Getting to know Phillips Industries
By Rob Phillips, President
Please briefly describe the history of Phillips Industries?
Hugh Phillips began selling truck parts to produce haulers 1928. Seizing an opportunity, he developed and applied for a patent for a vehicle signal arm (precluding turning signals as we know them today). H.W. Phillips Company grew through the years, and in the mid-1970s, they were one of the largest distributors in the Southwestern USA. In the mid 1970s, Phillips Manufacturing Company was created, and ten years later, the manufacturing business surpassed the distribution business, and a decision was made by the third-generation leader, Bob Phillips to focus 100 percent on manufacturing products “that make a difference.” Today, Phillips products are standard position on all Class 8 trucks built in North America, and we have higher trailer OEM market share than all of our competitors combined—something we’re very proud of, and something that drives us to constantly raising the bar. We operate facilities in the USA, Canada, Mexico, China, Malaysia and Belgium, and have sales in more than 50 countries around the world.
Please briefly describe your comapny’s sales structure: what do you sell, who are your customers, etc?
In North America, we have a team of more than 20 direct salespeople, as well as two rep agencies that are focused on the aftermarket. We also have an OEM sales team focused on representing Phillips on both the truck and trailer sides of the business. Outside of the U.S., we have both OEM and aftermarket salespeople focused in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
What separates Phillips Industries from competitors in its marketplace?
We are focused on constantly developing products that will save our fleet customers time and money throughout their operations, ultimately leading up to greater up-time for their vehicles. The fact is that our competitors are mostly very good, respectable companies, with good people. We try hard to not focus on our competitors, but instead to continue to do whatever we can to make ourselves a valuable, reliable, trusted, and invisible extension of our distributors’ and fleets’ businesses.
How do you believe customers perceive your business?
Our customers look to Phillips to help them tackle the toughest problems they are faced with every day. They trust in our ability to provide them with innovative products that will keep their vehicles on the road. We have built trust with them over the long-haul by providing products that solve their problems, and they know that we stand behind our products with immense pride. I’m told that we are well regarded in the industry, but we can’t ever rest on our laurels and assume that that’s enough to take us into the future. We strive to find ways to always get better, and I believe this is one of the traits that our customers appreciate about us.
How and why do your customers stay loyal to your business?
They know that we see them as partners, not just customers. And our high-quality products speak for themselves. When you’ve been around as long as we have, we’ve probably screwed up with every customer at least once – It’s just a reality of being in business for 88 years! But, it’s how we look long-term when we respond to problems, and it’s how we go way above and beyond to make things right. Our customers know without a doubt that we are working by their side to support them.
What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about Phillips Industries that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about Phillips Industries we don’t know)
I can’t just name one thing! The first is that Phillips Industries started as a smaller warehouse distributor in downtown LA. It’s one reason that we pride ourselves in customer service to our warehouse distributors customers and others—we really know deep-down what is needed, and we work hard to take care of our customers. Second, we have a reputation of being an OEM supplier that also sells into the aftermarket. I guess that’s true, but most customers don’t realize that we have more sales in the aftermarket than we do at the OEMs. Third, we are the only manufacturer in the world that can offer both 12 volt (primarily used in North American, or SAE-standard environments) and 24 volt (used in the rest of the world, regulated by ISO standards) products.
What makes Phillips Industries a great place to work?
We are a fourth generation, privately-owned company and look at our employees as extended family. We encourage our employees to become the best they can be and to take ownership in every process they are involved in—our employees are the foundation to our success, their dedication is reflected in the quality of our products. Our motto is “We make products that make a difference,” but it really should say, “We develop people that make products that make a difference.”
How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
We believe in succession planning and the younger generation plays a big part in this. Just recently, we added too exceptional graduates from the Northwood’s University of the Aftermarket to our sales team. We understand that there are different challenges keeping younger employees engaged and driven, and we work hard to create an environment that offers growth and a lot of learning opportunities. Most importantly, I believe that the companies who deeply respect their employees and allow them space to learn (through positive and negative experiences) will have much higher retention rates than those companies who continue to lead with a carrot or a stick. Employee development is paramount to our success! When asked, “What if you invest in them and they leave,” my brother Dave always responds with “What if we don’t, and they stay?” I think that really sums it up.
Does Phillips Industries feel it is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
Absolutely. We are very flexible and embrace change of any kind. We also really listen to our employees and anything can be achieved when working within a well-functioning team.
Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
This industry rocks! It’s one of the only industries that I know of where your personal brand, your word, and the relationships you create will make or break your future … and where people really buy from people. Surround yourself with good people, and they’ll introduce you to other great people. On the flip side, if you burn a bridge, it’s going to hurt for a long time because most folks in our industry don’t leave. They may change companies, but they rarely leave the industry!
What is the long-term future of Phillips Industries in the heavy-duty aftermarket?
I don’t see us changing much; more refining what we do to get better. We will continue to do what’s gotten us to this point. Products may evolve, faces may change some, but our formula for focusing on what our customers need is what will keep us relevant in the future.
Why did Phillips Industries join GenNext? How can GenNext help Phillips Industries’ employees?
It is very important for us to show support for future generations—not only is the industry changing, but so are the people working within the industry. We look at this change as a major opportunity to reach new levels of innovation to help our customers with any problems that might affect them. We believe GenNext offers the new generation of employees an outlook of what their future can look like within this industry, and it provides them with the tools to be successful. It’s our responsibility as industry leaders to do what we can to create more excitement around our industry. It’s got to be one of the most underrated businesses around, and if we can create the opportunity to show younger people how great it is, there’s a great chance they will stick around for a long time!
What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
That’s a tough one! Before I worked at Phillips, I had dreams of being in the restaurant industry (much sexier owning a cool restaurant or bar than making truck parts, right?). John Callos, our former vice president of Marketing took me under his wing one summer and helped me to launch a product which we still sell 25 years later. I wasn’t interested in our business until he exposed me to all the different parts (marketing, manufacturing, engineering, purchasing, product management, etc.), and the great people that really cared about our success, and man- once I was exposed to all of this, I was hooked. Another pivotal moment for me was when I was working in the shipping department at Phillips as an order puller. My older brother and I worked well after midnight at month-end trying to set a new shipping record for the company, and we were successful. I arrived the next morning at 9 a.m., and my Dad asked me “What time do you start?” I said, “8 a.m., but it’s ok because we were here till 1:30 a.m. last night setting a new shipping record.” He told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said “Nobody saw you at 1:30 last night, but everyone saw that your car wasn’t here by 8 a.m., and as the boss’s son, you have to work twice as hard to earn half the respect. The perception of the employees here is that you probably went out late last night, and because you’re the boss’s son, you felt you didn’t play by the same rules as everyone else.”
Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
My dad has been the one who’s had the most influence on who I am, and how I show up. He taught me that urgency to solving problems is critical, and that building and maintaining strong personal relationships will prove to be more valuable than any degree I may have hanging on the wall! Although he’s a tough mentor, he’s done more to shape me than anyone else.