The How & Why of Building a Great Strategic Narrative
Andrew Walsh, President and CEO, Applicate Commerce
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Today’s guest is Andrew Walsh of Applicate Commerce.
As the president and CEO of Applicate, Andrew is at the helm of one of the biggest shifts in the company’s sixty-year history. The company—previously known as Paint Sundries Solutions—had stayed in their lane for decades as a distributor of applied architectural products.
But the rise of eCommerce started disrupting their linear supply chain, threatening the market share of brands and local retailers, and training consumers to increasingly demand more, better, faster, and cheaper.
So in 2021, they asked The Storied Future to help them craft a strategic narrative that would align their board, leadership, employees, suppliers, and customers toward an irresistible future defined by value creation, growth, and transformation.
In this episode, Chris and Andrew cover:
- The history of Applicate Commerce, and the challenges they faced with the rise of eCommerce
- Andrew’s experience as a teenager on the warehouse floor of Applicate that showed him the power of a cohesive narrative
- How Applicate worked with The Storied Future to create a strategic narrative to guide them and their stakeholders as the business evolved
- How the strategic narrative we built together is transforming their business
- Why operating from their values is a catalyst, not a constraint, for Applicate
And much more!
006: The How and Why of Building a Great Strategic Narrative w/ Andrew Walsh
Andrew Walsh 00:00
To the degree you care about achieving your strategy, you need to put that level of importance on developing your business narrative, because I won't pursue any strategy in the future without having the narrative clearly identified like we've done with The Storied Future.
Welcome to The Storied Future Podcast with Chris Hare, a show that provides the knowledge and inspiration C-suite leaders need to shift the future. Hear from experts, innovators, and purpose driven leaders who have harnessed the power of strategic narrative to create lasting change.
Chris Hare 00:33
Hi, and welcome to The Storied Future Podcast. I'm Chris Hare, and I'm glad you're here. Each episode I talk to C-suite leaders, experts, and innovators who've created strategic narratives that change minds, change behavior, and change the future. In this episode, I'm joined by one of my clients, Andrew Walsh, from Applicate Commerce. As the president and CEO of Applicate, Andrew is at the helm of one of the biggest shifts in the company's 60-year history. The company, previously known as Paint Sundries Solutions, had stayed in their lane for decades as a distributor of applied architectural products, and Andrew describes that really as every product that surrounds the paint category. But the rise of eCommerce was disrupting their historically linear supply chain, threatening the market share of brands as well as local retailers, and training consumers to increasingly demand more, better, faster and cheaper, which makes it even more challenging to win the sale. In response, Applicate shifted their strategy from their historical business model to launching their own eCommerce, helping brands manage the complexity of the 100-plus marketplaces that are out there, and to helping traditional retailers survive and thrive in an environment that's making it harder than ever to do so.
Every company reaches that moment where the path that got you to where you are won't take you to the future. Perhaps your industry has fundamentally shifted, maybe your customers’ buying habits have changed. Or perhaps you're going through digital transformation, experiencing channel disruption, or going through a roll-up. When that happens, you need a clearly defined strategic narrative that flows out of your values and your heritage, and acts as a center of gravity that draws your organization, your partners, and your customers towards an irresistible vision of the future, a vision that is defined by value creation, growth, and transformation. We recently chatted with Applicate’s SVP of Sales and Service, Shawn Fernandez, and he told us that “Our strategic narrative is a great tool for us to clearly articulate where we're going and why. It gives every member of our team the confidence to talk to our business partners in a clear, honest, and consistent manner.” This is a story of how we helped Applicate build that narrative. It's a rare opportunity to look under the hood and see what goes into building a strategic narrative, and to also see the impact that it can have across an organization. Let's dive in.
Andrew, thanks so much for joining The Storied Future Podcast.
Andrew Walsh 03:05
Good morning. Thank you, Chris. Super happy to be here with you this morning.
Chris Hare 03:09
To start out, if you could just give our audience an overview of your company and the market that you're in, and what you do at Applicate Commerce.
