Atlas Welding Supply Company

New ownership duo sets a course for growth at Alabama’s Atlas Welding Supply Company.

When Bill Visintainer and James Cain took over Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based Atlas Welding Supply Company in May 2008, they immediately began to implement a growth strategy for the more-than-60-year-old company. In just over 12 months, sales have grown by 39 percent, thanks to a host of new initiatives, products and procedures. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in a short time,” Visintainer, president, says. “But we’re not satisfied. We are continually raising the bar for ourselves.”


President: Bill Visintainer
Year Founded:
Year Joined GAWDA:
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Branch Locations:
Birmingham, Alabama
2008 Sales: $3.5 million
Web Site:

That much is evident from the last year. The two men took over a $2.5 million company that was fueled primarily by walk-in business from a “fiercely loyal” customer base. “We open at 7:00 a.m., and many mornings people are waiting at 6:45. It’s like we’re the corner coffee shop for local welders and fabricators.”

Such an atmosphere is a credit to the company’s history of success, which can be traced back to 1944, when scrap metal company Temerson & Son became an Airco distributor. In 1978, the owners offered the welding supply side to the employee running it, Jack Englebert. Englebert needed a partner, so he approached his largest customer, Cain Steel, run by J. M. Cain, for help. Englebert and Cain bought the company, and Cain served as a silent partner to Englebert, who handled the day-to-day company affairs. The first step was to change the name to Atlas Welding Supply in order to be near the front of the Yellow Pages listings.

By the time Englebert was ready to retire in 2007, Cain had passed away and the company had been placed in the ownership of a Cain family trust. Meanwhile, Bill Visintainer was working for BOC in Canada. BOC was being purchased by Linde and his work visa was about to expire, so he and his wife Debbie decided to move the family back to the United States. He contacted Englebert, who he knew from his days as an independent distributor in Birmingham, Alabama. After lengthy discussion, Visintainer was set to buy 100 percent of Atlas, but there was one more twist.

James Cain, son of J. M. Cain, represented the Cain family in the sale and decided that he really liked Visintainer’s business plan. At the time, Cain was working in securities and investments, but he had worked at Atlas as a youth and proposed becoming Visintainer’s business partner. Visintainer hesitated at first, but Cain eventually persuaded him that a partnership could serve as a catalyst for rapid growth. In May 2008, Visintainer and Cain came to an agreement whereby Visintainer is president with responsibilities for sales and operations. Vice President Cain has primary responsibility for sales and back office functions.

Getting a Jump Start
The new owners wasted no time implementing their plans. “Our competitors here are much larger than we are, so we can’t outbid them. We have to outperform them,” Visintainer says. “We do that by improving the customer outcome in four ways: increasing efficiency, reducing waste, improving safety and providing accurate transactions.” To address the accuracy and efficiency issues, Visintainer and Cain sought to upgrade some of the company’s processes. “Atlas was an incredibly successful and stable business before we took over, but it was stagnant with respect to growth, investment and modernization,” Visintainer says.


(l-r) Atlas Welding Supply Company President Bill Visintainer, Branch Manager Gary Meggs and Vice President James Cain

Most of the company’s operations revolved around handwritten notes, invoices and checks, so the new owners implemented a new computer system for sales, tracking, pricing and invoicing. “Previously, all those steps were manual, and the manager had to be here for at least two hours after closing to go through paperwork,” Cain says. “It was a successful system, but it wasn’t a platform from which we could leap to execute our growth strategy.”

Building on its crop of loyal customers, Atlas started to execute its strategy by offering more solutions, including a concentrated effort on increasing the gas side of the business. When Visintainer and Cain bought the company, Atlas’s sales breakdown was about 15 percent gases and 85 percent hardgoods. The top priority was to narrow that ratio, and it is now closer to 35-65. Atlas has purchased four tube trailers, leases another and has six bulk tanks that enable the company to perform on-site filling of helium, propane, propylene, oxygen, nitrogen and CO2. “We are the only facility in this market that fills compressed gas cylinders on site, and we have leveraged that position in our value proposition to customers,” Visintainer says.

Another piece of the gas-focused strategy includes more focus on small bulk. Atlas had exactly zero small bulk clients last May but has since set up 12 third-party bulk installations, each on a seven-year contract. “Contracted small bulk business is very durable and sustainable. That’s something that a lot of companies have been doing for a long time, but we didn’t pursue those opportunities before,” Visintainer says.

In addition to product and process improvements, the vision for growth included an expanded physical presence. Atlas headquarters are located in a 15,000 sq. ft. building that sits on five acres of land and houses a showroom, warehouse, pumping facility and offices. That had been the company’s only location since moving there in 1981, and about 95 percent of the company’s sales dollars came from within a ten-mile radius. That changed in October 2008, when Atlas began to utilize a plant in Birmingham, some 56 miles away, for helium filling and some minor beverage CO2 business. “It’s an economically feasible standalone operation right now, though the plan is to grow it into a full-fledged facility as the economy allows,” Cain says.

