Chris Brackett is the Vice President of Operations & General Manager at C.W. Hayden, and he recently sat down with DCKAP’s Founder and CEO, Karthik Chidambaram. Their conversation spans through the incredible journey Chris has had within the company, into the mindset they hold on early adoption of technology, their most recent integration with Cloras to help connect their 3M Marketplace with Epicor P21, and more!
With their long standing experience in the distribution space, Chris explains how each decision they’ve made in order to continue to grow, and to not only follow the growth of technology but to stay ahead of it, signifies one of their greatest pillars of strength. The discussion epitomizes the benefits of digital transformation and highlights how important technology really is for future growth and why it’s so important that B2B distributors adapt to e-commerce in order to not get left behind.
Chris Brackett is the VP of Operations at C.W. Hayden, a third-generation family-owned Marine, Industrial and Safety Distributor based out of New England. In his current role, Chris runs the company’s day to day operations and is also leading the way in the company’s technology and digital transformations projects, including bringing on their first CRM (Salesforce), integrating it to their ERP system, going completely cloud base with Epicor P21, and upgrading their Magento website.
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Karthik: Chris. It's great to see you. And it's always great to talk to you.
Chris: Yeah, I thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to chat with you here today. I'm very excited about it.
Karthik: Can you tell us a little more about C.W. Hayden and your business, and how you got started with the company? And you have grown over the ranks and it's very impressive. Can you talk us through your journey and also about C.W. Hayden?
Chris: Yeah. So, C.W. Hayden is a third-generation owned family company. We're an industrial and safety supply distributor selling sandpaper tapes, adhesive safety supplies to, you know, primarily manufacturing. But we do also sell to some hospitals and some other types of facilities. Really, anybody who's willing to buy from us we will gladly sell to them.
I've been with the company [for] sixteen years. I started sixteen years ago actually working in our warehouse, picking orders, packing orders, doing deliveries. And over the years, I kind of just worked my way up through, you know, to marketing positions and inside sales positions, and outside sales positions. And, you know, today I find myself running all the day-to-day operations for the company. So, I've kind of experienced every angle of the business.
Karthik: That's very impressive Chris, starting from the bottom and, right at the warehouse, and going up to doing multiple things. Phenomenal, and very inspiring as well.
Talking about the distribution, you guys are also a 3M distributor, and you recently also started selling on the 3M marketplace. Can you talk about that? And can you talk about your 3M partnership?
Chris: Yeah. So, we've got a very close partnership with 3M. We're a platinum distributor. I think we're one of four or five in the country, and they represent a large percentage of our business.
They came to us about three or four months ago, as they had this idea about their marketplace. Think of it as 3M's own Amazon, so to speak. So, people can go to 3M.com, search for a product, they can buy it, but then they can choose who they wish to buy from. It's a new model. It's nothing we've really ever seen before from a manufacturer. You know, we had to build up integrations between the two systems so they could talk. That's where DCKAP came in.
You know, we've been live on it for about three weeks so far and it's, you know, it's worked great. It's been pretty seamless, you know, and they're just getting started. They're looking to expand, and we're already talking about expanding to some more products, but it's, it's good. And I think it really could be a platform for what's to come from other manufacturers as well.
Karthik: That's very interesting. And one thing I love about 3M is their ability to experiment and keep innovating and keep trying new things. And I'm really glad that you guys are ahead of the curve there.
And thanks also for being a DCKAP and a Cloras customer. We are really excited to be working with you. Can you talk about the integration piece of things, on how you're leveraging Cloras for the integration between the 3M marketplace and maybe your ERP, which is Prophet 21?
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, it's a... basically what has to happen is, we have Epicor Prophet 21 back end, um, and it has to be able to communicate with 3M’s backend system, which is a marketplace, an app called Mirakl. And we have to send data to Mirakl - inventory levels, pricing, you know, products, specific products that are eligible to be sold on there, because not all are. And then once the order hits, then the order information has to come back. You know, like the customer information, everything else so that we can then turn around and ship the product to the customer.
