Redefining Its Category

A.W. Hastings carves out its role with innovative services
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2012
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups

 

 
Overall Excellence

LEADERSHIP IN THE PROFESSIONAL MARKET

 

A.W. Hastings & Co. 

Enfield, Conn.

 

Throughout the window and door industry, there are a handful of companies that have truly defined their categories. In the case of this year’ Overall Excellence, Leadership Serving Professionals winner, A.W. Hastings & Co. is recognized for redefining its category. A New England-based company with more than 160 years under its belt, A.W. Hastings not only continues to redefine itself, but also sets the bar for how two-step distribution can successfully operate in today’s increasingly profit-squeezed supply chain.

Where many two-step distributors in recent years found themselves surpassed in favor of manufacturer-direct-to-retailers relationships, A.W. Hastings has carved itself a permanent role with its extensive network of dealers and professional customers. An exclusive distributor of Marvin Windows & Doors, the company has introduced innovative services and resources to its customers to keep their businesses running smoothly and facilitate growth in a recovering economy.

“We are fully aware that two-step distribution is a dying breed,” says Heidi DeLisle, director of employee resources. “One of things we’ve tried to is to make sure that we should be here. Not just because we’re 160 years old, but we’re here because there is a place for us.”

 
 Under the leadership of the Hoyt family, A.W. Hastings & Co. has been innovating to serve its customers for more than 160 years.

To ensure continued relevance, the A.W. Hastings team looks for ways to be an extension of its customers’ businesses, providing solutions for everything from distribution challenges to marketing, to finding the right employees to hire. “As we look at the traditional role that a distribution company has held, that is absolutely dead,” adds DeLisle. “But we make sure we add value and services that our customers may not get acting alone.”

In a sense, A.W. Hastings developed a coalition among its customers, providing them with business development tools common to a large company. “Oftentimes, the customers we have—the retailers—are smaller organizations and they don’t have the luxury of having a business development unit, or an HR staff, or a marketing or advertising department,” explains DeLisle. “We basically give them economy of scale—a lot of business services that smaller companies don’t have on staff or have access to.”

"We believe that the many creative services and programs we offer and the support we give to the Marvin family of products is not only good business, but essential for survival in a disintegrating supply chain," says Dusty Hoyt, president. "What makes this relationship work is the business-generating techniques, unique services and strong relationships we have with our customers."

ELIMINATING DISTRIBUTION PAIN
Founded in 1846, A.W. Hastings serves independent retailers, as well as architects and trade contractors, throughout New England and the eastern part of New York. Within the retailer network, the company serves business models that range from retailers with design galleries and showrooms all the way to a traditional lumberyard, “and everything in between,” says Marjorie Murray, marketing services manager.

The goal for A.W. Hastings with each of its customers, regardless of their approach to market, is to bring value to the distributor relationship by helping the retailers better serve the end users, including homeowners and building professionals, says Bruce Meekin, director of operations. “In all of our interactions with each of those different trades or channels, it’s always focused on the satisfied experience of the end user,” he notes. “We keep the end user in mind at all times and figure out how [to best serve the customer] collectively with our retailers.”

A significant aspect of this partnership with retailers includes looking for ways to keep things running smoothly, particularly in transferring the actual products from Marvin to the retailers and, ultimately, the job site. In 2007, when the market was humming along and sales were increasing, A.W. Hastings’ customers were struggling to keep up with deliveries arriving to their job sites and warehouses from many distribution points, executives recall. Seeing their retailers struggling with these logistical challenges, the A.W. Hastings team undertook an initiative to redesign its fundamental distribution game plan, starting with making sure it had enough space to be a good partner for both the manufacturer and the retailer.

 
A.W. Hastings' improved distribution model serves both its customers and its manufacturing partner. 

“Our examination of the process began with the realization that, at the manufacturer level, the ideal situation was to ship complete,” explains Karen Matlock, communications manager. However, “ship complete is not always in the best interest of the customer.”

The company’s expanded distribution center—more than 50,000 square feet of product-juggling space—allowed A.W. Hastings to be a good partner to its manufacturer (by accepting complete shipments) as well as a valuable resource to its customers (by holding the products until customers were ready to accept them). “In the millwork industry, there’s various lead times for specialty products, and with the Marvin product line, there are lots of specifications that can affect lead time,” says Meekin. “We wanted to support the manufacturer in its goal, but we are also working through our channel locally, and the better way there is having everything shipped when the customer needs it.”

To make this work, A.W. Hastings not only set aside enough space to manage inventory, but also made sure it had the right equipment—everything from trailers to smaller trucks—to make sure it can deliver to the retailer, jobsite or homeowners’ properties as products are needed. “It’s all about being that local hero,” says Bill Cadieux, operations manager. “We allow our customers to put that order in the system and let us get them the product when they want it. The vast majority of the order may ship complete, but the customer does have the ability to say, ‘You can ship this now, and this later.’”

To keep lead times as short as possible, A.W. Hastings also eliminated the need for customers to consolidate orders in order to receive a discount, Meekin points out. “We learned that customers were saving up orders to place one big order to save money,” he explains. “We took that away. We told them to send us their orders as they have them and we’ll give them the best price.”

