O.E. Meyer Co: Running On Its Record

Veteran management team leads employee-owned O.E. Meyer Co.

With all of the chaos that has taken place in the business world over the last two years, the marketplace has gained a new level of respect for those companies that have demonstrated staying power. Without a doubt, Sandusky, Ohio-based O.E. Meyer Co. is one such organization. To offer some perspective on just how much this welding and medical supply distributor has experienced, consider that when Omar Meyer Sr. founded the company in 1918, the Boston Red Sox had just traded a young pitcher named Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees and a constitutional amendment banning booze was making its way through Congress. The company has endured through the Great Depression, a World War and countless economic downturns. The impetus behind its longevity is two-fold. O.E. Meyer Co. has consistently shown an ability to adapt and change with the times while also staying true to the customer-centric mindset that has guided it for more than 90 years.


OE Meyer Co

CEO: Rodney Belden

Year Founded: 1918

Year Joined GAWDA: 1965

Headquarters: Sandusky, Ohio

Branches: Sandusky, Fremont, Galion, Lorain, Maumee, Tiffin and Toledo, Ohio

Employees: 150

Website: www.oemeyer.com

A Familial Foundation
O.E. Meyer began as a partnership between Omar Meyer Sr. and his brother. The brothers founded the company strictly as a welding fabrication shop. In the early 1930s, the second generation of Meyers joined the company when Omar’s two sons, Omar Meyer Jr. and August “Gus” Meyer, came on board. To reflect the addition, the company was rebranded O.E. Meyer & Sons, a name it would retain until 1989.

About a decade after joining the company, the two Meyer sons oversaw several fundamental shifts in the company’s operations. In 1948, O.E. Meyer began selling welding supplies. A few years later, Gus Meyer left the main office to open another O.E. Meyer welding supply shop in Toledo, Ohio. In 1952, he purchased the branch outright, creating a separate welding supply business that remains active today. With his brother gone from the company and the welding supply business gaining steam, Meyer Jr. sold the welding fabrication business and committed fully to becoming a welding supply distributor. What followed was a steady expansion that saw the formal establishment of a medical division in 1976. The new division allowed O.E. Meyer to tap into an entirely new customer base, furthering its push for expansion. It was this new base of customers that allowed the company to gradually add branches, growing to the seven-location operation that it is today.

From Family-Owned To Employee-Owned
After more than 50 years with his father’s company, Meyer Jr. decided in 1988 that he was ready to retire. The question became who would get control of the company. Meyer Jr. could have sold the company to a competitor or to any number of potential suitors. However, his family had put 70 years into the business and he didn’t want to simply hand it over to anyone with a checkbook. Instead, Meyer decided to sell the company to the one group of investors that he knew could carry on the legacy—O.E. Meyer’s employees. On January 1, 1989, O.E. Meyer & Sons became O.E. Meyer Co., a 100-percent employee-owned company. Meyer Jr. became chairman of the board, and the day-to-day control of the company was given to newly appointed President Rodney Belden, a 21-year employee of the company.

O.E. Meyer Co.'s senior management team (l-r) Weld Division President Craig Wood, CEO Rodney Belden, Medical Division President David Belden

Belden, who is currently O.E. Meyer’s CEO, set out to see that transition to 100 percent employee ownership was seamless. It was a process that was much simpler than some might have expected. “What helped me when I took over was that Omar had really let me run the day-to-day operations for some time before he retired,” explains Belden. He also credits the company’s employee/owners with helping ease the transition. “We had and continue to have an incredible staff. They work just as hard now that they own the company as they did for Omar. Having such great employee/owners made my job that much easier.”

Since going from family-owned to employee-owned, O.E. Meyer has exploded from a growth standpoint. It has gone from 52 employees in 1989 to almost 150 today. And the sales base has grown right along with it. Between its two divisions, the company has seven locations. Employee ownership has also helped the company retain its best and brightest workers, as evidenced by the O.E. Meyer management team, which is made up almost completely of people who started out in entry level positions.

Having a 90-year relationship with
a supplier means
a great deal to
our company.

A Tale of Two Divisions
O.E. Meyer Co. is divided into two divisions—welding and healthcare. Craig “Woody” Wood, who has been with the company since 1970, heads up the welding division. Dave Belden, Rod’s son and a 30-plus-year company veteran, is president of the healthcare operation. Each side has its own challenges and its own staff to handle them. Employees rarely float between the two divisions.

The welding side of O.E. Meyer is the older of the two divisions and accounts for the majority of the company’s sales. It’s not a huge gap, but the division accounts for about 55 percent of O.E. Meyer’s business. Its major suppliers include Lincoln Electric, Miller Electric, Hypertherm, Thermadyne and ORS Nasco. The company is also the longest-serving distributor of Linde gas products. O.E. Meyer began its relationship in 1919 with Airco. Airco then became BOC, which was purchased by Linde. “Having a 90-year relationship with a supplier means a great deal to our company,” says Belden. The company leans on these supplier relationships when it comes to training the division’s 70 employees, all of whom participate in manufacturer-sponsored training programs.

Local firefighters perform a safety demonstration at an O.E. Meyer Co. facility.

O.E. Meyer’s welding division is made up of five locations. The headquarters is located in Sandusky, Ohio, with branches throughout Ohio in Fremont, Galion, Lorain and Maumee. Each location has a branch manager, inside salespeople, truck drivers and service technicians who specialize in the company’s automated product line. “We try to service what we sell,” says Belden. The managers all report to Wood, who oversees the day-to-day operations.