You know, it's been flawless so far. You know, I don't, I don't usually throw that word around. And you don't say that very often with integrations. A lot of times integrations, from my experience in the past, you get up and running and you're like, “Oh, hold on, this isn't working. That's not working.”
It's been incredibly seamless. And the Cloras platform is super user-friendly. I just, I keep an eye on things, maintain things, obviously any of the hard programming that stuff you guys handle. But, you know, I am able to log in there and see, make sure that things are flowing correctly. It's very intuitive and easy to use. It’s been great.
Karthik: Yeah, thank you for the great feedback, Chris. We are very excited with the Cloras platform because of the team behind it. And the platform is just as good as the team, and super excited working with our Cloras team.
And C.W. Hayden has always been an early adopter of technology and you always try new things. Can you talk us through the thought process behind that?
Chris: Yeah. You know, we're, uh, we're definitely a small business. And if you're, our kind of thought process philosophy, if you want to call it that, is if you wait for everyone else to do it then you're behind. It's easy for big companies to play catch up. It's hard for smaller companies to play catch up. So we do a lot, a lot of work with big companies. We see where they're kind of thinking and going and we just, we don't wait. We just kind of jump into it.
We've been on a Prophet 21 ERP system, you know, since the mid nineties. I think our current first computer software system we ever had was set up in the early eighties. At that point, you know, it wasn't very commonplace to have computers. It was more, I think, done with, you know, paper and pen and filing cabinets and, and all that sort of stuff.
You know, we've evolved technology over the years. Whether it's evolving our ERP system. In the early two thousands, we actually went to a digital filing cabinet. So to get rid of having 800 drawers of filing cabinets, that all got digitized back then. For our first website, I think we actually developed, it was just a static website, but it was in the, you know, later part of the nineties. Epicor offered their very first B2B website, (is what they called it) in probably 2003, 2004. We were one of the first adopters of that platform.
And then in the early 2000, uh, later part of the two thousands, Magento started to get very popular. Magento One. We had a custom integration created to go between Prophet 21 and our Magento website. We've actually upgraded our website twice since then, um, just to try and stay ahead of things.
You know, and that's just kind of our philosophy. We're a small company, but we're on Salesforce because we see the power of it. We've got an integration that connects into it as well. You know, a lot of small businesses our size, you know, they're trying to just get by on a free piece of software or an Excel spreadsheet. But there's benefits to technology. And if you're willing to invest in them, especially early on, you get your return pretty quick.
Karthik: That's some great advice for distributors out there, where you try different things. You talked about Salesforce and that's one of the early Prophet 21 customers for you with C.W. Hayden. So that's pretty cool.
And how do you see the future of the distribution industry changing with the advent of marketplaces?
Chris: I mean...
And what about the stand alone sites? Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. I think in a lot of cases, especially when we're dealing with large manufacturers such as 3M, I think the marketplaces could become a very important part of your business. I think that we're still in the infancy of it a little bit, and it's hard to say for sure how it's going to work out, but it's definitely promising.
In terms of your standalone sites, or like our own personally, I think there's always going to be a place for those. It'll be interesting to see how it develops over time with technology. Because, you know, our website, we process several hundred thousand dollars a month through it. A lot of it is existing customers who’ve used it as a tool to place their orders. And for us it's great because they placed it online, it goes through the system, done, prints in our warehouse, the guys ship it. As opposed to a customer calling in, placing the order over the phone, we have to enter it.
You know, for us, it's a huge tool, so I don't see those going away. It'll be interesting to see how they evolve, you know, as technology continues to evolve. And it's, it'll be a, it’ll be a fun ride, I think, over the next, you know, five to seven plus years as we kind of see what happens next.
If anything, the last couple of years has taught us that, if need be, technology can accelerate at paces we don't expect. So, I think it's gonna be, there's gonna be a lot of changes in the next handful of years, but I think there's gonna be a place for both of them as we move forward.
