Robert Yurk, a Michigan-based district sales manager for Beacon Building Products, woke up around his usual time — 6:30 a.m. — and was already behind the wheel and on the road 45 minutes later. By his own account, the day was light: just two stops.
“Today was probably an abnormal day for me, actually,” Yurk said while fiddling with his computer camera as he settled in for our interview. “I had my team [together] for a sales meeting; I try to do an in-person sales meeting once a quarter with the whole team. We did some actual technical stuff in the sales meeting … and then we went to a Lansing Lugnuts game afterward.”
Seeing the Lugnuts, a Minor League Baseball team based in Lansing, Mich., was a Bob Yurk team-building exercise, which is only atypical for him insofar as it allowed for a few hours of uninterrupted time with his crew of 13 men and women to enjoy the moment.
Salespeople, particularly road warriors, are cut from a unique cloth. As one roofing luminary recently said of sales, “It’s like waking up broke every morning.” Yurk laughed at that, maybe recognizing the Willie Lohmann sentiment behind the statement.
“I don't know that there's a typical day,” Yurk explains. “My typical week, I try to do office days Monday and Friday, and [the middle of the week] I get out in the field with the [team].”
I asked Yurk what responsibilities fall within his purview as a District Manager, and, as he replied, he stopped himself from regurgitating his job description.
“You know, really my job — job description of overall direction for our team in Michigan aside — is calling the right plays, pulling the right levers at the right time, and providing overall strategic guidance,” he says. “Honestly, I spend most of my time trying to keep stuff out of my [team’s] way; that’s what it’s really all about.”
He asked rhetorically, “I mean, that’s what it really is, isn’t it?”
Answering his question, Yurk offered what he believes is his principal responsibility: “It’s going to sound cliché, but I really believe that, like, I work for my guys, not the other way around. So, a lot of my time is spent just clearing the path so that they can do their thing; getting obstacles out of [their] way.”
Those mid-week days, when Yurk is in the field, often driving with his various sales reps, is where his job is actually done.
“My favorite days are in the field with [my] sales reps, out meeting with customers, and I try to do some coaching when we do our ride-alongs,” he says earnestly. “You take the whole week and boil it down, and it's like the windshield time with my guys [and one woman]: ‘What do we do well in that meeting?’ ‘What went poorly?’ ‘How could we've handled it differently?’ ‘Why was it successful?’”
Summarizing his stream-of-consciousness, he says, “That's when we really, we can discuss what we're doing; there's an opportunity for coaching, and that's just really when you connect, right?”
Another rhetorical question.
“These guys live on the road, too,” Yurk says. “So that's kind of like their home; one-on-one time in the car is usually when you open up and really learn about each other; learn about our plans, our ambitions, our strengths and weaknesses.”
An Industry Insider
At 43, Yurk, tan and trim, throws out insightful, high-level interpersonal skills-type insight about success and what that means. When asked what makes someone a good salesman, the salesman drills down into the relationship between a supervisor and his charge.
“I don't see us as salespeople ... It's not a transactional business."
— Bob Yurk on "sales."
“We believe that we’re operating on the same team … and both trying to achieve the same goal, which is increasing their sales and putting more food on their table,” he says. “I mean, it's all about that level of trust, the level of trust that we have with each other.”
Yurk certainly doesn’t present like a micromanager. He believes in his team and has the wisdom — and the previous experience — to anticipate the zag before a zig.
Before joining Beacon, Yurk was vice president and co-principal at Acme Building Products, based in Flint, Mich., with branches in Rochester Hills and Brighton — cities south of Flint in neighboring Oakland County.
He began working at Acme as a teen, years after his grandfather purchased the small wholesale building supplier in the 1970s; Yurk’s father assumed control of the business in 2000, and after his own success in growing the company, Yurk bought his father’s shares of the firm, becoming co-principal in 2013.
His stint as owner was not to last long.
His aunt — his father’s sister — decided to divest her shares from the business a few years after his father retired, placing the young entrepreneur in a quandary: How much debt could he assume by acquiring his aunt’s shares without overextending himself?
Married with young children, Yurk found the solution with Beacon, which acquired Acme in 2018. The Brighton store has since been consolidated into another Beacon branch.
To that end, Beacon saw the solution in Yurk and Acme. The national distributor got a foothold in the sought-after Southeast Michigan market through an established concern with a good reputation — and a young leader who wanted to become part of a larger organization.
Is Bigger Better?
I asked Yurk what it was like going from a small-to-mid-sized distribution company — albeit family-owned — to one on the Fortune 500.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, he said the differences were negligible. Of course, Beacon, which is publically owned, is in a different category than Acme. However, in many ways, he said, the companies were similar and that a branch is a branch is a branch.
“I still work here, and Beacon is who we chose to sell to,” Yurk said, adding that he was lucky things have worked as they have for him and the employees who made the move with him. And a handful of Acme “lifers” are still there, or within other parts of Beacon that Yurk can namedrop when asked.
“The economies of scale just give [Beacon] tools that just aren't at our disposal as small independents,” he acknowledged. “I mean, it sounds silly, but something like Salesforce, like I would have loved to have a CRM back at Acme, but it was expensive. [Beacon does] an excellent job of providing us with data so that we can steer the business in real-time.”
During his years running Acme, Yurk was active with Nemeon, sitting on the organization’s board. For those suppliers whose businesses aren’t ABC, SRS, Beacon and a few others — for the Acme Building Supplys that still exist — Nemeon is a bulwark so independent distributors can have a voice that rises above the din that large corporations often produce.
The purchasing collective has more than 150 independent roofing and building materials suppliers, with around 500 outlets nationwide. Yurk waxed poetic about the group and its importance in helping independents stay competitive through networking and sharing best practices.
“Well, obviously, I love Nemeon; I mean, I wouldn't have served on the board if I didn't,” he says. “I think [Nemeon] changed the trajectory of my career and my professional development, probably more than anything else.”
We Don’t ‘Sell’
With millions of dollars in merchandise and dozens of families — his own included — to worry about, Yurk doesn’t give off a hint of pressure felt. He doesn’t seem like he’s waking up broke every morning. This gent is a “the system works if you work the system”-type guy. He pours himself into his sales team and sees his labor reflected in their success.
“I don't see us as salespeople; we're consultants and trusted partners of our customers,” he says as we wrap up. “It's not a transactional business ... it's showing that [we] really do care about [Beacon’s] customers' businesses.”
This article was updated at 11:12 a.m. EDT on July 26, 2023, to reflect a correction: Yurk is Michigan District Sales Manager for Beacon Building Products.