Strickland & BT Tynes: an Overview & an Interview
Executive Interview with Bayard “B.T.” Tynes Jr.
Face-to-face relationships create trust and continue to drive the paper industry. They always have, and they will for the foreseeable future. “Like most merchants, we make our money by who we know, what we know and then we put our relationships and expertise together,” says Bayard “B.T.” Tynes, Jr., president of Strickland Companies in Birmingham, Ala.
After a sales career in the coal mining industry, Tynes joined the company in 1990 as a paper salesperson and learned the business from the ground up, eventually taking over the 88-year-old company from his father-in-law, George Elliott. Today, Strickland boasts six divisions, 35 salespeople and more than 100 employees.
To reach that point, the company underwent significant changes. Strickland started in 1928 supplying newsprint to newspapers and Hammermill paper to printers throughout the southeast. Today, its product categories are: printing paper, packaging and machinery, office products, furniture, JanSan and there are more to come. They serve a variety of clients from B2B to government to education.
The move toward diversification went hand-in-hand with personal relationships. “We started our diversification with packaging in the ’60s because our printers asked us to help them address the rising need for cut-size papers. They were hand-wrapping reams of cut-sheets, and we found the machinery and films to needed to provide a solution using flexible plastic packaging.
As the paper industry has changed, Strickland moved into the office supply and furniture space. “Furniture is a natural offshoot of office supplies,” says Tynes. “Then, if you get into office supplies, you’re almost certainly going to get into the JanSan business, because like office supplies, the universe of customers is endless, and we already have strong relationships with most of the mills who make towel and tissue.”
Tynes calls it the Strickland “front-door to back-dock” philosophy. “If a customer is using it, we want to sell it to them,” he says.
A Family Affair
As President of Strickland, Tynes’ main role is to support the company’s division managers. “They bring problems and opportunities to me by the minute,” he says. “My job, at this level is to rely on my experience, keep everybody focused and make good, quick, creative decisions that keep the customer’s best interests in mind.”
Tynes is also a family man who enjoys the challenges and opportunities that come with running a family business. “A family business is different. Every decision you make in a family business impacts the whole family” he says. “These decisions affect a large group of people that you’re close to. You have to remember that you will see everyone at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners for many years to come.”
At the same time, Strickland can think long-term instead of quarter-to-quarter. Both his son Beau and daughter Forsyth have joined Strickland, which offers continuity and stability in leadership. “This tells me that our company has a very bright future,” he says.
Drawing on his own experience, Tynes made sure both his children worked outside the company after they graduated from college. “They had to go out and see the world and see how other businesses operated and develop skill sets before they came into our business,” he says. “Both have been very successful at Strickland.”
Like Tynes, they both started at Strickland as straight commissioned salespeople. “I don’t believe you can work with and manage commission salespeople unless you’ve done it yourself,” says Tynes. “They had to take a chance. After more than just a few years of sales experience, we brought them into management on a step-by-step basis, so they’re growing in the business and can focus on their new responsibilities.”
Challenges and Opportunities
One of the biggest challenges to the industry is effectively addressing our many audiences’ environmental and sustainability concerns. “As an industry, we are beginning to successfully fight the misconception that paper is bad for the environment,” says Tynes. He cites industry efforts to plant and replant trees through sustainable harvest programs, along with clean water and air initiatives. “Recycling paper is what we in America now do as a part of our everyday life, and this is very good for not filling up the landfills and reusing a valuable commodity,” he says.
Government regulations also strain the industry’s ability to grow. “I think government regulation and interference is a big issue, one that adds an element of instability,” he says. “We’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop. Regulators sometimes work in a bubble and write rules that can be harmful to the industry before hearing from our professionals on the best way to move forward for all concerned.”
In the marketing world, he predicts that electronic substitution for paper has reached a saturation point. “People realize you need a direct mail component to complement digital marketing. There’s a remarkable difference in how a person comprehends and processes information when they read something on paper rather than on a screen,” he says.
On the other hand, the threat of online ordering to undermine personal relationships never materialized. Although most people research product features and price online, the industry’s customer service culture has just grown more important. “The paper industry was very worried about the online process taking something away from the people element of our business,” says Tynes. “I honestly don’t think that’s come to pass.”
While Strickland’s online ordering systems makes it easier for customers to check their account status, pricing and inventory, it hasn’t replaced personal relationships. “Our customers work in a fast, competitive high pressure business. They still want to know who’s taking the order and making sure they are being well taken care of,” says Tynes.
At the same time, when Strickland’s customers order online, their transactions tend to be more accurate, and they often order more than they would over the phone. “It’s easier, but it hasn’t replaced the need for person-to-person trust and communication,” says Tynes.
The Future Is Bright
Despite upheaval in the paper industry, Tynes maintains that the future is bright. Merchants like Strickland aren’t going away, he says. They’re simply finding their natural equilibrium and working to improve their mix. As that transition continues, he believes that the National Paper Trade Association will play a more important role. “I think the NPTA is a good watchman for the industry. The NPTA, in my opinion, has become more important, not less,” he says. “My membership confirms to me that that the trust that we build with person-to-person contact creates long term, deeply important relationships that are still critical. They are the “currency” of business. You can’t do our business without them.”