Distributor Highlight

Distributor Highlight

Getting to know Six Robblees’

Andy Robblee, president at Six Robblees’

Please briefly describe the history of your business (a quick summary is fine).

Six Robblees’ Inc. was started as J.A. Robblee & Company in 1913 in Tacoma, Wash. Three of 12 Robblee siblings worked in the company repairing/selling bicycles, specialized sheet metal and locksmithing.  When J.A. Robblee passed away in 1933, the company was renamed to its current name reflecting the six siblings working at the time. An early relationship with Budd Wheel (1919) enabled the company to repair and sell wheels for automobiles and trucks.  Over the course of time there was further sales expansion of products centered around the wheel (wheel end, brakes, suspension, etc.). Through acquisition, the company has since expanded even further to include tire shop supplies, RV and small trailer components as well as light-duty truck accessories. The company currently has 22 locations in seven western states and one location in South Carolina. In 2019, Six Robblees’ Inc. has purchased three companies and is in the process of opening one additional regional distribution hub in Spokane, Wash.

Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers, etc.?

We sell products to a variety of fleets, garages, resellers and do-it-yourselfers in four distinct categories: Tire Shop Supply (wheel weights, patches, tire valves, equipment, etc.), Small Trailer Parts (everything but the frame), Heavy-Duty Truck & Trailer (suspension, brakes, lighting, filters), and RV Components (above deck: refrigerators, toilets, plumbing; below deck: axles, brakes, etc.).

What separates your business from competitors in its marketplace?

What separates us from competitors is our quantity and breadth of inventory on hand as well as our expertise and knowledge of those products.

How do you believe customers perceive your business?

Customers perceive our business as a local distribution warehouse.  We are expected to have product, to deliver said product in a timely manner and to be priced fairly.

How and why have your customers stayed loyal to your business?

We have kept customer loyalty by being consistent. We do what we say we are going to do. We have many long-term employees who know what customers want and don’t need to ask for repetitive details each transaction. Customers know what to expect from us and we usually deliver on that expectation.

What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about your company that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about your company we don’t know)

Something most customers don’t know about our company is how great our employee profit sharing program is. We have many employees retiring early (before 65) because they have a pot of gold waiting for them — something they testify they could not have saved on their own.

What makes your business a great place to work?

Six Robblees’ is a great place to work because we allow employees the freedom to invest and pursue growth projects. Although it is a dictatorship, the dictator is fairly benevolent and attempts to stay out of the way of industrious employees growing the company.  The freedom to follow through on investment ideas is something our employees really like.

How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?

Six Robblees’ wants to find workers from all generations. Diversity develops better decisions. We need the younger generation, just as much as we need older generations. Some employees have worked with us for over 30 and 40 years. Some have only come to us in the last several years from great careers elsewhere. They have different prospective and viewpoints when addressing an issue. Several of our new branch managers are young, eager professionals that have worked their way up through the business. They tell the story of the possibility to go from warehouse/driver to inside sales to manager.  This is where we are investing the most — promoting and training our team often front entry-level positions.

Do you feel your business is in the position to change with the times? If so how?

Our business does change with the times in some instances (i.e. online ordering, digital communication, increased minimum wage, etc.). And in some instances we are more reserved in our adoption (social platforms, legalization of marijuana, etc.) and hold to tried and true formulas.

Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?

My advice for the next generation entering this industry is to be patient. I wasn’t patient when I entered and it jumped up and bit me at times.  Do good work and others will notice. Sometimes, bosses just want to see if you can persevere before they hand out the promotion or new job title.

What are your goals for the long-term future of your company?

Long-term goals for Six Robblees’ would be to put this company in a great position for the next generation. My dad left me an incredible asset filled with incredible people. I want to pay that forward for my son should he choose to pursue this business.

Why did your company join GenNext? How can GenNext help your employees?

We joined GenNext because it is an association with great, forward-thinking ideas. I don’t have time to figure out all the next up and coming products, thoughts or techniques. GenNext can help train, educate and guide all generations as we face these challenges together.

What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?

The three most pivotal moments in my career where I learned the most were all mistakes. Fortunately, none of them broke the bank. I bought a piece of property that was going through some environmental review (that apparently is never ending), I bought a company that I really should have avoided with a ten-foot pole and I hired an employee that wasn’t a fit from day one.  Needless to say, I do a little more research now rather than just “go with my gut.”

Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?

Industry leaders who have mentored me were Dave Robblee, Tom Ogren and Richard Metcalf (all of Six Robblees’). They taught me the nature and culture of our business.  We often decided next steps as a team. I learned how to build consensus and make better informed decisions.  Other industry leaders I respect include John Minor, Marc Karon, Dave Willis, Edward Neeley and Angelo Volpe. These guys know how to run a business. Not just the pie in the sky, but the nitty gritty details that make the difference. They’ve been in my shoes and have great advice when I ask how they would handle different situations.