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The Business of People in Building Products

If your company values talk about your people, then this is an episode you don’t want to miss. We’re looking at why the key to turning any company around starts with people, as well as the number one way to get them to perform for you.

January 13th, 2020



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The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Hugh Hornsby, a self-described turnaround artist who brings a very personal touch to getting companies back on their feet and growing at incredible rates.

The Business of People in Building Products

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Hugh Hornsby is currently the VP of Sales and Marketing at Everflow Supplies, but he’s worked in the plumbing wholesale industry for nearly 30 years. Today, he’s the guy companies reach out to when they’re looking to turn business around or scale up from a regional presence to a national one.

“It's something that I have done with a lot of different companies in different ways. With Everflow, this is probably a little bit bigger than what I've done in the past. I really felt like this was an opportunity for me to give back to not only my industry but to the people coming into the industry to participate and become a bigger part at a pretty young age,” says Hugh.

Every industry has its challenges, and Hugh points to aging demographics as one of the big ones facing plumbing: “We're a very aging industry. When people come out of college, they're not looking to go to work in the plumbing industry. They're typically looking at other industries that just are much more attractive to them.”

"I would want to open up opportunities for people at a much younger age."

In fact, Hugh is so passionate about bringing new blood into the industry, he made it one of the terms of his employment at Everflow. “I sat down with the CEO and told him that I would want to open up opportunities for people at a much younger age to come into the industry and have me help mentor them and coach them and build the business.”

Beth is impressed: “What did he say to that?”

But Hugh’s answer is simple. “Well, I've hired 10 this year.” And he’s training and mentoring every single one himself.

Counting People More Than Numbers

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Zach says, “You've got a track record of just taking over companies and building tremendously from a growth standpoint. Can you talk to me a little bit about your goals in how you're aiming to see that kind of growth in the business?”

Hugh admits his beginnings weren’t quite as auspicious as where he is today. From a teacher who pushed him toward remedial classes to college fraternities who didn’t think he’d be around long enough to make an impact, he’s had to make his own success, even when others said he couldn’t.

“I ended up starting my own fraternity, and it was pretty exciting. I had to figure out a way of surrounding myself with great people. And in a lot of cases, I surrounded myself with people that nobody else wanted. I went on campus, built this fraternity, and by the time I left, it was the largest fraternity on campus.”

But Hugh views his success not just in the numbers. “As proud as I am of that, what I figured out at that time was that it really wasn't about me. It was about finding them and finding out what was important to them to build the fraternity.” That strategy is what he used to turn around nine companies, as well as build his own businesses.

Still, he admits it can be hard to balance growth and people. “The larger you get, the more businesses just want you to perform for them. And obviously performance is extremely important. But the whole idea is for me to put people in positions that they can either become the next vice president within our industry or find positions that they can go to and move forward.”

By investing in people, Hugh says not only do businesses promote growth within their own companies, but they promote loyalty even when those people move on to other jobs. He even goes so far as to say he doesn’t get employees to sign non-competes. He believes the loyalty that comes from not punishing if they leave is far more valuable.

“I've got senior vice presidents all over our industry today that started with me. The last thing I want to do is make somebody come and work for me, and then get caught up where they can't go to where they need to be.”

Beth says this answer is probably unconventional. “I think that's an answer that probably nobody would have you to give to ‘How do you grow a national company?’ And you basically start by investing in people that have no building materials background? There's no answer that I think could be more surprising.”

Navigating Uncharted Waters

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While Hugh’s success begins with people, moving from a successful regional presence to a solid national brand is no easy feat for anyone.

Zach asks, “What unforeseen challenges have you helped manufacturers overcome as they're moving from a local footprint to a national footprint?”

Visibility is one of the main challenges Hugh sees. “I think one of the hardest things that I've found for most manufacturers is that they're very well known in those local markets that they're in and yet they're not known anywhere else.”

Too often marketers think the solution might be to gain some visibility through advertising, either online or in print, but manufacturers moving into new markets need to know what it is that's important to the customer base they're going out see.

"The biggest advantage I have is that my competitors don't know who we are."

But it’s not always bad news. As Hugh puts it, “The biggest challenge I have is that people don't know who we are. And the biggest advantage I have is that my competitors don't know who we are.”

He likens Everflow’s push into national markets like a surprise attack. “I want people to wake up someday and say, ‘Where in the heck these guys come from?’”

