Powering the Construction Industry

Lance Bissett

Lance Bissett Limited is a wholesale distributor to the construction sector. The company specializes in automated power tools, collated nails, staples and associated accessories along with related full service. We spoke with the business owners, David Couling and Doug James; along with their Sales Manager, Neale Crombie, about this specialty business.

Lance Bissett Limited (LBL) was founded in 1929 by a man of the same name, who was granted the exclusive distributorship of Bostitch products in B.C. The company started humbly, providing staplers and stitchers. At that time, a handshake agreement was all that was necessary and that agreement lasted until 2001. It was then decided that LBL should expand its boundaries to include Alberta. As of 2003, a new agreement was signed which allowed it to trademark a product line of nails under the name Bissett Fasteners, enabling it to be more diversified in its product offerings.

In all businesses there are challenges, and one of the biggest for Lance Bissett is simple geography. The company operates from five locations in British Columbia and two in Alberta. “It is important to understand, from our perspective, the type of geography in the provinces of B.C. and Alberta – the demographics. This structures the type of business that we have,” explains Mr. Couling. “The province of B.C. occupies about ten percent of Canada’s landmass, which is 366,000 square miles. It is four times larger than Great Britain, two and a half times larger than Japan and larger than any other U.S. state except for Alaska.” The population of 4.4 million, scattered throughout the province, is surrounded by two major mountain ranges and a body of water. “So, B.C. is a very costly province to do business in.”

That hasn’t stopped the company from serving Western Canada as it operates under three distinct divisions. It sells to retailers – such as box stores and lumber yards; it sells to the large contractors in the multifamily housing construction industry; and it sells to industrial manufacturers and value-add wood producers.

A slow housing market also presents challenges to most companies that are in some way connected to construction. For LBL, however, its three sales areas mean that in a slow housing market it can turn to another division for sales. When one sector is down, typically another sector is up, so there will always be a market for its products.

Inventory management is an important facet of this business. As a warehouse distributor, Lance Bissett has to ensure it has the desired product available for its customers at all times. “If you know that a certain business is going to taper off or go away, we need to be sure of that in advance so that we can start to pare down our inventory. By analyzing the market and the number of years that we have been in business, there is a certain amount of inevitable product that will always be there. The secret is in not having too much.

“So, the greatest challenge for us is keeping ahead of the emerging market to see where the business is going to go in the future.” Recently the national building code of Canada changed, leading to new demands for different products. LBL has to have the stock to support these changes. This can be something as simple as new nails and staples that are to go into new buildings.

“We need to have expertise and foresight to be able to look into that crystal ball and see trends in the market.” LBL is three to five thousand miles from any manufacturing so it is crucial to have inventory at all of its locations that can support changing markets.

Though the geography of B.C. can be a challenge, it is also a gateway to the manufacturing powerhouse that is Asia and there is a tremendous inflow of product that comes from offshore. The company has built relationships with factories in China in order to offer its product lines and create products for resellers – a good portion of its business.

To complement its own product line of Bissett Fasteners, the company represents about thirty-five different manufacturers; each one has hundreds of different products and each company has its own niche market. The company carries lines from the Stanley Black and Decker Corp., Dewalt Power Tools, Stanley Hand Tools, Powers Fasteners, Bostitch, Bosch Power Tools, Samuel Strapping Systems, Bostik, 3M, Simpson Strong Tie, Max USA Corp. and others.

An association with Spectra-Physics enabled LBL to further diversify. The company’s lasers are used in bridge and road building, foundation building, flooring installation, concrete pouring, excavation, cabinet installation, and more.

Associations are only as good as the sales and servicing force behind them and Lance Bissett provides a full complement of service personnel and the necessary inventory of parts. “Anyone can buy product from Amazon.com. The challenge is in knowing if that product is the correct one for the application. So the value and service that we provide is consultative selling, partnership during the sales process and the follow up after the sale to make sure that it is the right product as well as trouble shooting any issues that may arise, and the servicing of that product.”

In order to make good on its promises, the sales and servicing teams need to be trained appropriately. As new hires come on board, LBL recognizes what training programs are needed to suit the individual’s specific needs given the sales channel it is in as well as the market it sells to. It sends people to professional selling courses and does product training seminars with the manufacturers. It will bring in its engineers or top professionals on a monthly basis to train its people to go out into the market and train either the re-seller or its sales people to recognize market niches to sell the product. It also belongs to a number of associations such as the Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association. In short, all the bases are covered, and all of the training and educational needs are provided for.

Some of the biggest successes have come through mentoring internally. Most of its sales people have been with the company for twenty years, its number one salesperson having started with the company in 1967. “We hire the best, we keep the brightest, and it’s been a very productive and prosperous business model for us.” Generally speaking people that are hired with LBL, retire with it, which is very unusual in the marketplace.

As to the future, “We are a conservative company. That is why we are successful. A lot of companies make the error of expanding and then realizing that they don’t have the capital. We want to move into a market and prove ourselves in order to be profitable. So we hire the right people at the right time for the right place.” The company’s latest expansion has been in Calgary where it has a warehouse facility. There it has an inside salesperson who also does the servicing, along with a seasoned outside sales representative. As that market grows, it expects growth right across western Canada.

Lance Bissett Ltd. has been in business for a long time. Unlike a host of other companies, it has learned how to move forward and expand without sacrificing its professionalism and sales acumen. With three divisions, it has made sure that, even during an economic downturn, the business is still on track to make a profit. Owner, Doug James, says that the company is summed up by its mission to strive for excellence in customer service and satisfaction as it promotes pneumatic fastening tools and fasteners. As industry leaders, Lance Bissett Ltd. is built on its reputation for servicing what it sells.

September 25, 2017, 4:40 PM EDT

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