Each year, our Big 50 List is the most widely read section in the magazine — and with good reason. It’s a great way to showcase the biggest names in distribution, along with brief recaps of what these companies have accomplished over the past year. But we found ourselves wondering… what about the companies that almost make it onto The Big 50 List? Or the ones who offer a product line that’s a bit more niche than the list typically highlights? Don’t these companies also deserve some recognition and the opportunity to showcase their accomplishments?
With this in mind, Industrial Distribution introduces The Big 50 Watch List. The next few pages will highlight eight special companies who have convinced us that they’re worth watching. Whether its new developments in value-added service, organic and external growth, or unique programs for employees, each one showcases the kind of strength of purpose that propels our industry forward.
If you’d like to be considered for next year’s list, send us an email (email@example.com) and we’ll make sure to send you a nomination form when the time comes. In the meantime, enjoy the premier of The Big 50 Watch List.
Headquarters: Lumberton, NJ
Core Products: Industrial automation, MRO
Radwell International stocks and sells new and surplus industrial automation, MRO, pneumatic, motion, electronic, hydraulic, HVAC and electrical control equipment for plant floor and facilities maintenance machinery. The company also has full component level repair capabilities for all industrial electronic and electrical equipment, and buys surplus industrial controls.
According to the company, its competitive edge results from its ability to provide key resources, boasting that no other company currently offers industrial automation repair, surplus, new, and recycling from one source.
“We currently employ over 413 people and have an 110,000 sq. ft. facility in Lumberton NJ and a 50,000 sq. ft. facility in Newcastle Under Lyme, Staffordshire UK,” explains Radwell marketing manager Andrew Horner. “We have expanded to the UK with a 50,000 sq. ft. facility to serve customers in the EU as well as partner with a company in Malaysia to serve customers in Asia. Radwell has also purchased the open land next to our Lumberton headquarters for expansion.”
One of the most compelling reasons Radwell International might be a company to watch is based on its ability to continue to expand—both with physical locations and from a personnel standpoint—during the recession. Says Horner, “During the recession Radwell continued the focus on one element important to all customers—customer service. In an age where most companies have reduced customer service activity we have continued to grow and refine it. Customer’s call Radwell and will get answers quickly. Plus, Radwell offers many different solutions that none of the competition offers. We are the one stop shop for all their needs.”
Headquarters: Madison, WI
Core Products: Safety
Headquartered in Madison, WI, Conney Safety is one of the largest distributors of products and equipment designed to help keep people safe in the workplace. In fact, the company claims to be the only major distributor in the U.S. that specializes strictly in the distribution of safety products.
According to Conney Safety, part of its model for success centers around a unique team approach to doing business with its customers. Each customer has a dedicated central point of contact, and this person is supported by a team of specialists, including highly trained and experienced Field Cost Savings Specialists and a Safety Support Team, which includes credentialed Certified Safety Professionals. Additionally, each account is assigned an executive sponsor who participates in regular business reviews, including performance to customer requirements and cost savings provided since the initiation of the customer relationship.
Some of the company’s recent accomplishments include developing a world class website and eCommerce capabilities (over 40% of its business is transacted via electronic channels), and a print catalog it refers to as “truly revolutionary.”
Additionally, Conney Safety has built a superb sales and sales support team who are backed by a group of supply chain professionals completely dedicated to Lean business practices and continuous improvement. Says the company: “We measure our supply chain functions in terms of errors per million and have processes in place to continuously improve this. Our current EPM rate is well below industry standards and almost so low as to be completely negligible.” Additionally, over the past two years, Conney has completed the acquisition and very successful integration of two other safety suppliers—Elvin Safety and Mettam Safety.
According to CEO Mike Wessner, these acquisitions are part of a larger strategy for the safety distributor. “In 2007 we rebuilt Conney as a platform to consolidate within the Industrial Safety Industry,” says Wessner. “We now have successfully acquired and integrated two companies as well as achieved significant organic growth through a highly technical value proposition. Our expectation is that Conney will grow very rapidly over the coming years.”
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, CA
Core Products: Process control, automation
Valin is a leading distributor of process control, fluid handling, measurement, heating, filtration, and automation products and systems for a wide range of high purity and industrial applications. Valin represents brand-leading manufactures, offering comprehensive solutions to the process markets including technology, life sciences, energy, and transportation.
According to Valin president and CEO, Joseph C. Nettemeyer, Valin has delivered ten consecutive years of double digit growth with focused organic growth strategies and acquisitions (including 26 companies in the past ten years). “We invest in businesses that strengthen our presence in technology and energy,” says Nettemeyer. As for the organic growth, it may be due, in part, to the company’s focus on an open, adaptive, and creative workplace—designed to satisfy a customer’s changing needs.
