With a new strategic plan in place, Johnstone Supply looks to establish itself as a leader in online resources and technology solutions for HVAC contractors.

Johnstone Supply is the leading cooperative wholesale distributor in the HVACR industry, with more than $1 billion in annual sales and more than 350 independently owned store locations across the U.S.

Wallace says the strengths of Johnstone Supply store owners are their knowledge of the local market, and their passion for serving HVAC contractors.

During an exclusive interview with ContractingBusiness.com editors, Johnstone Supply chief executive officer, DeWight Wallace, outlined some of the key elements in the distribution cooperative's strategic plan.

"We want to differentiate Johnstone Supply with a great value proposition for our customers. We're looking to add the value the customers need," Wallace says. "We want to provide outstanding service at our counters, to provide a breadth of products, and leverage the fact that we're a cooperative, with the power that brings to our customers."

Johnstone Supply will expand its service proposition by expanding the capabilities of its internal and external website. This year, Johnstone has made significant investments in data and online tools for its contractor customers. A working prototype of the data resource and new website was unveiled to store members at the Johnstone Supply annual sales meeting.

"There's a great opportunity to put an industry-leading website out there," Wallace says, "and leveraging technology at our counters is even more important. In the HVAC industry, there will always be that important relationship between the counter person and the contractor. At the touch of a button, our person at the counter can provide a rich supply of information that the contractor is looking for."

Ear to the Ground
Johnstone Supply's customer initiatives are based on information gathered during regional meetings with store owners, regarding contractor needs. The primary question: what would it take to improve Johnstone Supply's value proposition for HVAC contractors?

"We did this in five different regions, then brought the information back to the corporate headquarters to distill it down to the key initiatives," Wallace says. Additional feedback is gained through email surveys and in-store surveys. And, to put a face to its marketing efforts, Andrew Verey has been named vice president of sales and marketing, a new position for the cooperative. Verey came to Johnstone Supply from Rutland Tool & Supply of Whittier, CA, with wide-ranging experience in electronics and industrial distribution.

Wallace says Verey is bringing new energy and a new approach to Johnstone Supply's customer outreach.

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"When I was hired in 2010, our marketing was based on a product management approach. It basically involved working with vendors, and rolling out their programs to stores," Wallace explains. "We now have a very talented resource in Andrew. He's bringing a whole new approach to customer segmentation, understanding the needs of our customer base, and matching our sales and marketing propositions to those segments."

Verey's mission includes hosting regional roundtable meetings with residential, commercial, and commercial refrigeration contractors.

"He's asking them what they need from us, and how can we help them grow their businesses," Wallace explains. "Andrew has high energy, a solid knowledge of distribution, and a real thirst for learning about the industry. That's going to be a real win for us."

Wallace says Johnstone Supply's messaging β€” and his mission as a leader β€” is a two-fold challenge.

"We have two levels of customer. Our first customers are the store owners, and the ultimate customer is the contractor. I'm continuing to learn how to navigate through all of that, communicate effectively across the cooperative, and how to best meet the needs of the cooperative and the end customer," he says.

Wallace says the strengths of Johnstone Supply store owners are their knowledge of the local market, and their passion for serving HVAC contractors.

"You're not necessarily going to get that from a franchise model. Those are two things that I think are towering strengths of our member stores," he says.

A second round of contractor/customer roundtable meetings will be held later in 2011.

All in all, 2011 will be a year in which Johnstone Supply makes some significant changes in a relatively short time period.

"It's all about helping our members provide great solutions for the contractor," Wallace says. "That's what we're all about." β€” Terry McIver