Looking Back, Looking Ahead: A Conversation with Kevin Bense

November 10, 2014

Kevin BenseLast October, Kevin Bense was named President of AJ Oster after serving in the same capacity at another GBC company, Somers Thin Strip. We asked him to reflect on his first year in Warwick, and what he sees ahead for the company in the months and years to come. 

What’s your overall impression of AJ Oster today, and how does it differ from last year at this time? 

My impression is that I see an organization that is entirely focused on the customer. They’re really thinking constantly about what they can do to make the customer happy and investigating ways to do more.

And I would say that’s something that hasn’t changed in the past year. My team and I have been focused on maintaining that.

That must have made your job much easier.

It certainly did in the sense that very little needed to be changed – the company wasn’t broken. To be successful, our focus has to be on meeting the needs of the customer every day, by everyone in the organization. And they were already doing that when I got here. 

Is that characteristic of distribution companies?

Yes. AJ Oster is a service company, because service is what we sell. What I always tell customers is, if you want to buy copper or brass, you should buy it from a mill. But if what you want is short lead times, and high quality, and reliable delivery, you should buy from AJ Oster.

What do you see as AJ Oster’s biggest challenges moving forward?

Traditional markets are shrinking and becoming more competitive. One of the things we’re doing to address that is increasing our product portfolio. We’re expanding into aluminum, zinc and stainless steel products in a much bigger way. And I’m confident we’ll be successful. Because again, if you define what you sell as “service,” it should be consistently excellent regardless of what product you’re offering.

How about your biggest assets?

Our people, first and foremost. You know, when I got here I thought one area where we were coming up short in was in the number of people in “customer-facing” roles – who deal with customers face to face.  And so we’ve been working on improving that – we’ve added 5 salespeople in the past year.

Our other big asset is our facilities, both individually and collectively. Each one has its own identity, which is unique to its people, its customer base, and the region it serves. But taken as a whole – the whole group of our facilities combined – AJO is more than twice as big as our nearest competitor. So our goal is to leverage that overall advantage into a local edge for each of the facilities.

Where do you see AJ Oster a year from now?

I think we’ll have a broader product portfolio, with much more zinc, aluminum and stainless steel. And we’ll have better geographical coverage with account managers who will be spending more time out in the field and less time in the office. In other words, we’ll be doing more of the same things that got us to where we are right now. A lot more.