Andrew Walsh 03:18
Happy to. Yeah, so our business, Applicate Commerce, is a privately owned organization with our headquarters in the Seattle, Washington area. We've been in business for about 65 years. And we came to be a distribution company, like many others, after World War II, and was established where we were bringing national brands to local markets and communities. And over the years, grew as an organization to where now we serve customers in many markets and communities around the country. And we live within the paint category. So we are in applied architectural products. And we sell to around, you know, a few thousand customers around the country and purchase from a few hundred leading manufacturers. And I hang my hat in a town called Kirkland, Washington. And my role with the business is President and CEO.
Chris Hare 04:24
Awesome. Well, thank you. For you personally, I'd love to understand: Why paint? Why did you make the move into this field? And how did that come about?
Andrew Walsh 04:33
Right. Well, why paint? You know, like I mentioned, we actually, ironically, sell and distribute everything around the paint more so than paint itself. So it's all the products that a painter – whether it's a professional painter or a do-it-yourself-er – uses to complete a project. And so that's the lion's share of what we sell to our customers. And why the paint category? I don't exactly know. Our founder, his background actually was in real estate. But at some point, I would imagine through a relationship, he loaded up his trunk with an interior stain line and began selling that brand to customers in the Seattle area, and 65 years later, here we are. We're selling more than truckloads at this point, though.
Chris Hare 05:30
Hopping back in the way-back machine, how did you get your started Applicate? And how are you wired? And then how did that make the industry a fit for you in the company?
Andrew Walsh 05:39
You know, I think that I always enjoyed leading. And I think that desire helped me want to pursue opportunities where I could lead, and I think that that carries over to today. But how I joined the business is actually quite a story. You know, going back about 35 years ago, I had a paper route in my neighborhood. And so I would go along and deliver papers after school and on Sunday mornings. Well, in my neighborhood was a family that I was delivering their papers. And the gentleman asked me, after a year or so doing that, he said, Hey, what are you going to do when you turn 16? And I think I had some throwaway comment, like, Hey, I'm gonna play baseball, you know, I don't know what I'm doing. But he says, Well, you want to come and work in my warehouse when you get your driver's license? And so I said, Sure. And in between sport seasons I worked in that warehouse. I actually drove to the warehouse on my 16th birthday, after I got my driver's license and began working that day. And that warehouse is the same one that I still drive to today. My role is a little different, and I spend my time a little differently, but still part of the same team, and was fortunate enough to work up within the company, putting myself through college, and then I did leave for a couple of years for graduate school, but then returned. And yeah, I just was fortunate enough to be in the right place early on and made some relationships and friendships that have carried over. So that's how I started with the business and pretty fortunate.
Chris Hare 07:25
So it's pretty remarkable the number of folks and senior leadership at your company that started as teenagers or at a very young age. Why is that, do you think?
Andrew Walsh 07:36
Yeah, I think it's because there's a common value that we have among the members of our team, in that we really value relationships. We are relational people. I think the people that tend to stay here are those that enjoy not only developing, but strengthening and nurturing relationships built on trust. And in our business, in our industry, those types of relationships lead to economic or commercial success, too. And so when I look around at the people who have been with us for decades, we all seem to share that same value and enjoy that part of our work.
Chris Hare 08:28
That's so rare. I've seen that so few times. I know, at least years ago, Costco I think 90, 95% of their executive team started out pushing carts. But that is very rare. And it's a special thing. And it was cool to experience it when we work together.
Andrew Walsh 08:43
Yeah, there are a number of people in our leadership team that started out just like I did. And I've got a great story if I can share it, about the founder of our business. He passed away pretty early in his life, but I did overlap with him for a few years here and I had just started. I was maybe 16, 17 years old, and I was working in the warehouse sweeping floors and doing janitorial work and crushing cardboard and doing these tasks. And one day I was in the very back of our distribution center in Washington, and he walks back, and with real sincerely asked me what I'm doing. And I tell him, well, I'm using this rag to wipe off these five gallon canisters of stain, and I'm sweeping up the floor, and I'm doing XY and Z. And he spent, I'm gonna say, 15 minutes sharing with me how precisely what I was doing was helping the entire company be successful. Because in this example, if we ship product that doesn't have any dust on it to our customers, and it's not dented, and it looks great, that our customers are able to do well in their businesses. And they think of us as a well-run company. And if we clean up our space, like my janitorial work, then people who come to our company who want to, and are employed by us, they enjoy where they work, they feel good about where they work. And so he, in his way, spent about 15 minutes connecting for me how what I was doing at a entry level job was directly contributing to the collective success. And I was hooked. I was hooked. And I was empowered. And I was part of the team. And I don't think it's a coincidence that that happened. And I'm still here today, telling that story.
