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Stress-less business travel – what I’ve learned traveling with other industry pros

One aspect of my job that seems to raise curiosity from a lot of people, is spending a week or more traveling closely with business contacts that I do not know very well on a personal level. This is often in a different city, state, or country, each day traveling from retailer office to retailer office, spending 12-18 hours a day together. Having done these trips several times each year for over 20 years, I have learned plenty about people in general, and even more about the people who make their living in our DIY/ Home Improvement Industry.

It usually happens on the second day together of any one of these trips with a supplier… the question… “Have you ever had to travel with someone with a bad attitude?”

The stress of an intense week or so of travel and pioneering new markets, often multiple time changes and jet lag, can understandably burn the patience of almost anyone.

The absolute first thing I am always very happy to explain is that I am very lucky to be working in this industry. Perhaps it’s because people may change jobs but usually stay in the industry and maintain relationships. For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of people in Home Improvement are not afraid of working hard and they are usually polite, prompt and professional. Now, I’ve certainly had traveling companions that embody the “exception that proves the rule” but for the most part I’ve met great people, many of whom I can now call friends.

It’s not all by chance though. I’ve learned that the best tools to ensure a productive trip (even more so when you are in a different hotel every night) are experience and diligent planning to foresee and minimize or eliminate as many stressors as possible prior to departure.

Choosing hotels nearest to the next morning’s meeting is a big one. If we must get stuck in traffic or turned around, it’s best the night before while finding the hotel, not getting to the meetings. It’s also key to leave extra time for flights so that there is no need to rush a meeting with potential business in order to make a too tight flight schedule.

Another stressor is uncertainty. Letting people know our agenda, long before we depart – where we will be and when, and talking through any questions, can be very helpful here. I arrange all the hotels, flights, car rentals and I handle the driving so the supplier can focus on business.

It is also very important to be ready for the travel world to throw you a couple of curve balls and be able to laugh about them. While things like lost luggage are an inconvenience, it’s something that everyone can relate to… including buyers. If you have to show up in workout clothes to a meeting because it’s all you have that’s clean, it’s ok. Buyers will empathize. It’s a good ice breaker and a great excuse to be very comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I do pack an extra dress shirt in my carry-on for good measure, but sometimes it can take a few days to get your bag, especially when you’re on the move every day.

Securing orders also helps a lot. On that topic, we are fortunate and proud to have had over 75% of these suppliers secure new accounts as a result of these adventures over the last couple decades.

Of course, I’ve had a couple of traveling companions that stand out as, for the sake of political correctness, we’ll call them “less than ideal” to travel with. I’ve seen people blow up at restaurant wait staff, have an emotional breakdown in a sales meeting, refuse to help look for street signs in a car, try to go home mid-trip because they’re stressed, refuse to get on an airport shuttle (still don’t understand that one) and many more… but the reason these examples are memorable is because they are rare.

Whether it’s trying to catch an Uber in Chile, sorting out bad GPS directions in Ontario, getting stuck in traffic in Chicago, trying to find an open gas station after midnight in Germany or repacking a bag of samples for the 3rd time to make weight at the airport, my traveling companions have been great and I always look forward to the next adventure – helping the another supplier secure new business through our retail relationships.

This is the point where I get the second question… “So how am I doing so far”? See? Great people!

Best regards,
Steve Powell
President & CEO
Presidents Council

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Where in the world is Steve

  

Where in the world is Steve?

The streak continues… I have not missed a Hardware Fair (Eisenwarenmesse) in Cologne since my first in 1997. It remains the worlds largest DIY/Home Improvement Industry trade show and they industry show for the EUROPEAN market.
While the fair is every other year now, it continues to be an important meeting place for the industry and offers vendors from every corner of the world an opportunity to be seen by some of the worlds leading chain retailers as well as distributors and wholesalers from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

 

 

 

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Where in the world is Steve?

In somehow sunny Dublin today helping a Presidents Council member get introduced to United Hardware. They are a distributor to 120+ independent hardware stores in Ireland with annual turnover around 300 mil Euro.

I’ve been asked many times if hardware is in my blood… apparently, it may be true but I don’t believe I’m even a small part Irish.

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Where in the world is Steve?

You don’t expect it to be 94F in Germany. Life in a business suit can be uncomfortable without air conditioning. Not so for Germany’s DIY retailers this summer though. The low interest rates here are causing people to invest in their homes rather than putting money in the banks. Sales are strong.

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Where in the world is Steve?

Southern England today to introduce our Presidents Council member to the Kingfisher Group at the B&Q offices in Chandler’s Ford. Kingfisher is in the beginning stages of changing their purchasing from individual chain based to 90% group purchasing by 2020 for all the Kingfisher brands (B&Q, Castorama, etc.). All suppliers from Northern Europe and North America will be the responsibility of this U.K. office.

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Where in the world is Steve?