Bear Bryant Management
Even with their expanded presence, Visintainer and Cain remain committed to servicing the local Tuscaloosa community, given their standing as the only locally owned and operated gas and welding distributorship in the area. Their involvement includes everything from participation in the local Boys & Girls Club and cystic fibrosis awareness to sponsorships of youth events and a local golf tournament. Visintainer believes that personal touch is the attribute that sets his company apart. “During the ownership change, we didn’t really announce it because we decided the best approach for us was to go directly out to customers and get to know them personally,” he says, adding that good personal relationships breed loyalty.


The staff of Atlas Welding Supply Company

Quick to praise employees and credit them with the company’s success, Visintainer and Cain adhere to what Cain calls the “Bear Bryant philosophy of management,” fitting for a company in the same city that was home to famed University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. “If our employees are successful, it is all their doing,” Cain explains. “If they aren’t, then it’s the owners’ fault for not providing them the tools they need.” Employees seem to appreciate that outlook, as borne out by the fact that several employees have been working at Atlas since the Cain family took over in 1978.

Visintainer says that the key to such stability lies in empowerment. “There are only three things people can do here to get fired: Do something unsafe, illegal or unethical,” he explains. “Don’t make a habit of it, but losing money won’t get you fired if your intent was to do the right thing for the customer or the company. We can make money back. Once we train people on the irreversible mistakes—safety, legality and ethics—we turn them loose.”

Both Visintainer and Cain believe that employee buy-in and involvement has been the key to achieving the company’s past and future goals. “James and I don’t hold a franchise on great ideas. We want employees to engage their brains and act as entrepreneurial owners in our business. The employees are still getting used to that concept, but we continue to nurture that attitude, and we’re happy with the progress so far.”


Atlas Welding Supply Company's headquarters in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, covers 15,000 sq. ft. on five acres of land.

Reliance on Partnerships
In order to put the company slogan, “Local service backed by global resources,” into practice, one of Visintainer’s first orders of business was to join GAWDA. “Atlas was not a GAWDA member under the previous ownership,” he says. “We find the association to be an incredible source of networking for us. We have no hesitation to pick up the phone and call another GAWDA member for help.”


The predecessor to Atlas Welding Supply Company, Temerson & Son, became an Airco distributor in 1944.

One way such relationships have paid off is in the form of the company’s most recent strategic partnership, with nexAir (Memphis, TN), a large distributor and fellow GAWDA member. Atlas and nexAir work together to service large customer accounts. The benefit to Atlas is that it works with customers it may not have had the capability to get on its own, while nexAir gets the benefit of working beyond the scope of its traditional geographic territory. “We pay them for access to some of their products, technologies and other resources that we don’t otherwise have. It’s an unusual situation,” Visintainer says. “Having an open mind allows a company like ours to be more competitive with the big boys in our market.”

Other partnerships critical to helping the company succeed include those with suppliers such as Lincoln Electric, Linde, Gas Innovations and Trendex. “We had sales increases of more than 40 percent with Lincoln Electric and more than 60 percent with Linde in 2008,” he says. “Loyalty to our vendors is a core commitment that’s been a trademark throughout the whole existence of the company. That’s a legacy that’s well worth maintaining.”

Plans for the Future
The new owners have barely had a year to get their plans in place, but the results have them ready to attack the future. “We want to continue to proactively deliver solutions to current customers and also to grow with potential acquisitions or scratch-starts in markets where it makes sense for us to be,” Cain says.


Kyle Robertson (l) and Steve Harris discuss an order for Pure Process Medical and Scientific Gases, an Atlas Welding Supply Company subsidiary formed in 2008.


NEW FEATURE! Go behind the scenes of Atlas Welding Supply Company with the Audio/Video Member Profile, available here.

As part of that plan, Atlas formed a wholly owned subsidiary, Pure Process Medical and Scientific Gases, last November. Fabricators and metalworking businesses comprised the customer base throughout most of Atlas’s history, but as it has begun to make more inroads with medical gas customers such as doctors, dentists, veterinarians and small surgical centers, it seemed appropriate to create a separate company. “We outfitted a new truck with all our medical gas equipment and have a sales rep solely dedicated to that market,” Cain says. “We’re not approaching huge hospitals, but we have been successful delivering that service to a specific niche of consumers.”

As if all that wasn’t enough, there is a plan for phasing in a Web site throughout the next year. “The proposal calls for everything from development of a home page all the way into a full-blown, interactive e-commerce site,” Cain says.

It’s quite a journey from a manual order-taking system, but such grand changes seem to be the norm at Atlas Welding Supply Company these days. With the energetic ownership tandem in place, the route to success has been clearly marked.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association