AWISCO: The AWISCO Advantage

Satisfied customers. Satisfied vendors. Satisfied employees.

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Lloyd Robinson, president of AWISCO

AWISCO New York Corp. has a long history of going above and beyond what needs to be done when serving its welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases customers. AWISCO President Lloyd Robinson, who purchased the company from his father in 2000, has taken that commitment to a deeper level. Based on the belief that service to customers, no matter how hard, is the foundation of the company, AWISCO has created a culture where nothing is too difficult when serving customers. While this idea of “customer-first” is mouthed by many, AWISCO truly gets it right.

In 1954, Lloyd Robinson’s father, Bernie, and a business partner opened Ace Welding in the Bronx section of New York. A few years later, they merged with two others who owned Harris Welding. In 1972, Harris-Ace was purchased by Bernie Robinson’s brother Jerry and became part of the Unibraze-AWISCO network. AWISCO, aka the American Welding and Industrial Supplies Corporation, was a name coined by Jerry Robinson and included some 30 distributorships around the world. By 1979, Unibraze was sold and the new investors wanted to dismantle the local distributorships. Coming full circle, Bernie Robinson purchased what had become of his original company and renamed it AWISCO New York Corp.

Lloyd Robinson’s first recollection of working in the welding supply business was around the age of nine when he came in to his father’s place on a Saturday to fill three-ring binders with catalogs the salespeople would take to customers the following week. Robinson went on to study at Cornell University and earned a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations. He returned to AWISCO in 1990 to work alongside his father.

COMPANY SNAPSHOT
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President: Lloyd Robinson
Year Founded:
1954
Year Joined GAWDA:
1958
Headquarters:
Maspeth, New York
Branch Locations:
West Babaylon, Holbrook, NY; Milford, West Orange, Branchville, NY; Fort Lauderdale, FL
Employees:
80
2008 Sales:
$25 million
Web Site:
www.awisco.com

By 2000, Bernie Robinson was ready to sell his company and retire. It was at a good place. Sales totaled around $9 million, and there were two locations: Maspeth, New York; and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Lloyd purchased all the shares from his family and became the sole owner of AWISCO. The strong foundation laid by his father was intact, and he was ready to take it to new heights. He is mindful of his father’s legacy as he repeats something his brother told him when he purchased the company: “Just because you’re standing on third doesn’t mean you hit a triple.” Says Robinson, “While we’ve had some unbelievable growth in the last 10 years, certainly the foundation that was laid before me is key to that success.”

Today, AWISCO’s sales are around $25 million, and the company has seven locations. Robinson attributes that success to “really good people, a market that has not slowed, and luck.” Much of it, however, can be attributed to Robinson’s relentless focus on service to customers, developing good relationships with vendors, and well-trained employees.

Above and Beyond
On the early afternoon of September 11, 2001, AWISCO made its first delivery of air, gas and the associated cutting equipment to the World Trade Center site in New York City, a short drive from Maspeth, New York. AWISCO’s commitment to the workers at Ground Zero, those responsible for the rescue and recovery efforts, did not wane. Deliveries continued for six months. Recalls Robinson, “We worked seven days a week and 20 hours a day for the first two weeks, and then six days a week for the next six months.”

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The AWISCO showrooom offers much to see and buy.

Robinson’s voice gets quiet when he speaks of those days. Looking back, it’s not hard to see how the workers at Ground Zero came to rely on the workers of AWISCO. AWISCO could be counted on, and was ready, willing and able to deliver, no matter the cost. Robinson had to purchase a lot of assets to supply the clean-up efforts, and when it was over, that investment was rewarded with enough cash to grow his company.

Better than “Good Enough”
Headquartered in the borough of Queens in Maspeth, New York, AWISCO has branches throughout the Metro New York area in West Babylon and Holbrook; and in Milford, West Orange and Branchville, New Jersey. An operation in Florida handles export business. In the early 1990s, many AWISCO export customers relocated from New York City to Miami, insisting they would only do business with a local company. So AWISCO set up an office in Fort Lauderdale and now exports over $2 million worth of welding and industrial safety supplies to the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Robinson is reluctant to discuss AWISCO’s growth strategy. “We focus on being the best company that we can be today.” He does, however, look at industry trends and makes sure AWISCO employees are ahead of the curve. He says, “We look at trends and make sure our employees are trained properly, that we have good relationships with our vendors, and cemented relationships with customers. Everything else takes care of itself. We just keep servicing our customers the best way we know how and, hopefully, that’s good enough.”

