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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

Feb 10, 2021

“I think there's plenty of conversations that can be had with competitors that are valuable and are productive - just not pricing.” -John Kelly

Oh, the allure of those big government contracts! Not so fast… John Kelly, Chief Corporate Officer of Jo-Kell, a shipboard electrical and industrial automation specialist, sits down with Jason to discuss the great and the not-so-good aspects of working with the federal government.

Jo-Kell has undoubtedly carved out a profitable niche for themselves with the US Navy. Still, as Jason learns, a lot of John’s success within the company is due to his participation in AHTD - the Association for High Technology Distribution. 

“Early on, I decided on Marty and Suzy because it was something that would make me stand out less,” John says, recalling the mundane but tricky situation every kid who’s grown up in the family business has had to address. “If I called them mom and dad, I'd be the different one.”

Choosing to stand out at holiday family gatherings rather than at the office has worked out well for John. Although Jo-Kell deal primarily in circuit breakers, they’re known extensively for an ability to source everything from sand to altars. Non-stock procurement is an underrated part of distribution but, as John points out, “There's a reason why [your customers] go to you for that, and there's a value to that.”

Before the Navy can ask for anything, their suppliers must meet layers of requisite processes and certifications. “Getting that set up and then, going through the audits every year and having not just our company's approved, [but] we have individual people that are approved to be these's a lot of work,” John says.

Contrary to popular opinion, that $500 toilet seat earmarked for a Navy destroyer isn’t the same as a $10 item at the local home store. Testing and traceability make up the cost differential - a lead most news stories miss in favor of a headline denouncing the high price tag. 

Over the years, however, John’s learned to take news cycle and government budgets in stride. No matter who’s in control in Washington there’s always s level of consternation when it comes to when and how much the Navy can spend. John says his energy is better spent on meeting performance benchmarks and overseeing an upcoming acquisition, his first-ever. He’s grateful to his fellow AHTD members - his competitors - for their wisdom and support.

“Everybody wants to see other people succeed,” he says, busting the myth that competitors can’t share best practices or help each other out.


John Kelly on LinkedIn


Jason Bader on LinkedIn

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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.