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I recently listened to a podcast called Planet Money. They do a brilliant job of discussing financial matters, ranging from global occurrences to the day-to-day concerns of entrepreneurs. One particular interview with fashion icon Kenneth Cole drew my attention. He described the importance of staying agile, relevant and profitable. Whether one is building an international fashion business or running the day-to-day operations of a family business, I think those are vital areas of focus.

As I look back to 2020, I think the key to success in all of these areas comes down to the relationships we have forged over the years with our employees, customers and our suppliers.

Let’s start with our employees. As we all know, a happy, productive employee is one that adds value to our organization day in and day out. Regardless of the size of your company, we all need to find a way to stay in close contact with our managers and employees. Nothing is as important as having a group of people who feel their concerns and ideas are heard and addressed. Not only are problems addressed in the early stages, but opportunities are also created as feedback is encouraged, acknowledged and acted upon. There is tremendous power to be unleashed when our employees are equipped with the resources they need to innovate in the workplace. A sense of urgency and ownership of outcome is a profoundly motivating force within any organization. And in uncertain times such as these, the bonds that can be cultivated with our employees goes a long way toward alleviating stress on every level.

This year, unlike past years, many of our customers are working from home or in situations that are wildly different from the past. Our ways of communication in may cases had to change. Here’s that million-dollar question…are we really understanding our customers’ current needs or simply assuming strategies that have worked in the past are still relevant? With business off from last year in many of our markets, we are asking, are we gaining market share? Are we engendering trust, establishing ourselves as “problem-solvers” and upping our services, saving our customer valuable time as we add value?

The one constant we all experience is the challenge to stay agile, anticipatory and preemptive in addressing customer needs. Having these deep relationships during the pandemic has paid off huge for our company. Hopefully, we all exit 2020 with our customer relationships strengthened, bonds forged under pressure and solid foundations built for the move forward.

With regard to our valued suppliers, when I put my “customer hat” on, I find the relationships have been handled differently with many of the suppliers because most supplier personnel are not traveling and Zoom meetings and conference calls have taken over as the way to communicate. An interesting observation from our point of view…some of our key suppliers are not adding the value or keeping in touch as we feel they should. I’m not sure why this is. Our expectations are not unreasonable. But those that are connecting are reaping the rewards. We have limited our spends to fewer suppliers again this year and the rewards are going to those suppliers that are asking the right questions, listening and following through effectively (and of course having sound programs in place with IMARK).

And finally, as we look ahead into the future, I would like to take a quick moment to thank the members of the IMARK staff at this time. This has been a very tough year for our members and suppliers and the team at IMARK headquarters has been extremely flexible and done everything in their power to support us all year.

A special word of thanks for Bob Smith who is now transitioning to retirement, having passed the IMARK Electrical leadership baton to Jerry Knight. Bob will remain on board and continue to support Jerry throughout 2021. Also, he will remain as CEO of the new IMARK Group, overseeing the electrical, plumbing and HVACR verticals as well as IM Supply. Let’s hope we can deliver a proper send off for Bob at our fall 2021 meeting.

As difficult as 2020 has been for many, times will get better. Thank you all for your kind emails throughout the past year, your questions and comments. IMARK is such an important part of our business and it’s critically important to support IMARK wherever possible through any and all of our programs.

May our families, friendships and businesses all be blessed with health and renewed sprit in the coming year!