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Held every year, AWISCO's trade shows attract up to 1,000 visitors.

One trend Robinson is willing to talk about is the need for enhanced efficiencies. “We are focusing our people, especially our salespeople, on learning how to make our customers more efficient in their own operations.” Robinson says the word “automation” is overused and too simple to describe the current need of customers to utilize new technologies to become more efficient. AWISCO’s salespeople are learning new processes and products to share with their customers. They also utilize vendor salespeople. “A lot,” says Robinson. “Our salespeople work side by side with our vendors’ salespeople to make sure that customers are getting as much efficiencies out of their operations as possible.” This has turned into a win for all sides.

To guarantee that the win continues, every employee at the company receives some type of formal training throughout the year. This training includes in-house programs, vendor classes, GAWDA conventions and conferences, the Young Executives Conference, Fabtech/AWS and the University of Industrial Distribution at Purdue. You name it. If it will teach how to service the customer better, AWISCO employees are learning it.

AWISCO carries products from over 100 vendors with an inventory totaling $1.5 million. “We invest heavily in hardgoods,” says Robinson, who points out that a large portion of AWISCO’s customers are contractors. “Our mindset is that if a guy needs to start a job tomorrow, all he needs to do is supply the men and the steel, and we’ll supply the rest.” About 65 percent of AWISCO’s sales are hardgoods, 35 percent are cylinder sales.

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Customers have a chance to see the latest technologies from a variety of vendors.

Every June, AWISCO holds its annual Trade Show. Drawing up to 1,000 current and potential customers eager to see new products and presentations, as well as meet the many vendors who set up shop for the two-day event, the show has become a highlight of AWISCO’s marketing program. Advertised by e-mail blasts, print mailings, phone calls and on every piece of literature leaving AWISCO, the event has become a must-attend for local contractors.

A newsletter delivered via mail and e-mail also keeps customers apprised of new products and promotions. A column called “Answer Man,” lets customers submit questions about products and welding processes. The Answer Man is really located on AWISCO’s Web site, which contains special promotions, product listings, company news, contests and more. Customers are urged to visit often.

On the Web site, a letter from Lloyd Robinson welcomes visitors. In it, he thanks them for considering AWISCO as their partner, and he suggests they contact him for help. He writes, “I hope that we will always exceed your expectations, but if we fall short, please feel free to contact me directly.” And then he lists not only his office and cell phone numbers, but his home phone number! “I want to show that we’re serious about customer service,” Robinson says. For the record, Robinson has never received a phone call at home.

Working Together
Lloyd Robinson was named GAWDA’s First Vice President at the Annual Convention last September. A long-time promoter of the association, Robinson, 42, now joins the Executive Committee and will become president in 2011. He knows the value of GAWDA, as he’s been a recipient of that value for many years. For him, the number one value of membership is the ability to network and learn from others. “I always leave GAWDA events with at least a handful of ideas to run my business better.”

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These AWISCO staff members know what it takes to be of service.

When he thinks about the needs of his industry peers, Robinson expects that consolidation throughout the industry will continue to be a challenge, and he will work to help find a way to help small companies join the association and receive the benefits of membership. He points to one of the side effects of industry consolidation: “The more consolidation going on, the more startups, a byproduct of individuals not satisfied with the consolidated company and going out on their own.”

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The women of AWISCO get the job done with speed and efficiency.

Another issue on his mind is the role of the distributor. “Our vendors understand that distributors hold a lot of sway with the customer, and we’re in a unique position because of the expertise we bring to customers. The only way our industry will survive is if the distributor continues to be the mechanism for customers to get the information they need to run their businesses in a more productive and efficient fashion. And that only happens if vendors and distributors are working together, hand in hand.”

The Right Choice
The 80 employees of AWISCO are relentless in their mission to go above and beyond what is required to service their customers. “We want to be the supplier of choice to our welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases customers,” Robinson says. “We want to be the customer of choice to our welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases vendors and the employer of choice to our people.” Robinson is hard-wired to make sure this happens at AWISCO.

And he is ready to bring that commitment to the membership of Gases and Welding Distributors Association and its Executive Committee.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association