Just outside of Antwerp, Belgium today meeting with the Brico Alliance Group at the HUBO headquarters. Brico Alliance consists of 9 mid-size EUROPEAN DIY retailers from Iceland to Estonia and as far south as Morocco. Their combined annual sales are around 1.3 Billion Euro. Purchasing Directors from all the chains get together quarterly to discover new products and combine volume for more cost-efficient production runs from suppliers.

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Where in the world is Steve?

After a short morning flight, we find ourselves in Cologne, Germany today to meet with TOOM BAUMARKT after a quick bit of store research and a visit to the parking lot for an outstanding bratwurst. This woman had grill skills that could put the Lambeau Field tailgate to shame.

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Where in the world is Steve?

I’m in Berlin today at the 5th Annual Global DIY Summit. It looks to be around 1000 attendees mostly at the senior-level from companies across the supply chain from around the world (although heavily European). Topics include innovation and economic forecast but this year there is a new emphasis on political issues with the Brexit and US election receiving much attention.

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Where in the world is Steve?

Following a late flight and 2am hotel arrival, I woke up this morning, freezing cold, in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. After a great meeting with Bauhof (13 stores in Estonia), we had a chance to see the Christmas market in the old town. It seems about 1/3 of the stands were selling glogg but the sausages and sauerkraut dominated the smell in the air.

 

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Where in the world is Steve?

Guten Morgen!
We are in Mannheim Germany today to visit with BAUHAUS and talk BBQs. Bauhaus now has over 260 stores in 19 countries with the recent addition of Luxembourg. Afterward we made it to the airport in time for one last Pils and pretzel before boarding our flight to Estonia for tomorrow’s chapter in this week’s story.

 
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Where in the world is Steve?

Where in the world is Steve?
It’s a three-country day. We began in Antwerp, Belgium visiting our friends at Brico Alliance at the Hubo offices to discuss which of the nine-member organizations (small to mid-size EUROPEAN DIY retailers) will participate in a test market for a new vendor.

From there we drove to Amsterdam to meet with one of the logistics solutions that have helped Council members and discuss how they may handle spare parts, less than container quantities, customer service calls and B2C shipments for this supplier. Afterward, we made the long drive to Germany for tomorrow’s meeting.

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Where in the world is Steve?

I’m in Chandlers Ford, England today at the Kingfisher “mothership”. They are the largest DIY Group in Europe with chains such as B&Q (UK) and Castorama (France) and annual sales north of $11 Billion.

Having recently made to decision to reorganize purchasing under the Kingfisher banner and bring the entire group to 90% corporate-wide suppliers by 2020, they asked us to talk to them about how we may help identify innovative suppliers from North America which will now be handled through the U.K. office.

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Where in the world is Steve?

Steve is in the UK today helping a Council Member get the ball rolling with Screwfix (560 small format stores in the UK plus catalog and Internet. They are also part of the Kingfisher Group with B&Q and Castorama. When driving to their office in Yeovil, we passed right by Stonehenge.

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What you need to know about ADEO

ADEO is Europe’s largest DIY retailer with over 900 stores, several formats and operating under several banners including Leroy Merlin, Aki, Weldom and BricoMan.
Their 3 year old corporate headquarters is right out of the future. 1000 people work in the building, it uses no external heat or electricity and is nearly fully automated.

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Where in the world is Steve?

Today we are in Estonia. A small market of around 1.3 million people has a “homegrown” 13 store retailer that is part of the Brico Alliance Group. They operate a mix of big stores in populated areas and smaller stores in the rural. It’s an impressive store attached to the corporate headquarters – very large, big box format… with a coffee shop complete with a beer cooler!

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Where in the world is Steve?

Well, it took a good 30 seconds to figure out where I was waking up this morning but once the jet lag cobwebs cleared, I found myself in Wermelskirchen, Germany (home of OBI) beginning another week of meetings with a Presidents Council member and leading European DIY retailers.

OBI is Europe’s original Home Center. They added 60 stores in 3 weeks at the end of 2015 taking over many former BAUMAX locations in Austria. Today they are Germany’s largest DIY chain operating 589 stores in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Bosnia, Czech Republic, Russia and Switzerland with an annual turnover of around $5.3 Billion USD.

We head west this afternoon toward Belgium and France.

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Where in the world is Steve?

Together with our Council Member today finds us in Stockholm, Sweden meeting with BYGGMAX. They’re a very interesting retail operation. The store format is typical of a Pro Dealer but according to the purchasing director, 80% of their sales come from homeowners rather than contractors. Apparently, the Swedish people are perfectly comfortable taking on very large DIY projects themselves. He claims they can build their own house!

BYGGMAX operates 119 stores in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Annual revenue is around $420 Million USD.

I was really hoping for some parking lot Swedish meatballs or something but no such luck. Maybe it was way, way too cold!

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