Experts In Efficiency

Meet four IT professionals who make life easier for their companies.

With the dizzying pace of technology, it is all too easy to get bogged down trying to keep track of the latest innovations. Even then, how do you distinguish between short-lived trends and real, viable solutions that could help your bottom line?

When your network crashes, when your e-mail bounces, when your phones will not ring, where do you turn? When your solutions are no longer solutions and your terminals are terminally ill, it is the IT professionals who are there to help.

How do IT professionals mediate the unique demands of the gases and welding industry? The four young IT professionals on these pages each bring an inspired approach to technology and with it a mission to make life easier for their company and its customers.

Michael Chelgren
Michael Chelgren, 28
Systems Administrator
American Welding & Gas
Billings, MT

“There are a lot of
people who will help
if we get stumped.”

Michael Chelgren
American Welding & Gas

When Michael Chelgren arrived at American Welding & Gas (AWG), he came with no knowledge of welding equipment or gases. Chelgren decided that the best way to learn the industry was to get hands-on experience. “I jumped in with both feet. I started learning our products and helping out with our physical inventories.” After four years in the industry, Chelgren knows there is still a lot to learn. “Learning the industry is challenging, but it’s fun to learn about new products.”

Chelgren’s responsibilities as systems administrator include overseeing the company’s network, system backup, disaster recovery and point of sale (POS) systems. When it comes to new technology, AWG looks to Chelgren for answers. “I am asked by general managers or our company president, ‘This is what we want to do. Can it be done?’ I do research and get pricing information, and we work together to make an informed decision.” These informed decisions have facilitated a number of improvements at AWG. “This week we completed four inventories,” Chelgren explains. “The stores scan the data and upload it to our headquarters. The process is faster and there is less room for error.”

As AWG prepares to upgrade its POS system, perhaps no one is anticipating the new system more than Chelgren himself. Because AWG’s Unix-based system is 15 years old, technical support is hard to come by. “With modern hardware, there are a lot of people who will help if we get stumped,” Chelgren says. “Maintaining the older system is challenging at times.”

When Chelgren encounters a problem he cannot solve, he turns to the system vendor for assistance. “We just built a new network for our company and we didn’t know how to connect everything. We got in touch with the vendor and learned everything we needed.” It is this kind of experience and resourcefulness that enables Chelgren to keep things running smoothly at AWG.

Chris Bennear
Dale Oxygen

For Chris Bennear, what started out as a personal interest in computers has blossomed into a career in the family gases and welding business. Bennear started working at Dale Oxygen at the age of 16, painting cylinders and pitching in wherever he could. Soon after, the opportunity arose to get involved with the company’s network systems. “When we got our last server, I helped set up the computers and did some of the basic programming on the new system.”

Bennear has long had a fascination with computers. “In my spare time, I like to tinker with computers and build my own systems.” Bennear has built up his knowledge of technology through courses on programming, networking and Web development. As the information systems manager at Dale Oxygen, Bennear maintains the computer systems, network and phone systems.

Even with his responsibilities, Bennear still finds time to help with everyday installations, maintenance and inspections. His experience keeps him in tune with the day-to-day operations and enables him to evaluate emerging technologies. “There is a constant need to know what new technology is available, and then determine if it is cost-effective or worthwhile.”

To stay abreast of technology, Bennear subscribes to computing magazines and attends industry trade shows. “Many vendors at trade shows specialize in technology for our industry, whether it is applications for automation, inventory or accounting.” In magazines and at trade shows, Bennear is always looking for new technology to can bring to Dale Oxygen. “I see more automation, especially with cylinders. Cylinder tracking can help businesses avoid shelling out money to buy new tanks because the cylinders are lost.” By keeping up with developments in gases and welding technology, Bennear helps Dale Oxygen operate more efficiently and serve its customers better.

Chris Bennear
Chris Bennear, 33
Information Systems Manager
Dale Oxygen
Johnstown, PA

“There is a constant
need to know what new
technology is available,
and then determine if
it is costeffective.”
Rodney Huber
Rodney Huber, 23
Production Manager and Internet Sales
Huber Supply Company
Mason City, IA

“Online customers
want to talk to someone
to get sound advice,
to know that they’re
making the right
decision.”

Rodney Huber
Huber Supply Company

When Rodney Huber joined the family business four years ago, he started by filling tanks and unloading trucks. “Being up on the dock gave me a better understanding of the whole business.” Nowadays, Huber’s responsibilities include maintenance of the computer and e-mail systems. Recently, Huber took it upon himself to extend the company’s reach to new markets through the Web. “The e-commerce site we set up could have a profound impact on our sales and reach well beyond the Iowa-Minnesota area.”

So far, Huber has had great success with e-commerce, to the tune of customers in 32 different states in a matter of months. He employs a number of techniques to draw visitors to the site. “Search engine optimization is a natural way of increasing traffic. Every page has focused keywords.” Advertising has also yielded positive results in generating hits. However, Huber says there is no single, proven way to brew up a successful website. “It’s trial and error. If our sales are slow, I adjust the advertising keywords until I find what works.”

Although the online store requires no face-to-face interaction with customers, Huber says service is critical to creating loyalty. “Customers go online to find what they want, but they call up and ask if an item is right for their machine.” Huber Supply also keeps machine serial and model numbers on file when they make an online sale. “If the customer needs parts, we have their information on file so they don’t have to track down a serial number.”

Above all, Huber says the key to the company’s success is patience. “When we launched the site, we expected immediate results. That wasn’t the case. You have to be patient. You have to really keep plugging away at it.” In time, Huber’s own patience paid off. His tenacity shows in the success Huber Supply has achieved in new markets across the country.

Allison Earlbeck
Earlbeck Gases & Technologies

Allison Earlbeck started working in the family business six years ago, helping in any way she could—be it folding papers or sorting mail. Since then, Earlbeck has taken every opportunity to put her design skills to work for Earlbeck Gases & Technologies (EGT). “Anything design-based is my unofficial job here,” she says. When EGT recently remodeled its showroom, Earlbeck offered some direction to the design process. So, naturally, when it came to the company’s website, Earlbeck took on the design of that too.

However, the path that led to Earlbeck’s involvement with the website was quite accidental. “I never had much of an interest in learning Web design. But when I started taking classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I learned about the importance of being able to market myself.” For two of Earlbeck’s design classes, she was asked to create fully functional websites and publish them to the Web. “Once my dad got word, he asked me to work with the company website.” Earlbeck took the challenge in earnest and is planning a complete overhaul of the website to help bolster EGT’s Web presence.

Earlbeck says technology is changing the landscape for marketing. A business website is not merely a matter of convenience—it is an extension of the company’s image. “If I go to a website and there are broken links or if it hasn’t been maintained in a while, it makes me question whether I want to do business with the company.” Earlbeck says website design is not to be overlooked when marketing your company. “People do judge companies by that first impression. Having a good Web presence speaks to the professional quality of your company and its employees. It shows how seriously the organization takes itself.” Earlbeck says the company website is currently in progress, and hopes the new design will create a favorable impression with potential customers.

Allison Earlbeck
Allison Earlbeck, 18
Corporate Development
Earlbeck Gases and Technologies
Baltimore, MD

“Having a good Web
presence speaks to the
professional quality
of your company
and its employees.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association