Says Valin Corp: “Our team of professional application engineers speed a project from design through prototype and into production significantly faster.” The company also prides itself on becoming an extension of the customer’s design team, allowing the customer to ultimately continue to focus on core competencies.
In addition, Valin’s specialized Knowledge Centers of industry experts, which include professional engineers with advanced engineering degrees, collectively hold over 150 years of expertise in process heating, controls and automation valves, instrumentation, filtration, and motion control applications. These resources have assisted thousands of customers in solving their most demanding applications for over 35 years.
Valin Corp. operates in nine Western states with 16 locations, and is also an ESOP company.
Employee Owned Holdings, Inc.
Headquarters: Houston, TX
Core Products: Fluid power, automation
Employee Owned Holdings, Inc. serves as a parent company to the Hydraquip companies—Hydraquip Distribution, Hydraquip Custom Systems, and Supreme Integrated Technology.Hydraquip Distribution is purely distribution, whereas Hydraquip Custom Systems is a solutions provider and Supreme Integrated Technology is a total solutions company. “They can all be categorized as distribution, but some are doing more value-add than others,” explains Richard Neels, company president.
One of the ways this company has been able to promote internal success is through its ESOP program. Says Neels: “our portfolios of companies are 100% employee-owned. There is ample, overwhelming evidence that in the vast majority of cases, mainstream, main street, private ESOP companies are more productive, more profitable, more sustainable, providing locally-controlled jobs.” From a customer-focused standpoint, EOHI hopes to continue to differentiate itself through its aggressive approach to value-added service. “We will sustain our growth over time by reaching out and selling value-added solutions in lieu of just boxes,” says Neels.
As this self-described “young, aggressive” company grows in the fluid power industry, the company credits its success to a commitment to listening and responding to its customers. “Our business philosophy has not changed,” the company says. “We are dedicated to furnishing the finest in quality products and services, efficiently and economically.”
GHX Industrial LLC
Headquarters: Houston, TX
Core Products: Fluid sealing, fluid transfer
GHX Industrial LLC is based in Houston, TX, with 39 branch locations throughout the United Sates and Canada. GHX provides fluid sealing (gaskets), fluid transfer (hoses), and other products to a variety of industries, particularly the power generation, refining and petrochemical, mining, agriculture, marine, and upstream oil and gas enterprises.
GHX is an innovative value-added distributor of a full range of industrial gaskets and hoses. Its extensive inventories include rubber, metal, composite, and hydraulic hose assemblies fabricated at all GHX locations. Gasketing materials, covering the broad spectrum of flange applications in the process and other industries, are made to order as customer needs arise. Extensive product knowledge and manufacturing expertise, in conjunction with comprehensive inventories and strong working relationships with major quality manufacturers, provide GHX customers the assurance that they are being served by one of the best in the industry.
GHX has been quietly expanding its reach over the past few years. Since 2007 when GHX brought in additional equity from The CapStreet Group, the company has grown significantly through strategic add-on acquisitions, increasing same store sales, and by building new facilities, including the opening of two new branches in 2010 in Geismar, LA, and Uniontown, PA.
According to company COO Richard Harrison, part of the company’s success has come via an internal culture that rewards growth and operational excellence—all with the customer in mind. “Our commitment is to provide the best resources and service to our customers. We utilize our internal systems and consultative sales approach to create consistency in the way we do business,” says Harrison. “We have developed our own Quality System which we call the GHX Business Management System that tracks and rewards Operational Excellence.”
Miller Bearings, Inc.
Headquarters: Orlando, FL
Core Products: Motion control, power transmission
Miller Bearings operates 16 branches and carries all bearing and power transmission lines, with a recent focus on industrial supplies, cutting tools, and automation service. The company has 130 employees, 12,000 customers, and has been in business for 65 years.
“Miller’s focus on improving technology, inventories, and the expertise of our team has significantly improved the value of the service that we provide to customers,” says Courtney Butler, Marketing Manager for Miller Bearings. “We are a dynamic organization that will continue to respond to the needs of the markets we serve, fostering the customer loyalty that we’ve worked 65 years to achieve.”
According to company CEO Bill Bieberbach, Miller Bearings is aggressively working on improvements every day. For example, he explains, improvements have been made in operations by standardizing best practices across the branches through training and communication. Inventory management has improved through better reporting and communication from the field to the purchasing department. “In all, these process improvements have allowed our salespeople to spend more time with customers and less time dealing with internal issues,” Bieberbach explains.