Healthy Balance
O.E. Meyer’s healthcare division is responsible for approximately 45 percent of the company’s sales—slightly less than the welding side. However, due to the nature of the business, it actually employs the majority of the company’s staff. “The healthcare business is much more people-intensive,” explains Belden. “We have salespeople, branch managers, respiratory therapists, technicians and several employees dedicated exclusively to Medicare compliance.” Much like its counterpart, the healthcare division boasts a staff steeped in experience. President David Belden started on the ground floor. Vice President of Marketing Harold Freehling is a respiratory therapist who has been in the business since the early 1980s.

O.E. Meyer Co.'s welding and healthcare divisions both operate out of the company's Sandusky, Ohio, headquarters.

The healthcare division is split up into two subdivisions—hospital and homecare. The hospital segment of the business specializes in the respiratory and anesthesia markets as well as medical gases. Homecare is centered on oxygen and durable medical equipment such as hospital beds, wheelchairs and other ambulatory aids. The homecare staff consists of a team of ten respiratory therapists, many of whom have been with the company since the 1980s. It also is home to a top-flight administrative staff that handles credit, billing and, most importantly, Medicare compliance issues. “I can’t tell you how many codes are in the Medicare book,” says Belden. “But it’s in the thousands. That’s why our administrative team is so important. We can’t afford to operate outside of the rules, and we never have.”

O.E. Meyer’s fleet of trucks deliver gases throughout Northeast Ohio.

Creating Consistency
For a company that has gone from a welding shop to a full-service welding and medical equipment distributorship, one could expect some growing pains. Add to that a transition from family to employee ownership, and the odds go even higher. That hasn’t been the case for O.E. Meyer. The company has continued to grow steadily throughout its history—tripling in size over the last 20 years. What’s more is that it has all been organic growth. No mergers or acquisitions took place.

So how does a company maintain consistency through the ups, downs and everything in between? For O.E. Meyer, the answer is simple. You do it with people. “When we’re hiring, we don’t just look for the guy with the flashiest résumé,” says Belden. “We try to find candidates with the best long-term potential.” Typically, the company doesn’t have to look too far to find them. Aside from a few positions on the biomedical side, Belden says that he has never advertised an opening. “We usually have people waiting in the wings. We have a reputation as a pretty good place to work, something that is proven by the amount of referrals we receive.”

Everyone we hire is going to be an owner, so we want to hire loyal people who are going to have respect for our customers and who have the ability to grow the business.

One of the reasons why O.E. Meyer is so successful with hiring and retaining employees because of its commitment to employee development. Employees know that they have a legitimate chance to advance in the organization because they have seen it happen. “Almost all of our managers, including our two division presidents, started out on the ground floor,” says Belden. “That lets our employees know how committed we are to them. Add that to the sense of ownership that the ESOP program provides, and it is a recipe for success.”

Forging The Future
As O.E. Meyer Co. approaches its 100th year in business, nobody can truly know what the future will bring. But for O.E. Meyer, its employees and, most importantly, its customers, they can rest easy knowing that the company won’t lose its way. Its dedication to customers and commitment to employees have remained the same from Omar Sr. to Omar Jr. to Rod Belden, Dave Belden and Craig Wood. It’s a philosophy that has survived a transition to employee ownership and has shown no signs of changing. So if you ever happen upon Sandusky, Ohio, drop by the company’s headquarters and take a look around. Be sure to make extra notice of the driver loading up his truck or the salesperson working the phone. Odds are, 25 years from now it will be one of these owners at the helm, carrying on the legacy and directing the company through whatever challenges await.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

Craig Wood Joins Executive Committee

For Craig “Woody” Wood, GAWDA’s newest Executive Committee member and president of O.E. Meyer’s welding division, his career has been a steady progression. He started working in the industry painting cylinders during the summer of 1970 between his sophomore and junior years at Kent State University. During the spring of his junior year, a historic event altered the course of Wood’s career. That spring, there was chaos on the campus of Kent State. Riots led to the deaths of four students. “That was a pretty life-changing event for me,” says Wood. “I went back to school in the fall for about two weeks and I just wasn’t comfortable.” He made two phone calls: one to his dad to come and pick him up and the other to Rod Belden to ask for a job. In the 41 years since, Wood has worked his way up from painting cylinders to his current position as a division president. Along the way he has held every title imaginable with the company, from working in the plant to driving a route. He parlayed the route driving gig into a sales position. After proving his success as a salesperson, he was given a division to run.

Craig Wood

Wood is a self-described “gear head” who has spent a lot of time at the race track. “I started off at the drag strip,” says Wood. “I was pretty successful with that. Then I moved over to circle tracks where I broke in as a welder at the local half-mile track.” From there he began to dabble in chassis design. At one point Wood was considering buying his first super-modified race car. “I was married for probably less than a year at the time,” he says. “Then my wife asked me a very good question. She said, ‘Can you sleep in that car?’ I heard her loud and clear.” Thirty-six years later, Wood is still happy with his decision.

In his new capacity as GAWDA First Vice President, Wood plans to apply some of the lessons he learned at O.E. Meyer. “The most important thing I can do starting out is to listen,” he explains. “That’s something that Rod Belden taught me. He’s very sensitive to the needs of those around him and truly values the opinions of others. It’s something I try to emulate.” Wood will carry this philosophy into the GAWDA boardroom. “I’m going to engage people,” he says.

According to Wood, GAWDA members should expect more of the same moving forward. He plans on helping the association continue to provide its existing services while looking for new ways to serve the membership. He also expects the association’s relationship with AWS to continue to flourish under his watch. “I really embrace our association’s partnership with AWS,” he says. “I think it holds a lot of promise.”

Wood expects the industry to face a host of issues over the next few years. From increased government regulation to consolidation and increased litigation, the road will not be easy. There is, however, one thing that GAWDA members can count on. This “gear head” will be working hand-in-hand with the rest of the Board of Directors to make sure that GAWDA’s engine continues to run smoothly.