Chris Hare 10:57
I was really struck when you shared that story with me previously, as an outsider who doesn't work in distribution. It's easy to look at distribution as you take the thing, you pass it along, you distribute the thing, versus how do you wrap the value around that can of paint or stain or whatever it is, and increasingly wrap value around it through relationships, through insight, through all of the knowledge that you pass on to retailers, and in so many other ways, right?
Andrew Walsh 11:26
Yeah, no. Well said. And going back, you know, 50 years ago, and maybe even up to 25 years ago, our business – and I would say our industry – was very linear, right? We did what you just said. We buy it from a manufacturer in Wisconsin or Ohio or someplace, and in large quantities, and comes in a very linear way to our facility, and we distribute out to our customers. As technologies have evolved and opportunities have changed and challenges have changed, in large part driven by eCommerce, it's given us the opportunity to, like you said, evolve and change and grow our value in the supply chain, as both an opportunity and a requirement to continue to be successful. And I'm glad that that resonated with you because what we really do is wrap what we're doing with value-adding services. And those continue to evolve and change and demand that we be evolving and changing every day.
Chris Hare 12:43
Can you talk a little bit about the economics of what you do? I mean, my understanding is that margins are pretty thin. And so it would seem like, you know, I imagine there's room for people out there to cut corners to try and capture greater margin or take advantage of other folks, right? How do you all handle that challenge?
Andrew Walsh 13:06
Yeah, I think we're similar to most every business. Whatever your margin was on one day, you have pressure increasingly each day thereafter. And so I don't think we're dissimilar to many companies that way. But you're right, we are in a competitive space, and we're always challenged to make sure that we are adding real tangible value to our business partners. It's one of the great things about what technology has done for our business and for our business partners, because it's created multiple challenges but also multiple opportunities to help our business partners take advantage of things that they weren't able to take advantage of or pursue in years past. And so I feel like a lot of what we're doing – as you said, as margins are tighter and the competition is fierce – a lot of what we spend our time doing is evaluating ways in which we can work with our business partners to help them participate more fully in the opportunities that are available for them to thrive.
Chris Hare 14:28
I think one of the things that is both a challenge and exciting for me, in working with companies that are purpose-led and have really strong values, is not only are you constrained by the economic model out there, but you're further constrained in some ways by your values, right? And so what's cool is that creates a conflict of when you have an opportunity to do the wrong thing, but you choose not to, and that adds value. But then there also has to be, you also bring innovation to the table so that you can capture back more value, right? Or, as hopefully we'll get into a little bit later as well, looking for ways that you've established partnerships with people that were competitors before, right, so that you can serve the customer and continue to grow your business.
Andrew Walsh 15:21
Yeah, well said. And I think the only adjustment to what you said there in terms of values impacting our decision making is that you're correct, sometimes the fact that we are committed to work our darndest. I mean, we're not perfect, but we try really hard to do the right thing all the time, to keep our commitments, and to have integrity in our relationships and our behaviors and our work. You're right that that creates sometimes a near-term challenge. We are blessed to be able to look at situations every day with a long-term lens. And so in a wonderful way, if you look at the things you come across every day, the riddles you're trying to solve, the challenges you face. In the long term, our values are not a challenge but they're actually a huge catalyst for our business. We're not perfect people, we’re broken just like everybody else. But we sure try hard to do the right thing for the long-term. And we have the faith that that's going to generate opportunity and prosperity. And 65 years in we're still feeling pretty bullish.
