Inspiring Views from the Bright SideSM
An Interview with Britt Tegeler
1. What are the goods/services offered by your primary business?
Tegeler Construction & Supply is a construction material supplier. We have three separate and synergistic divisions as follows:
- Projects Served: highways, bridges, sewer & sanitary, wastewater treatment plants, marine
- Infrastructure Products: lumber & related products, hardware, pipe & fittings, precast concrete, and other specialty products
- Projects: multifamily, office, warehouse, all commercial, schools, medical
- Building Products: lumber & related products, hardware, windows, interior & exterior doors, division 10/specialties
- Packaging Products: customized wood crates, customized pallets, ecorrcrate (wood alternative)
2. What did you launch in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
In the wake of the pandemic, we knew we had to respond to our customers' demand so job sites could stay active. Construction job sites placed requirements on the job before the official mandates were put into place by Governor Hogan; thus, we found ourselves a bit ahead of the curve. We connected with two pre-COVID uniform manufacturing partners (in New Jersey and California) who were suddenly out of work. Together, we produced the highest-quality, reusable, washable, 2-ply polyester masks on the market. In addition to the obvious protection and safety purposes of the masks, they have also served to extend and expand the great brands of our customers per unlimited design capabilities and our sublimation printing process. We are able to produce cost-effective, durable, custom masks with logos for our customers with small minimum requirements. To date, we have sold north of 25,000 custom masks and counting.
Additionally, per customer demand, we simultaneously entered into the thermometer world, concurrently selling no-touch, infrared thermometers that are FDA, FCC, and CE compliant. Temperature taking is required every morning on job sites and will soon become the norm at every business as we start to reopen. We knew finding compliant thermometers with a reasonable lead time was going to become increasingly more challenging. Although we always prefer to buy domestically, we knew the only way we could supply our customers with the thermometers in the time frame they needed them, was to import from overseas. This was my first personal experience with buying product from overseas and it came with both huge risk and financial commitment. Luckily, we successfully landed all the product in our warehouse, could fill our customer's immediate needs and came away with many valuable learned lessons.
3. What steps did you take to develop and promote your new initiative?
We took advantage of the fact that we are a small business and with that, comes the ability to move, adapt, and pivot quickly, unlike some other, bigger organizations. We listened to our customer's demand and without so much as a hesitation jumped into our new initiative head first. We are already in the supply business, so are systems are already in place for this type of initiative. Thus, no major changes needed to be made systematically.
The most critical piece in the process was leaning on and leaning into our partnerships so we could execute quickly. Our banking team at M&T was critical as we were required to pay for all inventory upfront. They helped us to access capital quickly, to successfully acquire a PPP loan, identified our blindspots, and communicated at rapid speeds. Much the same, our manufacturing partners, insurance company, and business partner (Arnold Packaging) were all instrumental partnerships that we were able to leverage and utilize to execute this initiative together, successfully.
4. What or who inspired you to undertake this effort?
There is only one answer to this, our customers.
Our job is to support our customers by whatever means necessary so they can continue to run at optimal levels at all times. They have a demand and our job is to supply it. As a supplier, we are the first segment of the chain and if we fail to deliver well and on time, the rest of the project gets affected all the way down the line. Much the same, if our customers do not have the proper PPE under these circumstances, work stops, job sites shut down, people are out of work, and critical infrastructure projects don't get completed when they need to. Our mission is always to develop long-lasting, fruitful partnerships.
5. What results have you seen so far from this initiative?
This is like our other initiatives before as it relates to results.
It's quite challenging to measure this on results as the goal isn't to sell more units to make a profit. In fact, the sooner our initiative is no longer needed, the better. It means we were a small part of a big measure that helped to keep our business community safe and healthy enough to continue to work and/or get back to work quickly and efficiently. I believe we have seen this as very few job sites shut down for more than a couple days, construction sites have stayed active, and new jobs continue to kick off. We are seeing a slight decline in the demand for products, which is also a good indication of the above-referenced.
6. How do you define success for your project?
It was 100% a success. Normally we would look at volume, sales, and profit margins (amongst other variables) to determine success, but there were different measures used here that were weighed more heavily. Mainly, were we able to provide as much value to our customers in a time when they needed it the most. The answer is "YES." The difficulty of problems you solve is directly correlated to the value you provide. We were able to provide a service to our customers that went unmatched. We know this because of customer feedback, repeat orders, and most importantly, on-going, uninterrupted work.
Although this required financial risk, I was able to do this in a calculated, measured manner so that it never put our financial position as a company in risk. We were able to accurately measure the demand and thus match our supply to it, so we could provide cost-effective solutions without ever compromising our financial stability.
Although this is a short-term initiative it is going to breed enhanced, stronger long-term partnerships that will serve us well in the future.
7. What are the biggest challenges for you to meet your goal?
My biggest goal here was to serve my customers' needs immediately. Time was a critical factor.
The largest challenge was predicting how much demand there would be and when it would hit.
As not to take any chances, we got out ahead of it (after a bit of a learning curve in the beginning), took a financially calculated risk, and proactively bought more inventory than we needed. It paid off as customers never had to wait to get what they needed to continue to work.
8. How long do you anticipate continuing this effort?
We will continue the effort as long as we need to.
If there is demand and need, we will continue to serve.
There is no deadline.
9. What have you learned by undertaking this project?
I have learned that:
- Strong partnerships are absolutely everything. They don't happen overnight. We've spent years cultivating and nurturing our war room partnerships. Every ounce of energy that is put into these relationships along the way will be worth it and there is no clearer indication and test of that than in the middle of a crisis.
- The human race is so incredibly resilient. We will bend, but will not break.
- My company can do anything and not because we know the most, but because we simply care enough to out-work anyone or anything. Sometimes you have to flat out-run it.