As a youth, Jonathan Burklund grew up with a passion for the distribution industry. Today, as a seasoned veteran, he claims he has achieved his “greatest personal satisfaction.”
Jonathan “Jon” Burklund’s involvement in the distribution industry did not happen by accident, and his success did not occur overnight. But today, he serves in the industry as a former chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA), is president of the Illinois Association of Wholesale Distributors (IAWD) and runs the family business, Burklund Distributors Inc. Burklund says his family has been in the distribution industry since his grandfather founded Burklund Distributors Inc. in March of 1939.
“When all of us kids were growing up, we were exposed to the industry at varying levels,” he says. “During my college years, I chose to stay at home and attend Bradley University so I could work with the sales department at Burklund Distributors Inc. I had operational experience from college, I was always interested in our customer base, and I love people. It all seemed to come together for me.”
A Rare Honor
Following in the footsteps of his father, Dale, is a “rare honor,” claims Burklund. He says the “distribution treadmill” moves at a quicker pace and is less personal than in his father’s day. “It’s an ongoing concern. We’re all running so fast.”
Burklund Distributors was founded to help convenience store chains and their operators overcome challenges and reap the rewards of their business by delivering products, marketing know-how and the latest technology and programs to help distributors get more return for their sales.
Although Burklund’s parents were always supportive of his decision to enter the family business, the choice, he claims, was his alone. “You might say entering the business was a wonderful opportunity given to me by my parents, and hopefully it was an opportunity earned. I think I gradually fell in love with the business over time.”
More than anything, he loves the combination of diversity and competition the distribution industry offers. “I love the way companies like ours bring a diverse group together as a team from different venues. We really take care of business in a consistent way at an extremely competitive price to our customers. Excellence becomes a daily expectation.”
What defines excellence in the distribution industry? For starters, Burklund Distributors’ lead time is measured in hours, not days. The business also delivers more than 7,000 items with a 99.85-percent in-stock condition within an hour of scheduled delivery time in four states.
But despite high expectations, Burklund says stress should never be a part of the business. “Hard work and dedication are what matters. As our distributors, manufacturers and retailers continue to practice consistent dedication, success will always be a part of our business, and the industry will always improve. It’s a matter of stepping back and finding ways to really enjoy what we do on a daily basis.”
No doubt, the distribution industry runs in the family’s blood. “We sell thousands of items to thousands of people. I love the excitement of the industry—it’s rapid-moving and fast-paced. I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else.”
Leading & Learning
Having come a long way from his childhood days when he would accompany his father to work on Saturdays and explore the company warehouse, Burklund has not only taken the reigns of the family business, but has become a leader in the distribution industry as a whole, a prominent highlight being his appointment as chairman of the AWMA Board of Directors in 2010.
“When I was just starting out in the industry and beginning to build relationships with the workers in my family’s business, I discovered I liked being part of a team. So, my interests led me to join the AWMA board. My father had served on the board in the 1970s and 1980s and served as AWMA board chairman in 1975. I had built up a lot of close industry relationships and connections, and they asked if I would serve as board chairman. To say the least, it was a privilege.”
And a learning experience as well. Burklund says one of the most important things he gained from his involvement was understanding everything it takes to steer satisfaction from the manufacturer to the consumer. “It was amazing to see the success that comes from combining consumer and retail needs with distribution and merchandising abilities to bring consumers and manufacturers to the highest point of product availability.”
As chairman, he was able to witness just how much the industry has changed since his father’s involvement on the board. “In the 1970s and 1980s, it was all about logistical distribution. Now, it’s all about the technology we can provide and merchandising services.” And Burklund worked to make some changes of his own while he was chairman. “In the industry work that we’ve done, I’ve tried to create a lot of awareness, both at the manufacturer level and the retail level. Some things that people ask us to do, the cost outstrips the benefit. The only way to be successful is to match the benefit with the cost.”
Despite changes and fluctuations in the industry, Burklund found himself well suited to become chairman, in part because of AWMA’s relevance to his own business. He claims his personal basis for becoming heavily involved with AWMA was the privilege of meeting industry leaders and bringing his experience in statewide distribution to the national level. “The experience at AWMA has been a huge win-win situation to make me better in business.” He says it pays to be a part of an association that is relevant to his industry. “AWMA keeps me really up to date with industry changes—literally, up to the minute.”
