There’s a good chance BMI played a small part in building your home or office, but you’d never know it.
As Canada’s leading master distributor of valves and fittings, BMI Canada imports some 5,000 products in steel, bronze, copper, cast iron and brass from Europe, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia, then sells them to Canadian and U.S. wholesalers.
“We’re totally invisible,” says president and founder Marc Bouthillette, 72. “Architects don’t see our products. Homeowners don’t see them. Only plumbers and contractors do, but they don’t know they come through us either.”
Since establishing BMI in the Montreal suburb of Boisbriand in 1972, Bouthillette has steadily grown the company by mastering the import and delivery process to a degree verging on the obsessive. BMI boasts a 98% “fill rate”—the number of items on a wholesaler’s order that are filled and shipped immediately—which is one of the highest in the business.
Odds are you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about fill rates, but you’d notice if they were low. “It’s like going to a grocery store with a list of 20 products and only finding five of them on the shelves,” Bouthillette explains. “If you can’t buy everything you need, you won’t come back. That can’t happen to us. Wholesalers need a huge variety of pieces, but they need every one of them right away.”
The company receives close to 6,500 pallets of merchandise per year, which it houses in distribution centres in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Cincinnati that provide a total of 80,000 sq. feet of storage—or one and a half times the size of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
To fill orders quickly, BMI developed a custom-built computer system with the details of the 40,000-plus bills the company processes in a year. The system sends a confirmation to wholesalers five minutes after they place an order, with any price discrepancies highlighted in yellow. The company’s 54 employees can log on at any time of day with their smartphones or iPads.
“The system gets everyone working more quickly and efficiently. All of our employees can see every bill, every order, every line, every representative, our sales, our losses, whatever is relevant to their work, any minute of the day,” says Bouthillette.
BMI’s steady growth is also owed to the knowledge and connections Bouthillette has acquired since he started travelling in Asia in the 1980s—96% of the valves and fittings BMI imports come from Asia. “To succeed in this business, you have to understand things like the Chinese New Year. It lasts the whole month of January. Deliveries stop, so we have to buy in October to make sure our wholesalers will get merchandise in February,” he says.
“It’s also the time when Chinese companies give their employees raises, so we have to factor in the increased costs.” Mastering the valves and fittings business, Bouthillette says, is a slow learning process that requires perseverance and patience. “It took us years of work and constant focus to build our high-performing team and to fine-tune our service.”