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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

Sep 22, 2021

Reports of massive employee turnover and dissatisfaction are everywhere––except at Stafford-Smith, Inc. Jason chats with David Stafford, third generation president and CEO of the Kalamazoo-based foodservice equipment distributor, about his company’s remarkable retention rate. With 19 locations across 11 states and an overwhelmingly Millennial workforce, Stafford-Smith’s culture of loyalty flourishes under David’s open-door policy, an office-wide environment of mutual respect, and a few well-timed pranks. “It's been a very good ride so far. We make money; we are very profitable. We work hard. [ ] I don't ask anybody ever to do anything I'm not willing to do myself or have not done.” Although David’s lead from the front style is a hallmark of successful privately-held distribution companies, it’s his repeated acknowledgement of team contributions that make him a standout in the industry.

Competitive by nature, David applies lessons learned from his college football days to business, preferring a team approach to execution and a coach’s mindset to decision-making. “It takes a village, and so we all need to do this together,” he says, referring to the pandemic-related challenges of the last 18 months. “But again, we also have another edict: business is not a democracy. There comes a time where somebody has to be the head coach, general manager, and owner.”

Access to the key decision maker lays the groundwork for job satisfaction and loyalty, regardless of an employee’s generational cohort. While many businesses are frantically trying to rework company culture issues exposed by the pandemic, Stafford-Smith is benefiting from well-established practices. “You see a lot of people having a hard time hiring people. Everybody came back to work for us,” David says with pride. Even the five employees (out of over 200) who wanted to retain wfh status were replaced within a week.

Stafford-Smith’s enviable position as a top-tier employer is one of the reasons they’re also exceptionally successful at acquisitions. For companies interested in pursuing an acquisition or greenfield startup, figuring out the perfect formula can seem daunting. David relies on data and his gut. “The formula is, really, I have to feel with these people what's going on. I gotta feel it's the right decision.” Again, he goes back to the importance of everyone involved, not only the bottom line. “You gotta make sure you handle it right, that you treat the people right,” he says, ever mindful that the new employees will assimilate into Stafford-Smith’s well-established ecosystem. 

Stafford-Smith’s gameplan for a post-COVID environment begins with the folks on the floor and ends on David’s doorstep––and his office is always open.



Check out Jason’s recent interview with Dirk Beveridge.




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: INxSQL Distribution Software, integrated distribution ERP software designed for the wholesale and distribution industry.