Burklund currently serves on the AWMA Past Chairman’s Council and advises the group on fundraising. “I am very proud to have served on the board of such a wonderful organization.”
A Business with Benefits
An impressive distribution industry organization, AWMA is the only international trade association working on behalf of convenience distributors in the United States. Membership consists of manufacturers, brokers, retailers and others associated with the convenience product industry. AWMA represents $85 billion of annual revenues and delivers products to more than 200,000 retailers.
AWMA membership benefits are endless, the most prominent being networking and educational opportunities. “Our mission is to spread the networking potential from manufacturer to distributor to retailer and to take networking to an educational level. Then from an educational level, to take it to the betterment of the entire industry and then represent the industry to local, state and political practices.”
As AWMA members, employees of the association’s distributors are encouraged to participate in peer-to-peer networking groups to form relationships for both personal and industry growth. The association arranges meetings for the peer groups at the AWMA Summit and the AWMA Show, the only trade show geared to convenience distributors offering them a chance to display their merchandise. “Many members… say networking is one of their most important reasons for belonging to this association,” says Burklund.
In addition, as chairman, Burklund placed great importance on educational offerings for executives and still firmly believes in the AWMA’s charge to strengthen educational venues. “My father helped genesis the AWMA’s Distribution Education Foundation (DEF) back in the 1970s. During my time as chairman, it was a privilege to strengthen this offering for distribution members. I consider it my most important success.”
» A Family Effort
Giving back to the community is important to both Burkland and his family. He and his wife, Rita, always make time to serve, partnering with Children’s Hospital of Illinois, Easter Seals, the Red Cross and WTVP, to name a few. His family, Burklund says, has served as his “right hand” in business. “I am most grateful to my wife for allocating family time for my business. It has also been a privilege to work with my sister, Joyce Perino, for my entire career. I am thankful to my sister- and brother-in-law, Jayme and Rob Hackett, the latter of whom has been my business partner. It’s his dedication to our sales and marketing efforts that allow me to have freedom for my not-for-profit work.”
Educational programs and venues, he claims, are of great value to the distribution industry. Some examples of presentations from the sessions held at the 2013 AWMA Show include Obamacare: What it Means for Your Distribution Company and Distributor Challenges: How to Provide Fresh, Perishable Products to Retail Customers. “The DEF offers sales-related training and training in category management and also teaches distribution members how to take data and make it relevant to business decisions. AWMA makes convenience distributors better educated and, therefore, more competitive and more sustainable.”
One of the present drawbacks to industry education, Burklund believes, is that it offers an overabundance of teaching and an under-abundance of learning. “I used to say this as chairman when I gave nationwide speeches: We need to teach distribution concepts in order to make people want to use the things we teach. We need to create awareness, make people think, provide alternatives. Then things happen, and the industry improves.”
A Look Back… and Ahead
Burklund says a number of people have inspired him in this industry, namely his father. “My father was the real role model for me. I watched him in this industry. I saw his style of leadership and how he ran an organization. I saw how strength comes from patience and dedication. I cannot properly express how special it is to work with my father for almost 40 years.”
Bud Kelley, former executive director for the Illinois Association of Wholesale Distributors, was also a strong influence. “Watching Bud, I could see how one association can bring diverse competitors—extremely tough competitors—together for the common good of the industry.” Burklund has twice served as president of the IAWD, his first term lasting from 1999 to 2001. He is currently serving his second term. The IAWD interacts with the AWMA at industry events and exists to represent and serve manufacturers statewide. “It’s just a natural thing to be involved at all levels—local, state and national.”
From childhood explorations to leadership responsibilities, Burklund hopes to leave a legacy that will improve the industry for those that follow. “I’m absolutely proud that some of the new generation of our family—Jessie, Steve and Corey—are following us into the business. I think that I’ve done my very best to create an environment that everyone can benefit from.”
Having no intention of being remembered for huge success, Burklund hopes people will, instead, recall the group of individuals that made the industry prosper and the “good things” they accomplished along the way. “I want to raise every boat in the water. I can’t tell you what a privilege it is when I get a private letter thanking me for what I did.” iBi
Burklund Distributors, Inc. is located at 2500 North Main Street, Suite 3 in East Peoria. For more information, call (800) 322-2876 or visit burklund.com. To learn more about the American Wholesale Marketers Association, visit awmanet.org, and visit iawd.net for more on the Illinois Association of Wholesale Distributors.