Chris Hare 16:47
I'd love to now just kind of rewind to Q1 of last year when you gave me a call. And would love to understand, you know, you've alluded some to the challenge you were looking to solve. But what was it at that time? What were the pressures you were feeling? And what was the opportunity you were seeing as well? And why did strategic narrative seem like the answer?
Andrew Walsh 17:07
Yeah, and it's a great question, and I'm glad that we're going to spend some time on this. Because going back, let's say 10 years ago, it was obvious to us and everyone else that eCommerce was forever changing our supply chain, right? And so we began taking steps, a lot of them kind of back office, foundational steps. But then as it moved more to the front office and customer and partner facing steps to prepare our business to thrive in a world where eCommerce is so critical and so impactful. Fast forward to, let's say, 2018, 2019, you know, our strategies were really taking shape. And we came to the conclusion that we needed to change our business identity to support our business strategies and the investments we were making. So we did that. And we evolved our business name to Applicate Commerce, as a parent company for three business units that roll up to that organization. So we did that in 2018, 2019. And then obviously, 2020 was a unique year for all of us for so many challenging ways. But what led to our decision to engage with The Storied Future was because now that we had our business strategy clarified and really progressing, and we had our new identity defined as a business, we needed a narrative that was also aligned with those two things, so that we could be telling all of our external stakeholders and internal stakeholders, all of our partners, all of our customers, everyone in our business environment, the same story – the same story that supported not only what we were doing, but also clearly articulated our opinions and our value proposition and how we were moving forward. And we needed help in that regard. That's not something that in-house we had the skills and abilities to do. And so I reached out to another trusted partner of ours and he gave me the contact information for The Storied Future and I gave you a call.
Chris Hare 19:57
I'd love to understand a little bit about, you know, we spent a lot of time talking about channel conflict. And obviously, you made it clear from early on there are threats and opportunities for manufacturers, for you, and for your retail customers or your retailers. But with that, and with all the shifts that have happened with eCommerce that definitely creates channel conflict, which there are positives and negatives to that, right? If you're comfortable sharing what were some of those conflicts? And how did that impact the day-to-day for you?
Andrew Walsh 20:29
Yeah, absolutely. Well, again, this is where, in our business, we're very fortunate, because there's so many people who came before us in this company and spent decades building this organization that really has so many trusted partnerships. And so we came into this time of change, you know, largely driven by eCommerce and the evolution of eCommerce, we came into this space with relationships of trust. They really are so critical when you need to navigate changing times. And change is difficult for all of us. We’re fortunate because whether it's new technologies or new processes or new opportunities or new challenges, we had relationships that were strong. So that was a blessing. And then I would say that what we have really focused on in navigating what we call conflict (but really is just so much about change), we focused on honoring those members of our supply chain that are adding value, tangible value. What I mean by this is, you know, there are partners that are financing purchases, there are partners that have inventories locally, there are partners that have real expertise in product knowledge, there are partners that have real expertise in compliance and more legal matters. There are partners that have expertise in making extraordinary products. Those are the values we're talking about. It's tangible. And so we try really hard to honor and recognize in the supply chain those of our partners that are creating that value. And I feel like that's a true and consistent method for us to navigate these changing times. And I think it's been part of our success.
Chris Hare 22:34
Yeah, I love that shift from conflict to change. And I think that's part of, as we went through the process together, you were in it when we first started talking, and there were members of your team feeling that conflict from different stakeholders, different audiences, different partners, if you will. And it would be easy to then try and answer that by crafting a narrative that's defensive, or that just seeks to overwhelm. But ultimately, where we ended up was really saying, Hey, this is actually a shift that's going on in the world, right? It's a shift that is not driven by us. It's outside of us. It's impacting all of us. And we can either respond to that or not, right? And then it becomes, How do we solve that together for the ultimate customer who's going to buy? How do we all rally around manufacturers, distributor, and retailers? How do we all rally around that future we want to create for the customer as well as for ourselves?
