Prest-O-Sales & Service Powers Metropolitan New York

Providing optimal gas supply solutions for 85 years

Every time E.C. Madison, a welding machine and electrode salesman for General Electric Welding Equipment, visited Prest-O-Sales, his customer located in the Queens borough of New York City, he knew he was somewhere special. The company was established in 1926 as an independent distributor for the Linde Division of Union Carbide. Even the name Prest-O-Sales was special. It came from the word “prestal,” an alloy used to feed acetylene into light bulbs for use in street lights. Energy. Vision. Power. Light. That’s what Prest-O-Sales stood for, and that’s what attracted this manufacturer’s salesman.

Prest-O-Sales President Jim Madison and QA Technician Paul Salcuni

Prest-O-Sales President Jim Madison and QA Technician Paul Salcuni in the company's gas analysis lab.

From its early days, Prest-O-Sales understood that establishing a strong relationship with suppliers would go far in building a foundation for success. When the company became available for sale in the early 1930s, Madison jumped at the opportunity to join the business as one of four principle owners of Prest-O-Sales and its sister company, Weld Rite, a welding fabrication shop also located in Queens. When the two companies split in the 1950s, Madison and another partner became sole owners of Prest-O-Sales.

In 1956, E.C.’s son, Ed Madison, joined the company when E.C. was looking to retire. A Cornell graduate, Ed was working as an engineer for the Armstrong Corporation in Detroit when his father asked him to return to New York and take over the business. Ed was interested and when he returned, he quickly took charge. Ed relocated the company from its original location near the 59th Street Bridge in Long Island City to its present location in Astoria, adjacent to LaGuardia Airport. He built a new facility and was determined to grow the business, buying out his father’s partner soon after.

Ed Madison was a strong believer in networking and learning from his industry colleagues. He joined what was then known as the National Welding Supply Association (NWSA), the national trade group that later became GAWDA, and took full advantage of training programs, manufacturer contacts, networking events and other activities. He knew that knowledge equaled power, and he made sure that he learned as much as he could about the gases and welding business, including the rules and regulations guiding it. In 1973, Ed was elected president of the NWSA. Association members benefitted when his visionary leadership led to the development of programs to help members understand regulatory agencies and how best to cope with an economy in crisis.

Ed’s son, Jim Madison, studied economics and international finance at the University of Utah. While looking for a job in the Manhattan financial sector, Jim took advantage of an opportunity to earn some extra money making sales calls for Prest-O-Sales. The company’s sales manager asked him to call on hospitals, as the company was trying to break into the medical gas market. Says Jim, “One day a week became two days a week. Then I sold a couple of things, and it became three days a week. The next thing I knew, I was at Prest-O-Sales every day.” Smitten with the sales bug, Jim decided to work full time for his father’s company. It was 1977.

Fill Plant Supervisor Ken Gebhardt

Fill Plant Supervisor Ken Gebhardt readies cylinders for filling.

On the Street
The knowledge and skills that father and son brought to the business, along with their cumulative backgrounds in engineering and finance and a true passion for the industry, were responsible for an outpouring of growth over the ensuing years. In 1985, a second location was established in Riverhead, New York, at the split of the north and south forks on Long Island. Located about 70 miles from Prest-O-Sales, Prest-O-Peconic serves the compressed gases and metalworking equipment needs of customers on the eastern end of Long Island.

With 31 employees, a fleet of ten delivery vehicles, one service truck, two showrooms and a large market area, the Prest-O-Sales mission is described on its website as “providing customers with productivity-enhancing products, technologies and processes to improve their operating efficiencies and lower their costs.” Says Madison, “We strive to be the low-cost supplier of choice to our customers by rendering outstanding technical assistance and customer service to industry, laboratory and health care in the New York metropolitan area.”

Technically capable sales professionals support products and services with training, installation and trouble-shooting expertise. They are experienced, innovative and committed to rendering total customer satisfaction. Madison defines good customer service quite simply: On-time deliveries. Quality products. Easy to do business with. And adds: “We know what we are doing out there on the street.”

Marching Orders
There’ve been some changes in the customer base served by Prest-O-Sales in recent years. In 1980, for example, Prest-O-Sales’ product mix was 65% metal fabrication; 35% gases and cylinders. In 2011, those ratios are reversed.

With fabrication and manufacturing all but disappearing from the region, today’s customers include service businesses, institutions and healthcare providers. The markets served are diverse and include construction, HVAC, maintenance and repair, universities, food institutions, healthcare—all the hallmarks of a high-population area.

