeople make up approximately 25 percent of the company’s workforce. These individuals are the ones in charge of getting the company’s manufacturers into various commercial projects and retail stores. “We have a team of 12 people dedicated to calling on architects and designers to get our manufacturers into projects,” he admits. “But that’s just part of our sales force. We have another 65 salespeople that are directly responsible for the dealer base. Together, these close to 100 people play a huge role in making sure the company keeps on accruing income.”
How flooring flows, from distributor to contractor
Furthermore, bpi has also been known to work on military projects, including a huge job for the Fort Campbell military base in Kentucky, and a second job for Guantanamo Naval Base. Both projects required an extensive amount of flooring products delivered in a short deadline.
However, it is important to note that the company does not lay the flooring products. Instead, bpi solely distributes for manufacturers. To complete the distribution process, the company leases transportation trucks, and the leasing company in charge of the trucks is responsible for vehicular maintenance. This leaves bpi free to focus on other ways in which the company can improve the customer experience.
“I’m proud of our ability to provide information to customers through online means,” says Anderson. “We’re very highly computerized, and when it comes to technology, we’re probably the best in the industry. We have a real grasp on the business, and we’re very accurate in telling customers when a product will be available.”
Having the ability to tell customers exactly when a product will be available is crucial for bpi’s success, because the company can only distribute what manufacturers provide. If the manufacturers do not provide, the company cannot distribute. It’s a slightly risky model, but one that has worked well for bpi.
“We had a bit of a shortage in supply of flooring a couple of years back due to the construction slowdown of the recession,” says Anderson. “This caused manufacturers to slow their production. We had to utilize our advanced high-tech information management systems to communicate in real time with clients and suppliers. That’s what kept things moving.”
Now, with the economy well into its recovery, bpi’s electronic systems are in full swing, servicing clients from across the country, and a few international.
“That’s really our competitive edge, the high-tech computer information,” adds Anderson. “It connects us with clients and provides a constant stream of information, both to them and to us.”
Still, an electronic system alone cannot guarantee a company’s success throughout any economic time, tumultuous or otherwise. It is simply one part of a finely woven corporate environment that supports individual employees while also providing an overarching management system appropriate for corporate-client interactions.
All of that considered, is it really any wonder that bpi is the second largest flooring distribution company in the nation? It is evident that bpi is comprised of a dedicated team that works together to ensure survival, growth and continued prosperity.
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