Mahany Welding Supply

Building excitement about welding

Five years ago, Mahany Welding Supply President Michael Krupnicki took a long, hard look at his welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases company and the marketplace it served. Like many regions in the nation, manufacturing in Rochester, New York, was on a downward trend. The city’s largest employer, Eastman Kodak, was losing ground to digital competition and cutting employees as a result. Consolidation in the industry was turning welding supplies into a commodity. The landscape for the independent gases and welding distributor was changing, and changing fast. It was time for Mahany to change with it.

COMPANY SNAPSHOT
20a_logo

President: Michael Krupnicki
Year Founded:
1946
Year Joined GAWDA:
1985
Headquarters:
Rochester, New York
Branch Locations:
Rochester, New York
Employees:
13
Web Site:
www.mahanyweld.com

“It was my belief that we needed to increase the retail end of the business by providing a venue for individuals who wanted to weld but didn’t know how or where,” says Krupnicki. “So instead of focusing on large companies and doing the traditional industrial business, we shifted the focus toward developing retail business that didn’t exist.” Today, a new facility featuring a state-of-the-art showroom and full training lab serves as an open invitation for customers to explore the science and art of welding.

Finding New Ways of Doing Business
Mahany Welding Supply was founded in 1946 by William Mahany, then purchased in 1959 by Ted Krupnicki, who had worked with Mahany since the company’s founding. Ted Krupnicki was succeeded as president by his son Mike in 1996. The company built a new headquarters in 1972 and maintained only one location until 2001. It continues to operate as what Mike Krupnicki calls a “traditional” welding supply distributor, heavily weighted on hardgoods.

Clearly it was a formula that worked, sustaining the company beyond the half-century mark. However, as Krupnicki looked around and saw the rapid pace of the change around him, he knew his company had to find new ways of doing business or risk becoming outdated. Mahany Welding Supply was a small company, and so didn’t have the purchasing power to compete on price. “We had to differentiate ourselves in another way,” says Krupnicki. “I wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum, focusing on the high value-add and differentiating ourselves with the store itself, to make it a place where people really looked forward to going.”

20b_headquarters

Mahany Welding Supply's 11,000-square-foot headquarters opened in 2001 and features a showroom, multimedia classroom, training lab, offices and warehouse.

Krupnicki studied a variety of retail businesses in Rochester—such as upscale car dealerships, Home Depot and Wegmans, a regional grocery chain known for its store layout and which was ranked the #1 Best Company to Work For in 2005 by Fortune magazine—to learn what their stores looked like and how they marketed their products. “My philosophy was, customers today want an enjoyable, sensory buying experience. Not only are we competing against the buying experience at other welding supply dealers, but the customer’s expectation of any retail experience,” says Krupnicki. “If they’re used to going into Wegmans or Best Buy or a Lexus dealership, that sets their expectations for a visit to the welding supply distributor too.”

Based on his observations, Krupnicki designed a store that would set Mahany Welding Supply apart. In contrast to the company’s 4,000-square-foot previous headquarters, which now serves as a branch office, the new store, completed in 2001 and located in the Rochester suburb of Gates, is 11,000 square feet with 19-foot-high ceilings, lending an open and airy feeling, and features ceramic tile floors and slatwall displays for a high-tech look. The facility is kept immaculately clean, which Krupnicki believes inspires greater trust and confidence among customers. The company built many of its own fixtures, often out of metal, which not only gives the store a modern feel, but also immerses the customer in an atmosphere of metal and metal fabrication. A stainless steel coffee bar beckons customers, and metal works of art designed by local artists adorn the facility. In addition to the showroom, the building features a multimedia classroom, a 1,400-square-foot training lab, offices and a warehouse.

The Education Advantage
The centerpiece of Mahany Welding Supply’s new store is the training lab. Set 30 feet inside the main entrance to the store, it serves as a highly visible and important extension of the showroom.

20c_training-lab

Mahany Welding Supply's training lab has 12 welding stations for classes and demonstrations.

The lab features 19-foot-high ceilings and a fume exhaust system, and is well lit and freshly painted once a year. The training lab originally opened with six welding stations, though that number has grown to 12 due to increased demand. The equipment in each booth is sold every six months in order to keep relatively new equipment in the booths at all times.