Major Markets Served

  • Aerospace
  • Airlines
  • Automotive Repair
  • Construction
  • Electronics
  • Environmental
  • Food & Beverage
  • HVAC
  • Laboratories
  • Lasers
  • Maintenance and Repair
  • Manufacturing
  • Medical
  • Metal Fabrication
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Pipe Fabrication
  • Plumbing
  • Research & Development
  • Safety
  • Universities
  • Utilities
  • Welding & Cutting

“We talk about optimal solutions with our customers,” says Madison. “Our goal is to help them be better at what they do, and to show them how to do it at a lower cost.” Salespeople have marching orders: Figure out a solution to help the customer be more efficient and save money. Bring something to the game that will improve their efficiencies. “That’s how we gain an account,” explains Madison. “I learned early on that an account we earn tends to be sustainable. An account we buy tends not to be sustainable. If we live by the sword, we will die by the sword.”

Madison acknowledges that his company still must differentiate itself. “Even with a good song and dance, we still have to be competitive. If we’re not priced competitively, we’re probably not going to get into the conversation.” He points out that his goal is to be the low-cost supplier, not the low-price supplier. And bringing efficiency and low-cost solutions to the table sets Prest-O-Sales apart. 

With customers going to the Internet for product information, all advertising used to market Prest-O-Sales products and services contains only the company’s name, address and website. Everything is designed to drive potential customers to, where they can get information about available products and services. This effort has been successful in attracting new customers.

While current customers can place online orders and view their account histories, potential customers are greeted with in-depth information about products and safety tips. Safety information is updated regularly, giving customers more reasons to log onto the site.

When Jim Madison served as President of GAWDA in 2001, he learned that safety information was one of the most important tools offered to GAWDA members. He also knew that keeping up-to-date was vital, and he instituted the multi-track program at the association’s Spring Management Conference. He knew the importance of sharing knowledge and founded Welding & Gases Today, the association’s official publication for members. He also began working with the Compressed Gas Association in strategizing industry’s response to new FDA guidelines for medical gas production and distribution.

Bringing It All
While he works very hard to differentiate Prest-O-Sales from its competitors, Madison describes his company as a “typical” gases and welding distributorship serving the needs of a high-population area. But there is nothing typical about the team at Prest-OSales. When the terrorist attack took place across the harbor at the World Trade Center, like most New Yorkers, Madison saw the planes crashing into the buildings. And he pulled out every stop and responded in a way that continues to define his company today, ten years later. Staff went on immediate 24/7 alert. Madison took his trucks and went to the crash site with oxygen acetylene cylinders that would be used to cut through the metal. He brought medical oxygen for survivors. He stood on the site of where the World Trade Center was burning and did whatever he could, with his Prest-OSales team, with their gases and their welding equipment.

Acknowledging the feeling that came over him when he realized the effort was no longer a search and rescue mission, but had become a recovery operation that no longer needed oxygen for survivors, Madison reflects back on those few days. After the search and rescue operations were over and contractors were brought in by city agencies, the Prest-O-Sales team was able to deal with its own grief. “It was a difficult time in my community, one of the hardest hit in the metropolitan area. Our small town lost over 20 people, some I knew personally. It was a tough time.”

2001 was the year that Madison was supposed to be inducted as the President of GAWDA. Instead, he was at a search and rescue operation in lower Manhattan, standing near the rubble of the World Trade Center, providing gases and welding equipment for rescuers to cut through the metal, and oxygen for survivors to live. Those few days, ten years ago, are indelibly marked on Jim Madison and his company. They did what they could to help. They provided more than product and product knowledge during those first few days following an unprecedented tragedy. They shared their hearts.

24-kilowatt solar energy system

A 24-kilowatt solar energy system installed on the roof in 2010 uses a little less than half the kilowatt hours of similar time periods and averages monthly savings of $600.

“We Love Sunny Days!”
In September 2010, construction began on a solar roof at Prest-O-Sales. After much research, Madison decided to make the investment not only to lower operating costs, but also to help reduce the carbon footprint. The economist in him knew it would be a risk worth taking.

In December 2010, Prest-O-Sales went live with a 24-kilowatt solar energy system on its roof. At full output, the system provides half of the peak load. A large portion of utility costs consists of the demand charge for the maximum amount of power projected for use. The panels have a 20-year useful life, and Madison expects to see the return on his investment in about nine years.

During the three months of summer 2011, the company used less than half the kilowatt hours used in a comparable period in 2009-2010. With savings averaging $600 per month, Prest-O-Sales is also contributing back to the power grid. Madison explains, “When we’re not using everything we’re producing, our meter is running backwards, yielding a lower net monthly kilowatt use.”

Energy. Vision. Power. Light. Marking its 85th anniversary in 2011, Prest-O-Sales looks to the future with a vision of growth, energy to make it happen, the power to sustain it, and a light to shine on its continual success. This company has it all.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association