EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to Installation Executive Profile, a new feature where we talk to executives at distributors, contracting firms, installation workrooms and other installation-related companies to find out their vision for their company and what they perceive for the future of the industry. If you have a candidate for a future executive profile, please contact Editor Mike Chmielecki at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 791-0215.
When Bruce Zwicker decided a few years ago to retire from his role as president and CEO of JJ Haines, he knew the person to replace him needed a logistics background from another large company. Rather than look outside, he looked within the company, finding what he sought in the company’s vice president of operations.
Michael Barrett, president and CEO, joined the nation’s largest flooring distributor in early 2015 as vice president of operations, bringing his logistics and customer service expertise from such firms as CVS, Dollar Tree, Fingerhut, QVC and Sonoco Products Co. and was quickly tapped to be groomed for the $500-plus million company’s top post.
After spending the last year as chief logistics officer with full responsibility for profit and loss, Barrett completed the transition in January taking over for Zwicker as president and CEO while his forebear stays on in a consultative role as CEO advisor.
The shift in roles comes as Haines completes its integration of the CMH acquisition and the company readies for new growth.
“We try to look at every day as an opportunity to learn and apply those learnings tomorrow so we can do better than today,” Barrett says. “The CMH acquisition was a very large one and at the end of the day we are a better organization because of that.”
With an eye toward the future, he says the company will never forget its past. Haines, founded in 1874, is the oldest flooring distributor in the country and has grown primarily—in its own words describing core values—by “offer[ing] a wide variety of quality products and provide an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction.”
So what does moving forward mean for a company so entrenched in its roots?
“The focus is on continuing to grow Haines and fully integrate the acquisition of CMH,” explains Barrett. “We are always interested in looking at diversification; if there is a growth opportunity and it’s a good fit for our organization we would consider it. But it is not the focus right now. Flooring is our core business and we always want to take care of our core business. All the other strategies have to align with that.”
Within its core strategy, he says an exciting opportunity for the company will be in changing the game.
“The flooring industry as a whole has some catching up to do in distribution on the technology front,” he notes. “We always have to be looking at the services we provide and how we can be the best. But, it is one thing to be the best and another to be a differentiator in the industry. We are looking at how we can update on the technology side to streamline distribution and create a service model to leverage [being the best and a differentiator] for our company.”
Another area Barrett sees opportunity is with continued emphasis on training for installers.
“As I travel around,” he states, “installers are becoming more and more in demand. It’s an issue and we have to find ways to entice people to go into the installation world.
“We view ourselves as a liaison between manufacturers and end users and we have good training programs for our customers that teach the latest and greatest tips,” he continues. “We have a lot of educational tools that customers can use to train and help as well.”
In addition, Barrett points out, “Our sales team is incredibly knowledgeable about flooring because they’ve lived in the industry. Many of our sales people right up to the director level were installers. We value that knowledge base and want to ensure it is continued. We are not about just selling product; it’s also about selling education and expertise right down to where the product is installed.”
His words are backed up by an emphasis on keeping the right people on the team. Of the company’s approximately 740 people, “north of 30 percent” can offer aid on the installation side through education and knowledge.
“As I talk to customers,” he recalls, “they are always commenting to the positive experience with our sales force and how knowledgeable we are about the products. It’s an incredible value to us as an organization and to our customers from a service standpoint.
“It is something very leverage-able for us, and we work hard to make sure they keep that knowledge current through resources with manufacturers,” Barrett says. “Between our marketing and sales teams, the knowledge and power we have are differentiating in positive ways.”
The company’s culture of service pervades through every level: sales, service and marketing, back office customer service and finance, logistics—right down to its drivers who maintain and build customer relationships at the “grassroots level.”
“A very competitive part of what we do is in our logistics capabilities,” he says. “We manage products through 12 buildings on the East Coast and continue to look for ways to streamline our process. As we build our technology strategy and build ways to streamline, we will get even better.”
In discussing the optics on what he sees as the best of the company, Barrett laughs. “I know I’ve described the whole company, but the package is very much a powerful package. I think every day is an opportunity to learn. A good company and organization is focused on doing better every day.
“My role is more about leadership than technical expertise,” Barrett concludes. “The last thing they need is me trying to help with that side. My job is to provide the resources to guide and the vision to continue to move things forward. With perspective to my background, my job is to be a facilitator to allow our incredibly powerful team to execute.”
For more information, visit jjhaines.com.