If I go out with the intention of helping others with their businesses or careers, then plenty of good things happen for me and I don’t need to worry about it. It’s the source of all my leads and recruiting.
Bob Klunk is the director of fulfillment services at Distribution Management, Inc. Bob has 24 years of experience in engineering, manufacturing, distribution and business development. He has served as director of operations and vice president of engineering at a major international third-party logistics provider, where he enabled clients to leverage outsourced fulfillment and distribution as a competitive advantage. Bob became fascinated with the field when he was director of distribution for an international manufacturing company, where service levels improved and costs dropped as a result of implementing a third-party logistics solution. He especially enjoys working directly with clients to solve problems, allowing them to improve operations and better serve their customers. He is a member of prominent industry trade associations, including WERC, IWLA and CSCMP, and has served on the board at the Center for Supply Chain Management Studies at St. Louis University. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and is a guest lecturer at John Cook School of Business at St. Louis University. Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign.
What are you working on right now?
We’re providing fulfillment services for three startups that are launching new brands. It’s a wild, exciting time. All these companies need end-to-end supply chain services, so we’re involved in the service that DMI provides and also advise on best practices. A big part of that is leveraging a network of great people who are the best at what they do. It’s like putting together a great puzzle.
Where did the idea for Distribution Management, Inc. come from?
This is going to sound like I made it up: we wrote it out on a napkin in a bar. (To be clear, DMI has been around for a long time; we are expanding on existing strengths, and that’s what makes this idea work.) I’ve watched and been part of the third-party logistics business, in one way or another, since 1999. I saw that the big 3PLs could put together great teams and technology, but startup costs made it difficult to offer services to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Smaller 3PLs could be very good regionally, but they didn’t have the footprint or systems to offer nationwide services. I was looking for a way to build a business to service the “in-between market.”
DMI had built a national wholesale network to service thousands of independent dealers, and they were looking for a way to grow their business. A great friend of mine recommended me to the DMI owners. I was busy with a number of projects and suggested we meet at a well-known bar near my home. I told them I was glad to help and would answer questions as long as they were buying beer. We talked for a couple of hours, and based on that conversation, I wrote a one-page “do-this-and-don’t-do-that” document. I was hoping to launch a consulting business in supply chain consulting, with DMI as my anchor client. Instead, they asked me to come join them and start a fulfillment business.
What does your typical day look like?
I often start out with a walk, get an idea and can’t stand to have it rolling around in my head—so I cut my walk short to go work on it. I’ve been going to a personal trainer, so I’m less likely to wander off in the middle of a workout! I typically have breakfast and/or coffee, lunch or dinner every day with somebody I can help. If I go out with the intention of helping others with their businesses or careers, then plenty of good things happen for me and I don’t need to worry about it. It’s the source of all my leads and recruiting.
I spend a lot of time cheerleading internally. I keep follow-up records on clients, prospects and my professional network to keep all my relationships fresh. I reserve time each day to reach out to at least two or three people. The least important thing I do is write proposals, but if I didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have any revenue. I read a few industry articles and blogs to keep current. I follow some industry leaders on Twitter for the best updates on what’s new. I check into LinkedIn about once per day and write for my own blog. I have four teenagers; I’m very involved with what they are doing, and that fills the rest of my time. There’s only time for a couple of beers, so I have really good ones. I read about one book per week on my Nook.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My network is my mastermind group. When I think of something, I look at my network. There’s bound to be somebody who knows something about it. I call them up and say, “Hey, I’ve got a crazy idea. Want to talk about it?” Then I think about it and imagine the idea as if it were already in place. It’s startling; I really do believe you can will things into being. I’ve seen it happen. It’s happening right now.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The e-commerce marketplace is recreating small business. Anyone can have a “brand.” Anyone can reach a large market. There’s so much opportunity for an individual to create value. One of the last obstacles to e-commerce is the amount of time between order and delivery. That is shrinking, as the network of fulfillment houses gets denser and more shipping options are becoming available. Again, that creates more opportunity for small businesses. For example, regional carriers can compete in small-package delivery.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was a plant engineer in a grenade factory. I learned how unimportant the perfect technical answer is if you don’t win over both the leadership and the troops. Go with the good answer that you can implement, and keep moving.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t wait so long to get started, and I would learn to value relationships sooner than I did. I relied too much on my own skills, rather than asking for—and accepting—help.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I try lots of things and expect to fail most of the time. Put it out there! When I’m exploring an idea, I talk to lots of people, and then things just happen. If someone wants to steal my idea, well, I’ll just have another one.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think that the “global” market is going to move away from large-scale production to more local manufacturing and one-piece orders. What I envision is a renewal of American manufacturing. I think there is a great opportunity to start manufacturing products in the USA that have a lot of value and a small demand. I’d like to find a shuttered factory and find a way to create a market for make-to-order or small-lot products. The e-commerce platform connects the market with creators, and fulfillment companies, like DMI, make the distribution possible. Talk about green! How about products are made locally in small lots, instead of being shipped great distances in great quantities? I learned with my first logistics project that the best way to reduce shipping costs was to not ship heavy things far.
Tell us a secret.
I didn’t have a date to the prom.
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
I love LinkedIn. It’s like a Rolodex that every person you know updates for you. I’m able to keep track of people with whom I’ve worked over the years and find people who know about things I want to learn. It’s also easy for people to find me. The list gets pretty long after that. Of course, search engines are great, and it’s hard to beat Google. And all the open-source web services out there make the whole e-commerce and e-fulfillment phenomenon work. I especially like forums where you can interact with subject matter experts.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which was published in 1937. He interviewed lots of successful business people, like Henry Ford and John Rockefeller, and then shared the information he learned in this book. It’s great.
What’s on your playlist?
I like Van Halen (David Lee, not Sammy). I took my 15-year-old son to see Van Halen this summer, and we had a blast. David Lee stopped the concert at one point and pointed out how many 40-somethings were there with teenagers.
If you weren’t working on Distribution Management, Inc., what would you be doing?
I’d be consulting for multiple small businesses and startups, using my network to create a suite of services. I would approach the consulting like a portioned member of the leadership team, instead of the using the traditional “billable hours” approach.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
I’m just getting started on Twitter, and right now, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of content!
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
There’s a lot of laughing in our home. With four teenagers, there’s always something crazy happening. My son has not yet developed that skill where you filter your inner voice, and he says things every day that make us laugh.
Who is your hero?
Meriwether Lewis is my hero. If we didn’t know the Lewis and Clark Expedition really happened, we wouldn’t believe it was possible. He was the senior officer, but he established himself and Clark as equals. The troops never knew that Lewis had the authority position. He didn’t need a title to accomplish the mission; he earned the respect of his team. He successfully communicated with people of diverse cultures and languages. They pulled a wooden barge from Wood River, Illinois, all the way to the Pacific Ocean and back, for crying out loud! But the physical challenge was only part of it. He couldn’t have done it without great leadership skills.
Tell me about a time you failed. What did you learn?
Early in my career, I was the whiz kid and spent a lot of time being “right.” I became a plant manager at a relatively young age. I knew every technical detail about the operation, but I didn’t earn the trust of the troops. It turned out I was just being used as the head-knocker to clean things up for those who would come in after me. I learned about building teams and managing change, but more importantly, I learned I didn’t like working for big corporations.
What would you have done differently in your personal life?
I would have had more fun. I took things way too seriously. Nothing is as important as it seems at the time.