It’s 4:06 AM. Why am I awake? Why do I feel so inflamed? Why am I so uneasy?
Oh, now I know. It’s the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. One year ago this week I returned from spending time snowmobiling with my brother in Yellowstone. One year ago next week I was in Texas working with a business friend that I’ve known for the past decade. I never anticipated we’d be friends, and I never thought I would have the chance to listen to Willie Nelson perform at the end of the Houston Rodeo. And while these things were happening I remember the growing murmurs of this coronavirus that eventually brought everything. To. A. Stop.
The last year has been the scariest business environment, in my opinion, even beating our memories of 9/11. That’s saying something. And, while being the most demanding 12 months I can remember, many of us have improved through this ‘testing by fire.’ And I am grateful for the experience.
A year ago, I could not envision walking around wearing a mask on my face. Last April I only did it begrudgingly. Now progress to last Saturday when I was at the local grocery store looking for potatoes. Suddenly, I realized that I had forgotten to wear my mask! My reaction was to become fleet-of-foot like a deer as I bounded to my truck to get a mask. (I hope the visual imagery is as humorous to you as it is to me.) How far we have come!
As I now sit here awake on COVID eve and I’m doing what I do on other eves like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s; I’m not only thinking back about the last twelve months, but I find myself thinking more about the next 12 months and what it will be like for all of us. I’m flush with thoughts of concern and optimism.
What is there to be concerned about? COVID-19 numbers are in decline while vaccines are available and being distributed. Segments of the market are surging. Well, while those things are true, never in my career have I seen such an overwhelming, general issue with shipping, inventories, and instability – all of which are affecting pricing. Previously I’ve talked about the issues with imports and transportation bottlenecks. Each month this issue becomes more aggravated with no clear resolution timeframe. Price continues to climb and lead times are getting pushed out. Desperation is hearing a manufacturer admit to paying 7 figures to fly a plane with materials to salvage business relationships. Add to that the fact that copper pricing has moved from $1.97 as of February 1st, 2020 to a level of $4.10 at the close of business on February 26th, 2021. Then you turn your head and consider that PVC 4-inch schedule 40 was about $120 per hundred feet last year and now is running about $425 for that same hundred feet today.
“With all that said, Bill, where is the optimism?” First, I’m an optimist at the level that my glass is not ½ full, it is ¾ full! It’s just more fun to live life that way. Take the concerns and look for opportunities and you can see that the world is flush with them! My first thought is taking our trouble-prone business environment and proving to the customer’s the depth of our can-do attitude. When we can’t find easy answers, we are going to look for creative answers. This kind of effort takes time, awareness, and knowledge of both the customer and the product to open doors to new answers where one didn’t exist before. We are not going to do this for our ego to say how good we are. No, we are going to do this because our customers deserve our best efforts. We may not be able to fix every problem but we will not idly let opportunities pass us by and let the customer suffer. And I encourage this same behavior from our manufacturers, distributors, and contractors. I even encourage this behavior from our competitors – try and keep up with us! Not because we are better than you, but because together we are going to make magic happen and find answers due to our grit, tenacity, and helpfulness! If that’s not exciting optimism, I don’t know what I can do for you! But it gets me pumped up just thinking about it!
With all this effort we are going to give, I think about the relationships we can forge more in the next twelve months the way we have the previous twelve! I’ve always told my team that it’s easy to take care of the customer when things are running smoothly. Right now, nothing is smooth in our industry, is it? Price increases sound like popcorn in the pan. Stockouts are a norm. Shipping issues occur as though every truck has slammed on the break 20 times between destinations. And all of this is ground for optimism, energy, and smiles on our faces.
It is now 5:48 AM. I’m smiling from ear-to-ear like the Cheshire cat. This is the time we – all of us – are here to prove our mettle. From my corner, I know I and my team are motivated to do this because we have been doing it. I can not thank them enough for their energy and ingenuity to take care of the customer. The time, energy, and stamina it takes at times. Beyond my team, the same efforts occur at our distributor partners and our manufacturers, as well. Please don’t think I overlook all you do with us! As I look to my left with our distributor partners and then look to my right with our manufacturers and then lock arms with my staff, how can you not see how the next twelve months are going to be anything less than wild? Exciting? Exceptional?
Thank you for trusting R/B Sales on a daily basis. The market has proved it isn’t going to go easy on us, so we are going to give it all we can. I hope you feel like we are pulling out the stops to help you be successful because your success is our success and we just love the challenge.