Andrew Walsh 23:38
Correct. Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think that's one of the things that we certainly didn't want to have the audience left with after listening to our narrative is some kind of defensive position, because that's not how we feel, right? We're an optimistic group. And we're a confident group, not only in our business and each other, but also in our partners. And we ultimately found a narrative with The Storied Future’s help and guidance and expertise that told the good story, which is, Yes, there are challenges. There are threats to our business if we don't act. There's urgency, there's a need, we must act. And if we do, there's a lot of really exciting opportunities for growth for our business, for our partners, and it can be mutual.
Chris Hare 24:34
So when we got into, you know, we went through the entire process with gathering all the inputs from your business, talking to the different members of your team, learning about each of your different audiences, and then ultimately, landed on, in terms of kind of talking about the big shift or the big change that's happened in the world, that's driving all of this pain as well as opportunity, right? We named it the ‘supply chain revolution’. Can you talk a little bit about why that resonated with you? And then how that's landed with your team? And then your other audiences as well?
Andrew Walsh 25:10
Yeah, I think we had spent years talking about our strategies in a way that was comfortable for our audiences. And that's fine. But we got to a point where we needed to be more aggressive, and more clear. And we knew that if we, at the end of this, came up with a narrative that ultimately left people feeling like our business really hadn't changed that much, and we really didn't have a real urgency, that we would have missed the mark. We also concurrently wanted to make sure that what we were saying was truthful and candid and credible. So we had all these competing goals. It also had to be a little attention-grabbing, you know? We needed to make sure we were communicating an urgency to change because we believe that is true. So again, it was your team that came up with a couple of those different phrases, in this case, the ‘supply chain revolution’, which indicates to the audience, whomever that is, that revolution is not a passive comment. It's a bold statement. And that felt right to us to make sure we had everybody's attention both inside our company and outside, that we viewed the changes brought upon by eCommerce as driving real significant or revolutionary change in our supply chain. And the good news is that we're a company that can help our partners thrive through it. And so this narrative allows us to get to that next conversation, which is, Yes, this is all changing. Yes, it's revolutionary. Yes, it's a big deal. Good news, we're here to help you be more and more successful in the future.
Chris Hare 27:14
So when you talk about the supply chain revolution, you're constantly having conversations with manufacturers and with retailers, if you could kind of put yourself in their shoes in terms of how this revolution is impacting the brands, and some of the challenges they're trying to solve, and potentially fears as well as excitement about the future. And then the same for retailers as well, what does that look like for them?
Andrew Walsh 27:42
I think that's a difficult question to ask, I'm sorry, to answer. Because each of these businesses can be so different, right? We have some of our business partners who choose to and have very successful businesses, and aren't that invested or participating that much in eCommerce. And it seems to be working at this point for them. The same thing goes true for manufacturers. More of them, however, are finding some ways to participate in ways that make sense for them. So I think in answering your question, How is the supply chain revolution being viewed or being acted upon by a manufacturer or a retailer? I think the first answer is, it depends – it depends on who they are. And each one can be different. But I also think that what everyone recognizes is how the end user, whether that's a business, or it's a consumer, how they are shopping for, price-evaluating or price-comparing, how they are reading about, evaluating, considering all the way through their purchase decision, how they are doing that is very different today than it was 20 years ago. And so my expectation and my hope is that all of our partners are thinking about that in a way that's right for their businesses. And we feel like that's a bit about where we come in, because in a manufacturer’s perspective, we want to be the company who can help them achieve their goals and objectives. Same thing from our retail partners. Some of them are very aggressive from an eCommerce standpoint and very aggressive in that space. And we're working hard at helping them achieve their goals. Some are working hard to strengthen their business in the aisle with people who enjoy shopping in a brick-and-mortar fashion. And we're concurrently working hard to be the right partner for them in that space, too. I think they're all developing their own response to the supply chain revolution.
Chris Hare 30:15
So if our engagement was a movie, there was a span of probably five days or so where the tension built in the music. And there was some scariness. You know, Will the heroes make it through their journey? No, just kidding, right? No, it was when you said, Hey, we're gonna go, I'd love to just run this by our owner and get his perspective on it. That turned out to be, like, the results of that conversation were phenomenal and they got us to where we are. But my joke was just because, obviously, it was an intense conversation where he had some great feedback. And it also kind of pushed us right to where we needed to be. And so what I loved that he said, though, was, so we presented the three narrative territories to him. And I thought that we were being aggressive. And actually, I came across the notes the other day, and he said something to the effect of, “These narratives are just not aggressive enough. And our narrative needs to be so aggressive that 27 people in the industry think were genius, and 2000 think we're insane.” What was going through that process like for you? And then do you feel like we hit that bar that he was aiming for?