GETTING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
A.W. Hastings works closely with its customers and gets involved in order to understand the challenges and roadblocks that get in the way of them being about to grow their businesses. At one point, the company realized that its customers were struggling to find key employees, says DeLisle. “We asked ourselves a simple question—our customers are having a hard time hiring good people, so can we help them?”

 
 Working with HireElements, A.W. Hastings supports the recruiting efforts of its customers.

“Hiring is a big challenge for everybody,” she continues. “It’s a challenge for companies that have a full-scale human resources or recruiting department—and a considerable number of our customers are smaller, with maybe 15 employees, so they certainly don’t have a recruiter on staff.”

A.W. Hastings formed a partnership with HireElements, a team of recruiting and staffing strategists who identify motivated and uniquely qualified candidates and connect them with companies that are ready to expand to the next level. The program has been a tremendous success for A.W. Hastings, as it is currently supporting the recruiting efforts of about 100 customers. And, the program is offered to its customers free of charge.

“If there’s a way we can help our customers find good people and good salespeople, in particular, that’s going to help them have more sales. That, in turn, helps us have more sales,” says DeLisle. “It’s a significant investment for us, but what we get out of it is far greater.”

These recruiting efforts are also intended to bring fresh thinkers and younger workers into the window and door industry, DeLisle adds. “The window and door industry is not a sexy industry,” she says. “The pharmaceutical industry is sexy. Lumber and building materials, millwork in particular, is not. So we’re not only trying to assist our customers, but we’re trying to change the outlook on this industry as a whole from a career standpoint.”

The initiative—though unusual and innovative for the window and door industry—has been a resounding success with customers, Matlock reports. “In recruiting for our customers, we raise their expectations by bringing them candidates who they may never have considered. Our customers need quality employees to succeed, and our success is tied to our customers’ success. We see a strong future in continuing to use this innovative approach, recurring for our customers and raising the awareness of great careers in the building industry.”

STAYING ON TOP OF TRENDS
A.W. Hastings supports its customers with traditional marketing efforts, including everything from product literature to ads and promotional materials. But as marketing evolves to include more non-traditional venues, particularly on social networking sites, A.W. Hastings saw the need to step in and help provide some clarity and direction for customers.

“Some of our more progressive retailers had started to dabble in social media enough to either get excited or scared by it,” says Murray. “At the same time at Hastings, we’ve been building our own structure around social media and how we’re using it. We saw the need to help educate as we were getting educated as well.”

 
 Supporting its customers with traditional marketing efforts, the distributor is now helping them stay on top of social media trends.
 

Knowing that social media is swiftly evolving and requires a strategy to tackle the various sites effectively, A.W. Hastings turned to outside experts to bring relevant and user-friendly information and resources to the table. “We brought in some experts in the social media realm so that our customers would get good information up front,” says Murray. “We started with realistic chunks that are most applicable to them and their businesses.”

The marketing team coordinated some day-long social media workshops, followed by a series of webinars on more targeted topics, to address the fundamentals in how to integrate social media into marketing plans. With expert speakers and take-home resources, Hastings and its customers ventured into new territory together and have seen the success of a growing social network. “It’s a way we’re adding value to them, which is our very core thing,” says Matlock. “It’s not just playing around on Facebook. There’s more to it than that.”

RELATIONSHIPS MATTER
As such a long-standing member of the New England community, A.W. Hastings has an extensive and impressive roster of charitable activities and corporate giving. “The many charitable events A.W. Hastings participates in offer ample opportunity for our employees and their families to gather in a spirit of camaraderie while supporting meaningful causes,” Matlock notes. “We plan to continue our commitment to making a difference in the communities where we live and work. It’s a Hastings tradition.”

Touching everything from building initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity and Project Homefront, to involvement with local schools, to corporate sponsorships of a wide range of important causes, A.W. Hastings approaches community involvement much in the same way that it does customer relationships. “It’s not dissimilar to our relationship with our customer,” explains Meekin. “We enjoy the positive interaction with our customers, and I think our employees, when they have an opportunity to give, they leave that interaction feeling good about themselves, the company they work for, and the people they helped.”

The focus on facilitating good partnerships with its manufacturer and customers positions A.W. Hastings in such a way that its team can look for diverse, creative ways to fulfill its simple goal. “Our vision statement is to make it easy to buy Marvin,” Matlock says. “Everything we do revolves around that. It’s all about what we can do to help our customers succeed. That’s our bottom line and that’s what we’re in it for. We look for any number of ways we can do it.”

The A.W. Hastings team has created its own definition for two-step distribution, and intends to position itself for continued success by looking for ways to evolve and change with the needs of the industry. “I think that’s definitely a part of our culture,” says DeLisle. “We are in constant evolution. When you don’t change, you become extinct. We are constantly challenging ourselves on whey we’re doing things and making sure that we’re not just doing things because it’s legacy, but doing things because they’re needed and wanted by our customers. It’s thoroughly embedded in our culture.”

"We think of our customers not so much as customers but as relationships built on reciprocity, honest dealing and loyalty," says Hoyt. "We are blessed at Hastings with top-notch people. I think in many cases, individual relationships between our people and our customers seal that loyalty. To a certain extent I think our customers do business with us not so much because of what we do, but because of who we are."

 

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.