The training lab doubles as a demonstration room. “A traditional showroom would have new welding machines sitting there looking pretty, without making any sparks,” says Krupnicki. “Instead, we put ours in the lab so customers can go in and try them, and anything else we sell, before they buy.”

However, the lab’s most important purpose has been to offer Mahany Welding Supply a place to host educational programs. The genesis of the idea for Krupnicki was years of phone calls from customers asking, for example, where they could take a class to learn how to use a new MIG welder. The only local options at the time were night classes through continuing education programs, where a student might have to take several weeks’ worth of training on stick welding before even being allowed on a MIG welder. “I thought, that’s not a true prerequisite. That’s just old-fashioned thinking,” says Krupnicki. “I wanted to develop programs that truly fit what the community wanted, and what is relevant now.”

A variety of training courses are offered in the lab, including full-day Saturday clinics for MIG and TIG welding, a two-Saturday metal sculpture class, eight-evening MIG and TIG courses, and AWS code clinics. Students run the gamut from hardcore fabricators and collision professionals to hobbyists and artists.

The company brings in outside trainers as primary instructors for the classes; past examples include a certified welding inspector with a gift for teaching, and a couple of lifelong welders with teaching experience in vocational/technical schools. All outside instructors have to go through a screening process, and a Mahany employee acts as an assistant for each class. “We don’t promote selling,” Krupnicki explains. “Our training programs are not just an excuse to sell people stuff. The true focus is on education. That’s why we bring in qualified outsiders.”

20d_sculptures

Over 50 pieces of metal sculpture, professionally crafted by local artists, adorn Mahany's headquarters.

The company’s training philosophy is that the courses should be 50 percent education and 50 percent entertainment. That way, students not only are learning, they’re actively engaged in that learning process and having fun. And the more the students enjoy their experiences learning the welding process, the more likely it is that they will continue to weld—and continue coming to Mahany Welding Supply. In many cases, students who take one class come back to take all of them. That’s the kind of loyalty Krupnicki wants to create.

“We’re not going after the professional vocational training to create legions of new full-time welders,” he says. “We’re looking to get the occasional welders who need good, sound fundamentals. That’s the initial thrust of our training. And I believe that if we can get people to come into the store for a class, treat them like our guests—not like students or customers, but truly like guests—give them a good education and help them build confidence in who we are, then we can create customers for life.”

Mahany doesn’t advertise its training courses, only going so far as to print an informational brochure. Instead, the company relies on word of mouth—and it’s a strategy that works. Last year, nearly every class was sold out. Krupnicki kicks off every class personally by finding out who students are and how they heard about Mahany’s training classes. “We’re into the third and fourth generation now of friend who told a friend who told a friend. That tells me something we’re doing here is right.” After only three years of offering training courses, the company is close to welcoming its 1,000th student.

That word-of-mouth power has been good not just for classroom attendance, but also for the company’s sales. Krupnicki acknowledges that the company has seen a “delightful” increase in business that has exceeded expectations since the store and training lab opened. This, despite the fact that the new facility opened in May of 2001, on the cusp of a recession and just prior to the events of 9/11. The company picks up new sales from students in the training classes, as well as from their employers, once those students go back to work and talk about their experiences at Mahany.

Building Customers of the Future
In addition to the courses Mahany Welding Supply organizes for local professionals, hobbyists and artists, the company also outsources for two local colleges and opens its facilities to local high schools. For four years, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has conducted its spring semester metal sculpture class at Mahany Welding Supply. The company also developed with RIT’s mechanical engineering department a credit course in which engineering students come to the store and learn welding, then go back to the labs at RIT and perform more technical analysis of the welding process. The goal, Krupnicki says, is to graduate more engineers who have an in-depth, practical understanding of welding technology. Starting this fall, another local college, the State University of New York at Brockport, will send its metalsmithing class to Mahany’s facility.

RIT students come to Mahany Welding Supply not just for their coursework, but also for their extracurriculars. The company provides several of the college’s clubs—including those that build miniature formula racecars and bridges for intercollegiate competitions—with free, all-day Saturday training, as well as the opportunity to come back and use the facility to build their projects, if they’re so inclined.

20e_classroom2

For the last three years, Mahany Welding Supply has offered classes for a variety of interests and ability levels. These students are among the 1,000 who have passed through Mahany's doors so far.