Andrew Walsh 31:33
Well, yeah, that's a great story. And I don't know if he meant those words to be literal. I can't speak to that. But he's certainly, you know, as our chairman of our business, I think he was just challenging us and empowering us to develop a narrative that supported our business moving forward. That can't effectively happen if you're being passive. If we want to be aggressive in our strategies, then we need to be aggressive in our narrative.
Chris Hare 32:08
Yeah, I think what was so cool coming out of that is, I mean, clearly, he's your owner, and he has, you know, an opinion and a strong voice. But it was also clear that he looks to you like, this is your narrative, you're owning this narrative, you're the CEO, and you make the call and make the decision because you're gonna be the one driving this out there. So that was, again, speaks to kind of the leadership and principles of the company over the long haul, right?
Andrew Walsh 32:31
Yeah, I think, I love that you said that. And I think that we work hard to be service-oriented people, right? So we're not a title company. There's not a whole lot of time spent worrying about titles and so forth, to just serve each other and serve our partners. In this case, that's, I think, what you felt there. He's working hard to support me, I'm working hard to support him, and, and we're all working hard to support the rest of us, and good things happen. And so we're fortunate to be in a team that operates that way. And I think is really important. In my role as president and CEO, you know, I feel strongly that this initiative in this area of our business, that it's important that I be the executive sponsor of it, and that I own it. And I would pause until you have that kind of executive sponsorship and that kind of buy in, because I think it's really important.
Chris Hare 33:41
Yeah, I'm so glad you said that. I've had some scenarios where the CEO doesn't own it, and have seen what happens when that's the case, right? The strategic narrative gets downgraded to a marketing message or a product messageor a campaign message, versus now this is what's driving the entire strategy of the business. Sure, it impacts marketing, but it impacts sales operations, finance, customer service, every piece of it, right, which is what the CEO owns.
Andrew Walsh 34:11
Correct. Yeah, you could say the same thing differently, which is you wouldn't have a corporate strategy that you're executing that wasn't owned by the CEO, or the president, or otherwise, you know, titled. And the narrative needs to be the storytelling in my opinion. In my words, the narrative needs to be a storytelling around that strategy. And so those two things in my mind are absolutely one and the same.
Chris Hare 34:45
So when you think about it, you know, it's definitely a challenge, but also a fun challenge, having three very different or four very different audiences, right? Excuse me, three: the employees, the brands or manufacturers, and then the retailers. So can you talk a little bit about, you know, we distilled down to, you know, so we had the big shift that's happened in the world, which is the supply chain revolution. But then we ultimately took people within the narrative to the phrase “Win the Cart” as kind of the thing that aligned all of them around this shared future. Can you talk a little bit about why we landed there? And then why this works?
Andrew Walsh 35:25
Right. Yeah, I think what I'll say is, you know, the exercise of developing this narrative, you and your team pull together the critical components, the boulders of story, that need to be told in this greater narrative. And that process in itself led us to a real clarity about output, right? What was going to happen at the end of this great story we were telling? And that ultimately for us, in our business, in what we do, came to the that phrase of “Win the Cart”, because for us, in a consumer packaged goods space, again within the paint category, these things ultimately end up in some cart somewhere. The goal for every manufacturer in our supply chain, every distributor, in this case us, or every retailer out there is to win that cart, the physical or the digital cart. If we can win more of those carts – by having the right product, the right price at the right time, in the right setting, explained the right way, described the right way, sold the right way – if we can do that, well, then all good things are gonna happen. And if we miss that, if we were a little bit slow, or we were a little bit unclear, or we were a little bit left or right, well, then we missed it. And so for us, “Win the Cart” was a great clarity of goal that everybody in our supply chain can agree to rally around and agree to work toward. So our narrative begins a lot with our opinions about the world and what's caused the world to be the way that is, and then our choices as a company in response to that world, and then largely ends with taking the audience to a future that is prosperous, and sustainable, and exciting. And “Win the Cart” is a great way to explain in a very tangible, tactical way how that looks.
