October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10
By Ken Ryan
Founded just after the end of the Civil War in 1865, William M. Bird has survived wars, the great earthquake of 1886 and economic depressions. Today, it is thriving as the industry’s No. 7 flooring distributor with 2015 sales projected to be $149 million. Bird’s vision is to be the leading floor covering distributor in the South. From meager beginnings in Charleston, S.C., the distributor now has 12 locations covering 10 Southeastern states.
“It is humbling—to be honest with you—knowing how many companies came before us,” said Maybank Hagood, CEO of William M. Bird. His brother, Robert, serves as president.
Maybank Hagood said that when he looks back at the company’s legacy, he is most proud of the way his organization continues to focus its energy on the customer. “There has been so much change in our industry over the last 25 years and there is always a hill to climb. Staying focused on our customers has made a difference. I do believe our company’s DNA is our ability to respond to change.”
For example, in 1990 hardwood was less than 1% of Bird’s business. Today, wood is close to 50% of the business. When laminate was hot in the mid 1990s Bird was one of the first distributors to jump in, signing Pergo, then the biggest name in the category. Now that luxury vinyl tile is gaining popularity, Bird has made significant investments with Armstrong and Metroflor LVT, both on the residential and commercial sides.
William M. Bird’s mission statement comes down to five simple, yet meaningful, principles:
- We care about each other
- We play to win
- We play by the rules
- We believe respect is earned
- We do what we say
Hagood said the No. 1 principle—we care about each other—“is a tough one to put on your wall if you are not going to live it. We try to create an environment where people want to come to work.”
Today, William M. Bird is a blend of many long-term associates and young blood that has revitalized the team. In a survey conducted by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, Southern Diversified Distributors (Bird’s parent company) was voted the second best place to work in the state in the small- to mid-sized category.
Reliability plus relationships
Distribution is all about adding value to the supply chain. Some companies can do it by carrying the right products and delivering goods in a timely manner; others do it by developing relationships built on trust.
“Some larger distributors may have the reliability piece down but not the relationships; some smaller distributors may have the relationships part but not the reliability,” Hagood noted. “We feel as a regional distributor we can do both well. Reliability is absolutely critical. When a customer places an order with us that is the last time they have to think about that order until it arrives at their place of business. If they have to worry about the order before that then we are not adding value. So reliability is critical.”
Bird has adapted to changing product trends as well as to how technology has altered the business model. About 25% of Bird’s orders are processed online and 50% of customer inquiries are handled the same way. Bird was the first distributor in its region to consolidate customer service in one call center, and the first to employ a hub and spoke distribution model, intended to keep costs down by centralizing and integrating logistics through a system of receiving products from many different origins, consolidating them and sending them directly to their destinations.
The distributor has also developed three successful private label house brands and branched outside of the flooring market; 50 of its customers have non-flooring products.