Last spring, Mahany opened its facility to high school students participating in a regional robot-building competition. Four students interned at Mahany Welding Supply to develop a training DVD on how to TIG weld such robots. The DVD then was distributed to all the different high schools that competed in Rochester. “Thirty-three high schools from around the East Coast now can see how great it can be to weld their robots, instead of bolting them together,” says Krupnicki. “Now they’ll go home to their communities and turn to their local welding distributors for equipment and more advice.”

The company’s effort at community outreach with local educational institutions is something Krupnicki is very proud of, and he considers it a worthwhile investment of time and resources. “With the young students coming in, we’re building the customers of the future—not just for Mahany, but for other welding supply distributors around the country. As these people graduate and scatter into the wind, hopefully they’ll have a good image of welding and welding distributors in their minds.”

A Family Affair
Long before the opening of a new store and the explosion of its educational programs, Mahany Welding Supply had a strong foundation in place on which to grow. Mike Krupnicki is the second generation of Krupnickis to run the company. His father Ted, sister Diane Barth, and brother David all are active owners in Mahany Welding Supply as well, and their leadership sets the tone for the entire 13-employee company. The owners treat Mahany employees as an important part of the family, and the employees appreciate knowing they are valued. “Our turnover is next to nothing,” says Mike Krupnicki. “We’ve been slowly and steadily adding people, but we haven’t been replacing anybody.”

20f_employees

At Mahany Welding Supply, customers are friends and employees are part of the family. From left: Jerry Kozak, inside sales; Kim Beerse, accounts receivable; Willie Shoemaker, operations; President Michael Krupnicki (top); Paul Moore, driver; Tom Perrin, driver; Diane Barth, office manager.

That policy of showing appreciation for others is something all Mahany employees carry over into their interactions with customers. One thing the company looks for in potential employees is whether they are genuinely happy people—if they are happy with their lives and happy to be working at Mahany Welding Supply, they won’t have to fake that in front of customers. “So much of our success comes from personal contact with customers,” says Krupnicki. “As my father always told me, we don’t have customers; we have friends who do business with us. In all of our customer interactions, we strive to emphasize how happy we are that they chose us to do business with.” Krupnicki looks beyond the clichÇ of the “satisfied customer.” “Satisfaction—to me, that’s an average experience,” he says. “We focus on customer loyalty, exceeding customer expectations to such a degree that they wouldn’t consider doing business with anyone else, and they tell their friends about us.”

The loyalty Mahany Welding Supply fosters in its customers is the same type of loyalty it offers to its suppliers. The company works with two or three carefully chosen suppliers in each product area and aggressively markets their products. “They appreciate that loyalty, and they give it back to us,” says Krupnicki. “I recently was told by our key supplier that he knows that all our dealings are with integrity. That meant a lot to me.” Another clear indication of the respect the company’s vendors accord it came in April 2005, when Mahany Welding Supply was presented with the American Welding Society’s Image of Welding Award. Mahany was nominated by two of its suppliers in recognition of the company’s ongoing efforts to improve the image of welding in the Rochester area.

Building Excitement
Mahany Welding Supply’s goals for the future are at once modest and ambitious. Krupnicki has no plans to grow by opening branches in other parts of the state. “We’re very content striving to be the very best there is in Rochester.” He hopes to expand the company’s educational offerings to attract students from a larger geographic area; however, as the currently available training space already is maxed out, the company is in discussions about expanding its headquarters in order to offer other training programs.

“We want to continue to build awareness in this community that welding is doable for everybody,” he says. “It’s just like woodworking on weekends. Every house has a circular saw and a drill. Why can’t they have a MIG welder and a plasma cutter to work with metal too?”

The Krupnicki family takes a lot of pride in what Mahany Welding Supply has been able to accomplish in just five short years, and they look forward to continued success in the welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases industry. “When we first started doing all these things, I just assumed other companies were doing it too,” Mike Krupnicki says. “But the more I hear suppliers from around the East Coast tell me, ‘Next to nobody is doing anything like this,’ the more I believe there is something unique going on here. We’re reaching into the community and building excitement about welding. It takes a lot of effort, there’s no question about it, but I can’t imagine doing business any other way.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association