Chris Hare 38:01
Yeah, and I love how, I mean, there's so much drama wrapped up in that fraction of a second that you have to capture that person's attention, right? Of, you know, I'm walking through the hardware store, and a color or a display or something may grab me or I may just keep walking, right? Or the same thing in eCommerce, like if the product detail page isn't built correctly, or the brand isn't represented correctly in that marketplace, I may just pass right on by, right? And so I love the conflict and the drama, or just the drama that that kind of fraction of a second creates.
Andrew Walsh 38:39
Correct. Correct. And so much happens leading up to that, right? The first thing is, did you drive to a location or did you pick up your phone and get on some electronic device? That's the first decision that somebody's making is how they physically got to the display, if you will, the digital display or the actual display. And you're right, it takes them right through that process. And that's, again, going back to the value contribution in the supply chain. It's fun for us to help our partners be successful wherever they want to participate in that value contribution, which leads that person or people to making the buying decision that's right for them that day.
Chris Hare 39:29
How has the narrative landed with folks as you've taken it on the road, both internally and externally?
Andrew Walsh 39:36
Yeah, so it's landed very well. The feedback has been really positive, you know, kind of in every audience. I think one of the things that I've been encouraged by and reminded of through this process is how impactful clarity of communication is, right? And we all work really hard to be good communicators every day. But it's hard. It's hard. And when you have complex topics or complex matters, it's even more difficult. Well, this exercise with The Storied Future helped us to just be better at communicating this very complex thing called, Where are we today and where are we going tomorrow? And in a way that resonates and is credible and accurate and truthful to all of our audiences. And I'll also say then, that a big part of, I think, a company's success or a group success is tied more so to a company's culture, or people, or relationships, sometimes more so than the actual quality of the strategy itself. I mean, it helps to have a good strategy, no doubt about it. But also say, this process allowed for what I think is a strength of our company, being our culture and our relationships and our discipline, to work it hard to be a value adding partner. I think all of that really allowed for this narrative to come to life. So when we tell this story to our business partners, or to our employees, or to anyone who's listening, I think that it's more so about clarity of message and alignment with our business, then being 100% perfect on the strategy. And I think that that's worked really well for our business, and it's resonated so far, very well with our business partners.
Chris Hare 41:54
Can you play out what would happen if you didn't have a clear – let’s just take someone that's working in the warehouse. So let's rewind to Andrew working in the warehouse as a teenager, and into your early 20s. If there wasn't, you know, a clear narrative, how does that practically play out in different parts of business? Clearly, I understand how it impacts retailers and manufacturers, but how does that impact people within the business to not have that narrative?
Andrew Walsh 42:20
It's a great question. And it's personal to me. I think that everybody is a little different in this regard, in terms of how important the vision is to them working for a company or for a team. I know for me, maybe to a fault, I like to know everything about where I'm going and what I'm doing before I even take the first step. I can even disagree with some of it if I need to. But I really love clarity of vision. And I don't think I'm alone in that. And so I think, for somebody who's working in one of our distribution centers, or in one of our offices, or is in the field working with some of our customers, I think that just because I'm putting myself in the same shoes, that to have clarity about our story, where we came from, what our thoughts are and our opinions are, and what our intent is moving forward, I think that is something that makes them want to work for our company, to stay with our company, if it's a compelling story and something that they get behind. And if somebody doesn't agree with it, or isn't inspired by it, then they would quickly make a decision to go someplace else. But it creates alignment between the people who are making our company go and where we're going.
Chris Hare 43:50
Can you take me back to last fall, late summer, in the fall when you're kind of going around and pitching your narrative to different brands? Is there a story that jumps to mind in terms of, you know, some of the feedback that you got on it?