Zach wants to know about the sneak attack secret sauce. “Is it digital? Is it that you have a massive footprint from a sales standpoint? Are you improving your distribution and dealer network? What are you doing that's unique?”

The Everflow sales team works hard to reach out to markets and customers who are being underserved by Everflow competitors. He says manufacturers live and die on the commitment of their sales reps.

“When they go to bed at night, they think about our product line and what we're going to do. And when they get up in the morning, they're selling our products. It becomes a team partnership. A lot of those reps have great relationships within the marketplaces, so they can take us into some places that would be difficult to go, and we'll take them into places where they're just not going to hit.”

“We're up about 40% this year. And I've hired people outside of the industry. They don't understand anything about our product, but what they are is really good people with a very strong business acumen. And that's been one of the things that I think has really changed and really been a benefit for us.”

Succeeding Through Risk and Failure

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As Zach sees it, one of the unique things that Hugh brings to work is his mentality on risk and failure.

Zach says, “If we think about modern business culture, we talk about risk and we talk about failure, but to actually invite it into your organization and be okay with it, that feels very scary.”

Hugh sees failure as a necessary part of innovation and growth. “If you're not failing, then you're not pushing yourself to the point that where you really want to go. Failure is what has taught me everything about my life. If you want to play it safe, then you're probably going to be playing a safe life.”

He acknowledges failure is part of the process, and it’s not comfortable for everyone, but for small- and medium-sized businesses who have been operating one way for their entire history, it’s often the only chance to achieve real growth.

“A lot of times those risks are not as difficult as you think, but if you think it's going to be easy, it's not, and if you think you're not going to fail, you are.”

The key is to have people all invested in working toward a common goal, who can see that failure as part of the process and a means toward growth.

“If you have a lot of people working together, going in the right direction, failure is something that's really not failure. It's, ‘Okay. All right, I fell short. Let's figure it out. Let's do something just a little bit differently this time and let's, let's go at it this way.’”

Hugh also sees the fear of failure as one of the reasons people get stuck in their jobs, which is a great way to stagnate both personal and business growth. “The worst thing to ever happen to anybody is to feel like you're stuck. I cannot even imagine being that miserable in a job and you don't say, ‘Okay, I need to take a step out and do something else.’”

Fear of failure can hold people back, but with a clear goal in mind, Hugh believes people can find meaningful work and play a critical role in business growth. And for those who don’t have a clear vision, or don’t feel they can make a big transition today, he advises smaller steps to start with.

“If you're looking to be a leader, you can start leading from where you are right now, right from that seat, from where you are. And if you just open the door for somebody on the way out, believe me, it all comes together."

Succeeding Through Leadership

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Beth sees this feeling of stuckness in a lot of teams, and sales teams in particular. “What advice would you give to a leader who sees that their team or certain team members are unengaged, burnt out, feeling stuck?”

For Hugh, the hardest thing to do is to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. And he reminds Zach and Beth of the Jim Roan belief that we’re all an average of the five people we are closest to. For leaders, he can’t overstate the importance of active listening.

“It's easy for a VP or whatever it is to come in and try to fix things when really all their team wants to do is just share the way they feel and kind of let it all out and know that you do care.” He works hard to listen carefully and help his staff work through their frustrations and know that he really did hear them.

“That to me is something that does not come natural for a lot of people, but it's something I've been working on to make sure I'm listening and not just trying to fix everybody's problems.”

"“If you want people to follow you, all you have to do is help them understand that you care about them as much as they care about themselves."

So often leadership isn’t about strategic direction or sales targets. It’s much, much simpler.

Zach says, “If you want people to follow you, all you have to do is help them understand that you care about them as much as they care about themselves. If you can do that, if you can let somebody know that you would fall on your sword for them, they'll follow you anywhere. If you've got their back, they'll go jump off a cliff and thank you for it.”

Hugh sees this too. His team has to believe he has their back. “It's funny, you know, in business nobody really wants to talk about caring. I think that's what business is really about today, is caring not only for the people that work for you but the people you do business with and everybody else that you associate with.”

Got a Question?

Get in touch with Hugh by text at (804) 441-4425 or by email. You can read his articles in Forbes Magazine here.

If you have questions about how to grow your business through your people, let us know! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with all of your questions.

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