They’re the names we know, the companies we’ve come to trust and rely on. They’ve also become giants in the industry, moving in gobbling up smaller, independently owned and operated businesses. This past holiday season, Amazon accounted for nearly one-third of all the Cyber Monday sales total while Walmart continues to see phenomenal growth for a thirteenth consecutive quarter.
So, how do you take on Goliath if you are nothing more than a David in your industry? Can you make an impact in a marketplace dominated by a billion-dollar behemoth? On this episode of CEO Exclusive, we talk disruption and niche strategizing with PBD Worldwide President and CEO Scott Dockter, as well as one of his GMs, Jan Jones. For them, it’s not about trying to go toe-to-toe with the juggernaut. Instead, they use technology and the need for value-added services to stay relevant.
But, as you know, progress starts at the top, works its way down through the organization and the staff, and finally, into the community. It’s not about matching your competition…it’s about being better than them. If you want to be more than the big boys, you literally have to be more. More focused. More polished. More professional, and perhaps most importantly, more willing to try new things and innovate.
Diversification plus Disruption
For many established companies, the attacks from mega-multinational corporations can be daunting. Even destructive. If you want to survive, you have to change. For Dockter, it’s about knowing what you’re good at and being better at it than others. “What we (at PBD) knew was that we needed to diversify,” he says, “we needed other services to support pick, pack, and ship.” For the former book distributor, it’s about being different. “Groups can come to us and get things they can’t get at Amazon,” he notes.
And what are those added benefits? “We already had a huge expertise in shipping stuff,” Jones adds. But they needed to expand the brand. “So just taking that a step further,” she says, “with really trying to go up into our client’s supply chain on the freight side and helping them better manage their inbound transportation spend.” That’s how the PBD division known as Freight Scouts came about. It’s just one of the many value-added offerings the company can claim.
“You have to do that through service,” Dockter explains, “you have to do that through niche offerings. You have to do that through human interaction.” For PBD (which stands for Professional Book Distributors, by the way), this means providing a level of customer satisfaction and attention that Amazon would like you to believe they have, but don’t. “It’s a great play within the logistics industry,” he says.
Take Tech Into Consideration
Things are changing rapidly in the commodities delivery game, and PBD is on top of the latest trends. “In the olden days, you could have a phone and maybe not even a computer and you could broker freight because it’s about relationships,” says Jones. But it’s all different now. The industry is abuzz with talk of driverless trucks, more efficient electric vehicles, and alternative shipping avenues like Uber Freight. Some claim it’s for the best – focusing on safety and productivity while reducing the “human factor.”
But for Dockter, it’s more than that. For him, it’s about streamlining vs. costs. “Automation,” he states, “continues to evolve. Amazon has done a really nice job with their facilities and streamlining processes with robotics.” But for a company like PBD, the cost of such upgrades is too great. For them, “having humans is still a better place,” Dockter adds, since they provide a hands-on approach without battering the bottom line. Even today, customers want that personal touch.
As disruptors, a company like PBD enjoys watching the occasional seismic shifts in the industry. From the integration of systems, to government interference, they have prepared for each contingency while constantly looking out for the next new challenge. Their goal is to stay ahead of the competition and continue to innovate. And how do they do this? “By talking about this stuff, “Dockter states. Discussions occur both inside the company, and most importantly, with clients. “We have a strategic planning meeting once a year,” he adds.
Always Listen to the Consumer
It is still a touchy-feely business for Dockter, and that means paying attention to the feedback the consumer gives them. “If you spend enough time with your clients, you’ll figure out that there are things they need and where they want to go,” he says. “That’s made us a better company.” Jones agrees. “One of the things we’ve done is we’ve hired well,” she states, pointing out that their staff is a carefully selected combination of individuals well versed in the shipping game, as well as newbies who have less experience but the right amount of enthusiasm and a true desire to change things.
But this doesn’t mean PBD has free reign to do whatever they want. In fact, there are new rules and regulations coming down from the Federal Government that need paying attention to. “There’s going to be a major shake-up in the truck driving world,” Jones says, with a new electronic logging requirement arriving in December. This crackdown will affect the number of hours a human driver can work, with data collection on this being done digitally. It’s an issue a company like PBD needs to prepare for.
But PBD is ready for the change. Dockter even has a plan for any displaced drivers. “Having an opportunity to bring them inside, if they can see themselves in that world,” he says, “they have an expertise that they can bring to us.” It’s just one of the ways they are continuing to improve, to think outside the box and bring new ideas to the table.
Pass Your Corporate Values Down Through the Generations
Clearly, PBD Worldwide is doing something right. Even in a highly competitive marketplace, they continue to see growth and new avenues for expansion. They pride themselves on their fun workplace and add incentives for employees (like kickball teams and gym memberships) to make their job more enjoyable. “There’s no playbook to tell you how to do that, or what to do,” Jones says, “It kind of happens organically.”
“Not everyone is the same,” Dockter points out, noting that divisions in Atlanta differ from those in Chicago or elsewhere. For him, it’s about “creating that environment and letting each one have the freedom to really run the business,” he says. There were a lot of mistakes, but everyone has grown because of it. They also do it by mixing the old with the new so that things don’t get stagnant.
It all goes back to the core principles set up by the company’s founders, Dockter’s parents. “They hired people who shared their values,” he points out, which helped them build a solid foundation which could be passed on. “I just hope that the next generation, or whoever takes over PBD, that we put them in a position with that heart and that desire.”
So, from pleasing the customer to listening specifically to their wants and needs, to finding those niches that can grow the business beyond the basics, this is one company that’s proving that disruption is good…very good. It creates a positive work environment, allows for greater innovation, and provides the necessary slingshot which gives this David the chance to take on the big-name Goliaths of the business world.