Lighted arrow breaking the wall

The last three years have brought a barrage of changes to the jan/san industry — the biggest challenges lying in the areas of staffing, supply chains and reaching end users in a changing work environment. Faced with these hurdles, distributors are asking themselves, “How can I power through and overcome?” 

To provide insight, Sanitary Maintenance reached out to the editorial advisory board of professionals for comment. Here, each representative provides suggestions distributors should consider on the road to success. 

Charles Moody
Solutex, Inc.

Matt Scoles
Managing Partner
Scoles Systems

Keith Schneringer
Senior Director of Marketing - Facility Care + Sustainability
Envoy Solutions

Ailene Grego
President & CEO
SouthEast Link

Marianne Abided
Executive Vice President
Royal Corporation


What strategies should distributors use to attract and retain skilled workers in this competitive labor market? 

Moody — Like the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” Just as it relates to a product or service, the same is true in finding good people to join your team. We’ve always made sure that we’re paying above average and creating a system where those who work harder and smarter have a means to grow their income. That might mean bonuses based on productivity and accuracy, or there might be a portion based on the overall performance of the team and company. At Solutex, we follow the “Golden Rule” in the way that we treat our customers, our vendors and each other, and I feel that the result is less turnover and a happier team. 

Schneringer — A competitive salary and benefits package is always important, but so is the opportunity to join a strong work culture where each employee can grow and develop and can make a difference. 

Grego — To meet market demands, we must offer competitive compensation, but there is so much more the retaining that employee. With work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid options, companies are losing their culture. It’s still an important part of a company’s overall success. Establishing and maintaining a good company culture is still important, however, without a growth plan specific to each employee, it’s highly unlikely a new hire will plant roots and stay. 

Abiaad — It is important to offer flexibility, transparency and a bigger sense of purpose. Naturally, good pay and benefits are a given.

What are some best practices for training and developing employees to meet the evolving needs of the industry? 

Grego — In distribution, your company is either going to compete on price or service, and the business is run differently in each of these situations. We compete on service, so our salespeople consult, train and think outside the box for solutions. This type of selling is much different than just writing an order based on the lowest price. It takes a great deal of training, so we set up a team of seasoned employees in all facets of the business to work with these individuals. Your seasoned people understand the culture of the organization as well as your go-to-market strategy. Our vendors help with training, as well as industry specific online testing. We also cross-train, so new hires work with all departments to learn the flow and how best to communicate. 

Scoles — We have found that hands-on training produces the best and most long-lasting results through shadowing a mentor. We also ensure that all employees understand how our other departments operate in an effort to show them how their position can help or hurt those operations, which is essential for company-wide growth. 

Abiaad — The untold story is that the industry is imbued with process training, mainly the “how to.” The “how to” is hard to retain and apply appropriately unless the “why to” is emphasized and clarified. 

Schneringer — We stress teaching the basics and then building on that base of knowledge to evolve with the market by staying engaged with customer needs. 

Moody — I think we can always do better here. We train and encourage our salespeople to study the products within our catalog. But some of the best training comes from visiting customers at their facility. Maintaining a servant’s attitude and being there to help solve cleaning issues, odor control issues, curb appeal, etc., makes huge inroads. We don’t always have the immediate answer, but when we find it, we’re equipped to help the next customer who’s dealing with the same challenge. This is a true confidence builder for a new sales rep. I always remind our sales force to duplicate their successes. 
We also encourage our team to read great articles like those in Sanitary Maintenance magazine, and usually have a fun, larger presence at the ISSA Show. 
Our new delivery drivers work with our experienced team members to learn all of our safety protocols and how we stand out with good/flexible service. Some deliveries are easy while some require extra time and patience — it’s never fun backing into an alley in the city during rush hour.  We value what our delivery team does and remind our sales team to help out with better notes on orders or to make smaller deliveries when we get swamped.
Our newer customer service team members learn from their experienced colleagues and are always encouraged to ask questions. We’d rather tell the customer that we’ll call them back shortly than to guess incorrectly.

What are the key challenges in creating a work environment that fosters employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity within the jan/san distribution sector? 

Schneringer — Ownership and recognition is the key here — engaged employees are more productive and gain more satisfaction from their work. By giving employees ownership of their job functions and recognizing, celebrating, and rewarding excellence, you will be in the best position to create an effective work environment. 

Scoles — It’s all about creating an enjoyable environment where every employee feels comfortable and empowered to make suggestions or give opinions, and which allows for open dialogue between departments and builds strong unity for overall success. The challenge here is more in keeping this environment at the forefront over time once created. 

Grego — Company culture has an influence on employee performance. We found that to keep our company culture, we must all work in the office. Distribution and manufacturing businesses find it difficult to offer WFH or hybrid plans because most of what we do involves having access to things only available in the office. To combat that, you must continue to challenge employees and give them a growth path that makes sense. Make sure to include celebrations and don’t forget to acknowledge a job well done. 

Abiaad — Post Covid, there is a new layer of complexity that involves remote versus on-site work and finding that balance is critical. 

Moody — I think that some of the strategies would apply to almost any industry. As a leader/manager, you have to make sure that your individual team members know that they can talk to you about any concern. You also have to proactively get to know them and learn what’s important to them, what gets them pumped up, and what demotivates them. Your team members need to know that you’re out for their success.

How can distributors successfully navigate the changing workforce demographics, including generational differences and expectations, to create a cohesive and harmonious team? 

Scoles — It is important to acknowledge and value the various strengths that exist within generational demographics. Utilizing the wisdom of the older generations as mentors has been a great bridge to the younger generations within our work force. On the other side, the younger employees are able to educate some of the older members of our team in regard to navigating technological changes like web-based tools and social media integration. 

Schneringer — Changing demographics represents an opportunity to evolve the workforce, transfer industry knowledge, and more effectively engage with new employees and customers. 

Abiaad — We must respect the potential of the youth and their ideas while also respecting the experience, journey and the bigger context of the seasoned veterans. 

Moody — I feel that although demographics and generational differences can exist, most people want the same things out of life and out of their career. At Solutex we have team members with age ranges between 23 and 78 years old. We also have ethnicities from all over the planet, starting with myself. We have fun with humor and no one is exempt from it. The key is to value and respect one another. Going to work should also be fun. 

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Distributors Keep Ahead of the Supply Chain