Andrew Walsh 44:04
I will say that one story that was funny, it was a sidebar after a meeting with one of our important manufacturers, where the feedback was that our narrative was an in-your-face, exciting position, about what we need to do next. And it was precisely what they needed to hear. And so that was very encouraging. I was encouraged by it, because like we said at the beginning, we're trying to be more declarative, and be more bold purposefully, because we want to be a change agent in our industry, and we think we have the chops to do it. We think we have the credibility to do it. We think we have the beginnings of some real exciting times ahead with our business partners.
Chris Hare 44:58
If there's a CEO that's on the fence about kind of pursuing the path of strategic narrative, what would you what would you tell them?
Andrew Walsh 45:06
Yeah, so one, you know, we had a great experience with The Storied Future. And it wasn't because it was easy. It wasn't because every day was without challenge and without hard work. Obviously, I called you because I thought we had a need, I thought we had a need to be able to communicate our strategies and objectives more clearly. to all of our stakeholders. There was a deficiency in our ability to talk effectively about our strategies. And so I would say this to anybody who's pursuing the same line of thinking, especially if it's the more complicated business strategies or a more complicated story to tell. I would say that, to the degree you care about achieving your strategy, you need to put that level of importance on developing your business narrative, because I won't do it – pursue any strategy in the future - without having the narrative clearly identified like we've done with The Storied Future. I feel like it's not only the right decision, but frankly has already proven, but will continue to be, a real catalyst that helps us achieve our business strategies, and is absolutely symbiotic with the efforts that we invest in our business every day to achieve our goals. So that along with the importance of executive sponsorship, and owning it oneself for the CEO, I would say that would be my guidance and my feedback.
Chris Hare 46:45
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Andrew. I really appreciate your generosity with your time and your insights. But really, thank you so much.
Andrew Walsh 46:53
I enjoyed this, Chris. And again, appreciate the time and the consideration and the opportunity to share our story.
Chris Hare 47:00
I got into this business because I love seeing change, true and lasting change. And it's thrilling to see a traditional company like Applicate using strategic narrative to transform the future of their company. Great narratives have no shortage of conflict. And if you're in the middle of invention, transformation, disruption, M&A, or channel conflict, you don't have to look far to find it, and how you handle that conflict can make or break the validity and the trustworthiness of your narrative. For a distributor like Applicate with strong values, their values anchor them as they manage through conflict. And the way that they manage through conflict tells a story more powerful than any marketing campaign ever could. Take their margins for example. They could cut corners to capture more dollars, for example scrapping their commitment to pricing integrity, but they don't. Instead, they maintain their values and seek to wrap more value around their products and their services, and they innovate their way to growth in a way that serves everyone along the supply chain.
What about you? Does your company have a clearly defined narrative that aligns everyone from the buyer to the boardroom? If not, please reach out. I'd be happy to chat with you, share some additional resources including our latest eBook that dives deeper into Andrew and Applicate’s story, and help you explore how you can get started. And that's it. Until next week. Thank you for joining the Storied Future Podcast. Please subscribe, leave us a review, and be sure to visit TSFpod.com for information about Andrew and Applicate Commerce, Show Notes, and to check out other episodes.
The Storied Future Podcast is a production of The Storied Future, LLC, produced and edited by Ray Sylvester, audio engineering by Ali Özbay, logo design by Evan MacDonald, theme music by The Brewz. Your host is me, Chris Hare. Learn more about our work helping leaders create great B2B narratives for a change at www.thestoriedfuture.com.
Andrew was appointed President and CEO of Applicate Commerce in January 2021, having previously served as the company’s President and COO since December of 2007. Applicate Commerce is the parent company of PSS, Paint Supply, and Applicate Services. Andrew earned a B.A. from the University of Washington and an M.B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. He first joined the company when he was sixteen years old, working as a warehouseman in its Kirkland, WA, distribution center. A few decades later, following graduate school and several years as an IT consultant with a leading firm on the East Coast, Andrew returned to Applicate Commerce in December of 2006 as Sr. Vice President and CIO. Andrew has significant leadership experience in M&A integration, corporate change management, and continuous process improvement. He makes his home in the Seattle area with his wife, Danielle, and their four children.