Clipper Distributing is Ready to SAIL


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Through strong relationships with manufacturers and distributors, Clipper Distributing wants to help industry stakeholders chart a more meaningful course through the animal health channel.

For years, Clipper Distributing Company, LLC, has been a silent partner working in the background to help its partners grow and navigate the animal health market.

However, as Clipper continues to add to its wide range of value-added services, the company thought it was time to take a step out of the background and tell its story. “During the pandemic, we took time to work on the business rather than in the business,” said Scott Johnson, national account manager. “We wanted to create a way to better communicate our story to our employees, and their impact on the animal health community. Everyone wants to be part of something with a higher purpose that contributes to the greater good. We believe most people perform their best when they know their work really matters.”

That is how Clipper created its new campaign, SAIL – Saving Animals, Improving Lives. “This is what we are striving for as a company, and we want it to be a part of everything we do,” Johnson said.

As Clipper began formulating the SAIL messaging, they realized it not only applies to team members, but to partners as well, Johnson said. “Now, it’s our mission to tell everyone, because enhancing animal welfare builds a better humanity.”

In an interview with Vet-Advantage, Johnson expands on the SAIL campaign, Clipper’s position in the industry, and the shifting dynamics of the marketplace.

Clipper’s Scott Johnson and Kevin Speltz inspect warehouse.
Clipper’s Scott Johnson and Kevin Speltz.

Vet-Advantage: Can you tell us a little bit about Clipper Distributing’s unique place in the industry, working with both manufacturers and distributors? 

Johnson: I’ve worked at Clipper for 13 years and I’ll tell you, it’s an interesting job and a one-of-a-kind spot in the market. I don’t think you could start a company like ours today. Our history makes this possible. We’ve grown up with many of these distributors and manufacturers over the last 35-plus years. We’ve built a lot of trust and respect during that time. That’s a credit to the people that came before me and the people here now. It would be hard to replace the knowledge base we’ve built up. Money can’t buy that. No matter what kind of product you have, you’ve got to navigate through this channel to get it to see the light of day. Our expertise, along with the value-adds we bring keep us relevant and moving forward.

At our core, we’re a logistics company, but we also excel at sales and marketing. We move a lot of boxes. But there are many value-adds that happen along the way that streamline the process as we operate between both manufacturers and distributors to help them communicate better and find common ground. Yes, there are differences, and everybody has different goals and objectives. But at the end of the day, I think we’re all trying to accomplish similar things.

There are not a lot of master distributors out there. We’ve really honed our abilities and technology to be extremely efficient. Our operations team has built protocols and workflows to maximize every opportunity we have and every efficiency to not add cost to the system.

We’re kind of unique in that fact. Our value as a partner is that we’ve done this before, so instead of trying to go out on your own, we have a way of simplifying the process for our partners in many different facets. We’ve been there and done that, so to speak, and we want you to learn from our successes and mistakes, so your journey through the channel goes smoother than it would have otherwise.

One of our value-adds – even before the pandemic – was that we purchase buffer stock at our warehouse. So, for our manufacturing partners, we carry quite a bit of product here. The average distributor carries around 30 days’ worth of inventory. Should there ever be a hiccup in the supply chain or in the manufacturing process, a lot of times these manufacturers have a cushion before the market goes without their product. This cushion gives them time to pivot or fix whatever issues may happen before the end consumer knows there was an issue. Obviously, through the pandemic, we’ve learned about supply chain issues – freight and containers coming from overseas, timeframes being well extended, all those ugly little warts exposed. By us carrying buffer stock, we’ve allowed for more time to try to find a workaround or a solution. That’s never been more valuable than in the last couple of years. Before the pandemic, it may not have been as valued, but now it’s shown its value in spades.

Veterinarians are always busy, especially right now. We want to bring products to them that will help treat their patients more effectively, and make their jobs easier.

Many new manufacturers spend a large amount of their financial resources on just getting their products to market. Upon launch, they don’t know the distribution channel, have little capital left for sales and need to develop a more impactful marketing message. That’s where Clipper comes in. We help our partners navigate through the channel. With our in-depth knowledge of the industry, we can help them gain faster market acceptance of their products.

Sail logo

Vet-Advantage: Tell us more about Clipper’s SAIL campaign.

Johnson: During the pandemic, everybody had challenges trying to keep morale. Many people had stress, anxiety over what was happening, and the feeling that everything was turned upside down in their world. We wanted to create a rallying cry for our people, first and foremost. We wanted them to realize that we appreciated them, as did other animal health stakeholders. What they were doing was classified as an essential service during that timeframe.

We wanted our team members to know what they were doing makes a difference. Just like most people, we get lost in the busyness of the day to day. For the most part we move cardboard boxes out here. We move that box from A to B, and that’s all that they really see. If we are not careful we can lose sight of what the product inside the box does.

We wanted to take a moment, step back and explain that in the box was a solution for a veterinarian that could save an animal that is special to somebody.

And what did we learn during the pandemic? A lot of people went out and got pets, because they needed a connection, a need for interactivity, and being with somebody when they couldn’t be with others. Having an animal helped bridge that gap.

