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How to Navigate the Challenges of an Evolving Distribution Market

Amid the pandemic, shifting consumer expectations, and a tumultuous global labor market, one thing is certain: the climate is challenging. Marketssuch as Manufacturing and Food & Beverageare evolving and changing, but perhaps none more than Distribution. As with anything, rocky waters are best navigated by experienced leaders. With Gray’s continued growth and expansion in this market, we are leaning on the experience of our team members.

Rodney Carpenter, Gray’s senior vice president of distribution & commercial, brings over 30 years of industry knowledge and a calming confidence to the table each day. Recently, we spoke with him about his unique professional experience, the growing Distribution market, and how to navigate the challenges of an evolving industry.  


Leading by Experience   


In the summer of 1989, Carpenter joined the Gray family to work on a jobsite. From intern to project engineer and everywhere in between, Rodney’s experience has made him proficient at large-scale distribution centers.


Although not on large-scale distribution or commercial projects initially, he found himself very involved in this sector as the years progressed. Eventually, that’s where he landed and excelled. Looking back, Carpenter believes that having the opportunity to grow professionally in the distribution market throughout his time at Gray allowed his experience to compound exponentially.   


But not all 32 years of his experience were built at Gray. After 11 years with the company, he decided to explore new challenges. In fact, he left to work for one of Gray’s customers at the time: Dollar General. 


“I was not only responsible for construction, but I was responsible for basically everything inside the box,” says Carpenter on his role at Dollar General. “So, I managed all of the material handling and all of the conveyor mechanization.” 


In the role, he learned about automation, maintenance, and customer decision making. He was also extensively involved in site selection from start to finish. All were valuable skills and experience that he uses on projects and in conversations with customers to this day. 


“We look closely at each project through the customers’ lens—trying to think like them,” says Carpenter. “That experience allows me to adapt and understand what some of our customers are after.” 


Carpenter remained on the customer side for more than a decade in various roles before returning to Gray in 2017.  


“Having been here and having left to do other things –that’s what makes me stronger today,” he says. “Many in my position have been in construction their entire life. There are very few who have been on both sides of the equation.” 

"The climate we are in right now is extremely challenging. We are having to plan and execute work like we’ve never done, and like I’ve never done in my 30+ years in the industry."
Rodney Carpenter, Senior Vice President

A Growing Market  


That distinct perspective is helping Carpenter pilot his teams through the rapidly growing distribution market.  


Dodge Data & Analytics is currently forecasting $53 billion of construction starts in the US warehouse and distribution center market in 2022. That forecast is up 1400% since 2010 and represents more than one-third of the entire U.S. commercial construction sector this year.  


Carpenter sees the evolution happening in real time.  


“The market is changing. We see it today,” he says. “The whole industry has become more complex and technology-driven. Our customers are leveraging that, and our partners are more connected than ever. Our customers are more sophisticated than they have ever been.” 


The staggering numbers prompt the question: why?


“Our society and our expectations have changed,” says Carpenter. “It’s affecting the supply chain and how you get goods to people.” 


Many experts believe shifting consumer expectations are being fueled by the pandemic, along with growing competition in the e-commerce space. Frankly, consumers want goods faster than ever before, demand is high, and the supply chain cannot handle the pressure.  


With the two-day delivery standard pioneered by Amazon coupled with increasing online sales, many businesses are being forced to reorganize their supply chains and innovate to stay competitive.


“The climate we are in right now is extremely challenging. We are having to plan and execute work like we’ve never done, and like I’ve never done in my 30+ years in the industry,” he says.  


 In other words, customers need facilities built tomorrow. But tomorrow is growing longer by the day.


“We’ve had to be honest with some customers in saying that it’s going to be a longer lead time on certain elements as a result of the supply chain and materials’ challenges,” says Carpenter. “These supply chain and materials challenges are impacting the market. Each of those challenges have an upstream and a downstream impact to projects.” 

"There are relationships that are fostered by individuals, but there’s a broader relationship that is fostered by Gray. The name Gray represents trust, respect, capabilities, and commitment."
Rodney Carpenter, Senior Vice President

Calm in the Storm  


Managing the impact of these difficulties is where Gray believes relationships truly shine.


Carpenter says it this way, “We have to be the calm in the storm for our customers.” 


Holding true to our second core value of being customer and relationship driven, we see every project as an opportunity to build meaningful relationships. It’s easy to see when you’ve experienced it on both sides of the equation.  


“When I was a customer and we selected Gray, there were things that I knew I didn’t have to worry about because I knew the team would make the right decision on my behalf and the right decision for the project,” he says.  


This trust comes with experience. With more than 400 distribution facilities completed, Gray builds with an eye toward safe, highly mechanized facilities that unlock speed to market for our customers. Carpenter believes this experience matters even more in today’s complex environment– as customers need to make strategic investments to meet demand.


As an integrated services provider, Gray can offer a truly turnkey and holistic solution for customers of all needs– whether a basic distribution center or a highly integrated smart facility.


“We have the ability to handle complexities and integrate innovative systems into our customers’ facilities,” Carpenter says.


To read more about Gray’s Distribution experience, explore our project case studies.

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