Fond farewells: retiring after nearly 30 years at Do it Best, former president and CEO Mike McClelland offers some thoughts on the past, present, and future of the co-op landscape – ProWatch
Mike McClelland officially retired from Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based Do it Best Corp. on Aug. 1, after 28 years with the co-op and a decade serving as its president and CEO. Under his leadership, Do it Best doubled its volume to more than $2.2 billion in annual sales, welcomed 1,200-plus new businesses for a total of 4,350 members, and expanded its international presence to 42 countries. McClelland is now planning to relocate to South Carolina with his wife, where he will teach business management beginning this fall at Clemson University.
PROSALES: Do it Best has experienced extraordinary growth under your leadership. What ate some of the key factors that played into the co-op’s various achievements?
McClelland: I think simply the fact that we remembered that we area co-op–that we are here to serve the members that own us. When members contact us with needs, we have an obligation to meet those needs. They have a significant investment in our company, and we have a very strong obligation to give them a good return on that investment through each year’s rebate. In order to do that, we have to continue to be very efficient. We have to constantly look for ways to operate this company with the least amount of expense possible. And I know you hear this no matter who you talk with, but I cannot emphasize it enough–the quality of the staff that we have throughout the company, the focus, and the friendliness of our people–from the distribution centers to the corporate office–is what makes that possible.
PROSALES: Of which achievement/ accomplishment are you most proud?
McClelland: As I look back on the past decade at Do it Best, the first thing that comes to mind is how the company has had 25 percent growth in market share over the past five years when others in our industry were, at best, flat. Also, last year’s rebate of $87 million, which was not only the largest rebate in the history of our company, but also the largest rebate in the [history of the] industry.
PROSALES: What was the co-op’s most challenging moment while you were president and CEO?
McClelland: Probably in the past three to four years, the greatest challenge has been how to continue to bring in the number of new members that we have [continuously achieved], which has aver aged 250 to 300 each year. In addition, we need to make sure the conversion for them is as positive as it can be and, at the same time, ensure we don’t take our eyes off of meeting the needs of our existing members. There is always a tendency to get excited about new business and ignore old business. We just cannot allow that to happen.
Also, it is unbelievably harder to get a new member through the conversion process today than it was 30 years ago, mainly because of technology Almost every [new] member is on a [different] computer system, and converting the SKU numbers has become very technical. We have to continue to ensure that our people are up to that technical challenge.
PROSALES: What do you believe will fuel future growth opportunities for Do it Best?
McClelland: Consolidation and competition, in many respects, have been the things that have helped us grow. I can remember looking at the expressions on our members’ faces back in the 1980s when we asked them to consolidate all of their purchases through the co-op. They were definitely more interested in doing things the way that they had [done them in the past]. But as the industry has become more competitive, that has turned around, and more and more members are coming to us seeking out better ways to consolidate their purchasing through Do it Best. I think we are going to continue to see that. When you look at our members vs. others, I think that they are more entrepreneurial and more aggressive. As a result, they are going to playa very key role in our future growth.
PROSALES: What do you think are the future opportunities and challenges for the co-op landscape as a whole?
McClelland: As competitive as this industry is, I firmly believe that 70 percent of independent retailers today would be out of business if it were not for co-ops–and not just Do it Best. They have to belong to a co-op, because they have to have the profits of that distributor coming back to them, and they have to have programs like advertising, store design, and training, which I think are uniquely available through co-ops. We also have to work with vendors to make absolutely sure that they ate providing programs that will allow the stores to be in stock and competitive with the big boxes in our industry. We do need competitive pricing but, more importantly, we need access to product when we order it. If a vendor is not prepared to provide us with product when we need it, then we have to go to someone else to get it.
PROSALES: Bob Taylor, who took the reigns after you announced your retirement on January 1, 2002, is a current member of the Do it Best board of directors. What can you tell us about him?
McClelland: Our mission statement for the past 10 years has been to make the best even better. With Bob coming in, we have a true reflection of that mission. Whatever I have accomplished, I’m more excited about what Bob is going to accomplish. He is just a 10 on a one to 10 scale–I don’t know any other way to describe him.
PROSALES: Any parting thoughts?
McClelland: When I first started with the company in 1974, we had a man retiring in the first couple weeks I was there. I asked him if he had it to do all over again, would he? He smiled and said, “Mike, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Unlike almost any other industry, ours is made up mainly of very honest people, very sincere people, people who are dedicated to their communities.”
I can only echo his comments 30 years later. It is a great industry to have a career in. I will be coming to the Do it Best markets in the future, and I hope to catch up with everyone there.
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