Karthik: Yeah. It's not one or the other. It's everything together.
Chris: Yeah, I think it’s, I think with technology it’s, you have to take a kind of a full cycle approach to it. If you kind of pigeonhole yourself and just say, “I'm just going to do marketplaces, or I'm just going to do a website, or I'm just going to do, you know, outside sales people, or just one of them.” You know, it's, I think you're going to pigeon hole yourself. The companies that can find a kind of a holistic approach to doing it all together, I think, are the ones that are really going to benefit in the years to come.
Karthik: What are your thoughts on Amazon? How does it help or affect your business?
Chris: So far, it's, we run into sporadic competition issues with it here and there, but it hasn't really affected us much from a B2B standpoint in terms of competition. Because every now and then customers can find, maybe, a product at a better price or they've got it, but it's not consistent.
The pricing doesn't say consistent. The availability's not always consistent. So, you know, and when they have an issue, when they have a problem, or they need help with a solution trying to figure how to, you know, stick two things together, or what's the best way to, you know, sand something down, Amazon doesn't help with those sorts of things. And that's where, that's where we come in and, you know, bring a personal touch to it.
As for selling on Amazon, uh, we've dabbled in it a little bit. It's a tough place to try and sell just because of the markets in the way everything works. But, you know, I think it’s, that's where 3M got the idea for the marketplace. And I think it's gonna, you're going to see more companies kind of build off of it as time moves on.
Karthik: And what advice would you give for other distributors watching this to improve their online presence?
Chris: Don't wait. You know, I think it's easy and it doesn't take very long to get left behind and then it gets really expensive. All at once to try and get, get caught back up. If you constantly are progressing and kind of building your way up, you know, the costs don't seem as astronomical as if you do nothing and then five years from now, you're like, “Oh, I got to have a new website. I gotta have it integrated. I gotta have this. I gotta have that.”
So, don't wait. I think there's definitely some people in our industry out there who think that. “Well, I've got outside sales guys. It's worked for 30, 40, 50 plus years. It's going to continue to work.” And they're content with that. You know, I think companies like that are gonna find themselves in trouble, you know, in the next decade or so if they don't start to evolve from a technological standpoint nowadays.
Karthik: Yeah, don’t wait is something that’s great advice.
Chris: A lot of companies that I, not even that I deal with, but like when I go to a product training or just different training things and I talk to them, you have a lot of distributors who in our roles kind of get themselves pigeonholed into one corner. And, you know, a lot of times the people at the top don't want to make changes because they say, “well, it's worked.”
It'll be, I think there's gonna be a lot of companies that may find themselves in trouble over the next, you know, 10, 15, 20 years because they don't adapt.
Karthik: And I always like to end with this question, Chris, what book are you reading right now?
Chris: So, typically I'm not a big book reader. I'm more of a, I guess we can call it an article reader. I'm always reading articles on our industry, technology-wise, just to try and figure out what's new, what's happening.
I did recently start reading a book called, “What the Heck is EOS?” It's about a management process. I’m early on in it, but, so far it’s a, it takes kind of the same approach as we just talked about with the integrations, but to the management process. Empowering your employees, basically to make the company better, but also make management's life easier as well.
Our IT company that we deal with, they're really big into it. It's like the core of their philosophy, so they recommended reading up on it. So, I've started doing that.
Karthik: That's awesome, Chris. I’m actually reading this book, “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama. And yeah, it's a really cool book and I got it at the Round Rock Texas public library. And it talks about teamwork and how he built a great team, which led him to the presidency.
But, yeah, it’s really cool.
Chris: Yeah. I think a lot of things you read, even the one, the book I'm reading, it's about teamwork. And if you can bring your group together so everyone's on the same page, operating in the same direction, I think that's a key for success with any business.
Karthik: That's a great way to end it, Chris. Teamwork works.
Thank you so much for joining us and it's been a pleasure having you. Thank you.
Chris: Alright. Thank you very much for having me.
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