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On Distribution Talk, we dive into the stories, struggles and solutions from interesting characters who have chosen to make a career in the distribution industry. My goal is to entertain, educate and inspire you through these brief conversations.  Thank you for visiting.  If you like what you hear, come visit us often. -Jason

Mar 24, 2021

“Pick the right system for yourself... At some point, you trust your judgment and whoever you’re working with that,’okay, this is gonna work.'” -AJ Maloney

AJ Maloney has weathered a lot of changes - as has the family business he once guided. While this former vice president of Coburn Supply in Beaumont, TX, may have passed the baton onto the 4th generation of leaders, he still has plenty of sage advice to share. Jason chats with AJ about sustaining multi-generational success, the perils of large-scale systems migration, and the importance of association membership. 

“The first rule that we’ve had when we hire a family member is that anybody we hire, we can fire.” That’s AJ laying down the company law. Being born into this family business doesn’t guarantee your spot. Instead, there’s an informal rule that family members can only join the ranks if they’ve pursued other professional options outside of the company.

It worked for AJ. The one-time math teacher and coach returned to Coburn after ten years in education. That time out in the “real world” bolstered his affinity for processes and pure data. “I guess I am a nerd,” he laughs. It’s a badge he can wear proudly, having successfully overseen the company’s transition from pen-and-paper orders to POS back in 1992.  

As Coburn has expanded (53 locations!), the scaling, integrating, and upgrading have continued. With growth, however, comes pain; the trick is to keep it to a minimum. A recent overhaul of the company’s warehouse management system proved trickier than AJ had hoped. “It’s worked well for us, [but] it was a difficult transition into it,” he admits. “The wheels came off the bus.”

Having clarity of vision and regional specialists in place made the difference; that upgrade transformed Coburn. AJ says any transition is a learning process; there are always tasks you wish you’d approached differently or challenges you wish you’d anticipated. Ultimately, he advises others to pick the system that works for their business rather than the flashiest tech because, once installed, “you have to get to a point where your employees trust the system.”

Coburn operates a vast network of sites, including multiple showrooms, distribution centers, and pipe yards. Setting an example for the next generation who’ll take over that large enterprise is important. AJ joined the American Supply Association’s advisory side to be of service to his fellow members and those rising in the ranks. He cites ASA as having helped broaden the experience of those in the industry, especially with programs geared toward emerging leaders. “I think they’ve done a great job of developing it and continuing to emphasize it.”  

Coburn’s future is in excellent hands thanks to the foundational values of its not-so-distant past.


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Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.   

This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.

Special thanks to our sponsor for this episode: HMI Performance Incentives, providing innovative, data-driven B2B incentive solutions.