The company has also updated its technology, from the speed of the servers to smart phones and tablets, in order to provide the tools necessary to work quickly and efficiently. “We are also upgrading our personnel to include product and application specialists to address the specific needs of customers as they arise,” says Bieberbach. “We are looking for better branch locations and enhancing others to make us more accessible to those we serve. We have hired a development manager to pursue new M&A possibilities. Lastly, we continue to evaluate product additions to our Line Cards. We pride ourselves on the vast knowledge of the diverse array of products that we bring to the market, and our ability to have it when the customer needs it.”
Headquarters: Broadview, IL
Core Products: Bearings, power transmission
A leading bearing supplier for more than 75, Bearing Headquarters offers more than 300 product lines from major bearing and power transmission parts manufacturers.
Bearing Headquarters serves as an interesting reminder that down doesn’t necessarily mean out. The company reached the ranks of the Industrial Distribution Big 50 List for its fiscal year 2008, but the recession caused declining revenues in the following year. Since then, the company has grown at a pace that exceeds the industry. We spoke with Rich Harting, president and CEO, to discuss how they made this turnaround.
ID: How have you been able to rebound ahead of the curve when a lot of companies are still struggling?
RH: The first thing is our attitude. Customers were still buying, but they were spending more cautiously. We were optimistic that we could offer the best products for the application at reasonable prices, when they needed the product. So we’d just always give the customer a good reason to buy from Bearing Headquarters. We also had a strong emphasis on training, which we’re intensifying this year. So while a lot of companies didn’t spend that much on training, we did last year.
ID: What type of training programs have been at the core of this?
RH: It’s been mostly product training, and we’ve also emphasized—both with our inside and outside sales team—a Certified Bearing Specialist program. And we’re intensifying that, so they’re more involved in going out there and solving customers’ problems. One of the things we’re really proud of is, we’ve got a documented solutions program. Last year, we did hundreds of these and the average solution ranged from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So by being a solutions provider, they want to come to you and buy from you, and use your knowledge and expertise.
And another thing we’ve done is, our staff at the local facilities are empowered to make spot decisions to satisfy the customer. Those are the types of things that make customers want to come to us. You don’t just say, ‘I’ve got a long delivery.’ Instead you say: ‘I’ll find a solution for this long delivery.’ It involves the customers, us, and oftentimes we get the manufacturers involved for alternatives.
ID: We’ve heard from many of the industrial end users we speak with that customer service issues have become a real pain point for them during this recession, so it’s great that you’re able to keep a continued emphasis on that.
RH: It is, because the end users—the manufacturers who are our customers—have cut back on maintenance people and their engineering staffs. They don’t have the people there to help them that they did before.Suppliers like ourselves, and those who bring the value-added services like we have, will gain tremendously.
Corrosion Fluid Products Group
Headquarters: Farmington Hills, MI
Core Products: Pumps, valves,
Corrosion Fluid Products Corp. was established in 1968 by Navy Veteran Joe Andronaco Sr. The company has 11 branch offices throughout the Midwest and considers itself a technical resource to its target markets, specializing in fluid handling equipment and system reliability initiatives. “We are committed to a continuous improvement process providing consistent value and innovation through strategic alliances with leading manufacturer’s and cost effective application engineering solutions,” says company president Joe Andronaco.
The company has done some aggressive investing in its facilities in recent years, in order to help develop its capabilities and services. “The most recent initiatives taken to ensure continued growth have been equipping several strategically located branches with machines, cranes, and key personnel to increase pump and valve repair,” explains Andronaco. “Our newest investment has been in Clarksville Tennessee, where we have invested over $1 million in the building and new expansion to service the region. In 2010 we invested $1,500,000 in our Pittsburgh operation with new tools and equipment.”
Corrosion Fluid Products also invests in its people, making sure company personnel can serve as a valuable resource in ultimately saving customers money. Says Andronaco, “We have qualified chemical, mechanical, electrical, and nuclear engineers aboard to support our efforts to solve our customer’s liquid handling problems.
Our approach is to ultimately lower the cost of ownership by providing increased reliability by optimizing and increasing service life of the equipment that they have. We do this by identifying the 20% of the plant equipment and processes that cause 80% of the maintenance costs, and target those areas by providing system engineering and root cause failure analysis. We provide solutions and a guarantee that the equipment will last longer by utilizing our technical resource staff and the best available technologies in the marketplace.”
The company’s next steps include ambitious sales goals, an extension of the growth they’ve exhibited over the past decade. According to Andronaco, the company’s growth has been over 300 percent in the last eight years. “To see the sales plan coming to fruition has been a great team achievement for the company and we are excited,” he says. “Our commitment to investment in people, facilities, equipment and, most importantly, our commitment to lowering costs of customer operations will become evident as we enhance and clearly present our message.”