When the folks from Winsupply get together for their biennial national meeting, it’s a different buzz than at other industry meetings. Maybe it’s the fact that the company, which did $3.2 billion in sales last year, is made up of several hundred locally owned distributorships in different distribution niches and has a feeling of 1,000 old friends getting together, instead of the atmosphere you get when a bunch of suits are hobnobbing in a typical corporate gathering of that size.
While Winsupply’s electrical business, which had 63 locations in 2017 and was ranked #32 on EW’s most recent Top 200 listing is in itself a sizeable operation, the company also supports local business owners with a shared-services strategy in the HVAC and plumbing; hydronics; pipe, valves and fittings; fastening hardware; waterworks and utility; pumps; turf irrigation and landscape; and fire system fabrication fields.
Electrical Wholesaling has covered the company since 1993, and although each time we have the opportunity to visit with the folks at Winsupply we have seen the growth and maturation of the business, some things about the company’s culture stays the same. COO Monte Salsman talks about the grit and “get-it-done attitude” that the company’s local entrepreneurs need to compete and thrive, often against much bigger businesses and increasingly against alternate channels of supply like Amazon Supply. Salsman, who had executive posts with WESCO Distribution, Platt Electric Supply, Westinghouse Electric and Johnstone Supply before joining Winsupply in 2006, is a spirited believer in the power of entrepreneurism and he proudly says for anyone who wants to run their own distribution business, “There is no better financial opportunity in the distribution industry unless you are born into the family.”
At this year’s meeting, Salsman and the company’s management team spent quite a bit of time talking with local company presidents about the company’s growing array of shared services, which now includes the Stock 360 managed inventory program, a pricing strategy program to fine-tune market pricing at the local level, and a new package of e-commerce tools now in the pilot phase at some of the company’s locations, including Roger Glanz’s Winlectric operation in Fort Collins, CO. Winsupply’s executive team is particularly enthused about Stock 360, which they say can help save customers as much as 20% in operating costs by getting them the right products faster by utilizing the program’s calculated min-max levels.
Winsupply is also supporting its local company owners with a relatively new mentoring program called the Mastery Academy that’s taught by company employees and focuses on teaching local company owners the five tenets of the Winsupply way: taking ownership of their habits and company results; developing expertise in products and business practices; learning how to own customer relationships; getting paid what they are worth; and mastering communication.
In a media session with the trade press covering the meeting, Winsupply’s executive team said the company grew 8% in 2017 and has gotten off to a good start in the first few months of 2018. They say the second half of 2018 might slow down some, but that the business tax cuts will be good for the business. Winsupply has been active in the acquisition market over the past year with its acquisition of Tacoma Electric Supply in the electrical market; Thomas Pipe & Supply, Phoenix, AZ, in the PVF market; and APCO Inc., Lansing, MI, in the HVAC market. It currently has two deals in the works in the lighting market.
While Winsupply’s executive team is happy with the company’s sales growth in recent years, they are intent on growing even bigger with their strategy of local company ownership, giving its local company managers access to shared services they need to grow, and servicing customers better than anyone else in the market.
“We envision Winsupply being the best company in the world to do business with,” Salsman told the crowd in the opening executive session. “We will achieve that goal when each company is the best in their local markets… Our goal is to support courageous entrepreneurs.”