What we do helps in a small way, but it’s relevant. We deliver items to help pet owners and pets live a better life.

Our company is Clipper Distributing. A Clipper is a sailing ship that delivers goods and services quickly across the ocean. We deliver goods and services quickly throughout the animal health market. That’s where the name comes from.

In acknowledging our past, our logo, and who we are, we came up with SAIL. It all tied together for us to build a better statement around what we do and how we go about our business every day. We originally built SAIL as an internal mission within our four walls, but we soon realized it could have a bigger impact outside of Clipper as well.

A lot of our industry is all about SAIL – saving animals and improving lives, in its simplest form. So with SAIL we thought, is there a way we can continue to evolve this initiative and carry this forward with the people we represent, with the products we bring to market, and let veterinarians know this is what we’re trying to do?

Clipper Distributing warehouse employees.
The SAIL campaign originated from a rallying cry for Clipper team members.

Vet-Advantage: SAIL has the feel of a culture-driven initiative. In an economy where workforce shortages and the Great Resignation are the norm, has culture become even more important for organizations?

Johnson: Absolutely. During the pandemic, we saw how much our services were needed, and we saw internally how much we needed our people. Then obviously, the demand kept going up and up.

Our culture is what can capture the attention of like-minded people outside our organization to bring them into the organization as team members. To find those people, we turned to social media. We started delivering more resources to various social media platforms to let the community know just how great a place Clipper is to work. That was one of the other things about SAIL, finding like-minded people by using SAIL as a recruiting tool. Everybody’s struggling for help. In today’s society, and with the amount of resignations happening, just keeping the staff that you have is critical. But with the growth we had during this pandemic, we needed more. So how do you create something and tell your story to your community to get the right people and resources needed to deliver on the demand?

A Clipper Distributing marketing presentation.
With SAIL, Clipper wants to help industry stakeholders see the difference they make in the lives of pets and pet owners.

Vet-Advantage: How do you hope SAIL will benefit your industry partners?

Johnson: Defining our customers is difficult to explain because of where we sit in the supply chain. We often say, “We serve many masters.” We work for manufacturers in many ways. Partner is probably a better word. We want to be their partner because a strong relationship must be established to sell their product. We’re reliant on manufacturers to allow us to help represent their products to the market.

With the distributor, we must do the same thing. We sell to the distributor. We want them to buy products from us. For this to happen we must work with their teams to add value, to grow, and to educate them on the quality service and products we can deliver. We train distributor teams, collaborate, mentor, and develop marketing programs to keep the product moving. We touch the veterinarian when it comes to developing marketing messages that can make our products more appealing.

Our main messaging with SAIL is we want our existing partners to know this is what we’re after, what we’re about, and what we’re doing. We want new manufacturers coming in to know, that this is the kind of partner we want; this is what we believe. If this is something you can get behind, we probably have some like-mindedness and can work together. Hopefully, that rolls down to the veterinarians, who are looking for products that fit into the mission of saving animals and improving lives. We believe there is a commonality among stakeholders.

Step one for us was the internal launch. For the second step, we realize this is a broader message that can resonate. Where does it go from here? Well, we’re going to invest in it and follow it closely. We believe in thinking differently, putting SAIL into the channel, and trusting that like-minded people will find it.

Clipper Distributing donates a check to charity.
Clipper giving back

Vet-Advantage: That’s an interesting approach of having a campaign you hope grows organically, with your roots being in logistics, and being able to measure how you move product through the channel.

Johnson: There’s very much a juxtaposition. We make our money on turns. We’re measuring the smallest thing because our margins are tight. We must be extremely efficient to maintain our competitiveness. SAIL is a bigger, broader, emotional campaign that may appear contrary to a logistical way of thinking. But we believe you must have both to succeed in the animal health business. Being good at one makes you good at the other. There’s a yin and yang to it. If you made everything so cut and dry, you would lose the feel and the connectivity of people, which makes a difference across the board. Culture will eat strategy for lunch.

Clipper Distributing HQ Exterior

Clipper Distributing HQ

Lessons learned

Amid the pandemic, Clipper Distributing had to get creative, said Johnson. “I think everybody did to support the veterinary industry,” he said. “Sending some people home, not being in the office, and, what are we going to do to get the job done? We had to get creative to continue to fulfill our mission. Veterinarians got creative in how they designed strategies to service their clients.”

With longer lead times affecting everyone, Clipper made the decision to keep more inventory on hand than normal. “We wanted to make every effort possible to ensure that our distributor partners did not run out of stock so they could provide veterinarians with the supplies they needed to do their jobs,” Johnson said. “Our operations team worked with our manufacturing partners to efficiently order inventory, reducing the workload on shipments. We focused on essential items. And we saw price increases on the horizon, so we tried to get in front of it as best we could. We worked with our partners when we knew disruptions were coming. Nobody has been perfect throughout the pandemic, but communicating both above and below the supply chain helped us minimize the impact for ourselves and our partners.”