Norco Inc.

A large portion of sales come from renting durable medical equipment, including beds and power wheelchairs. In all, 40 percent of the company’s sales are generated from the medical side of the business.

Now, as the third generation comes into its own, Kissler has offered his three daughters the same proposition his father presented to him: college and five to seven years’ work, should they choose to join the business. His oldest daughter, Nicole, 26, recently joined Central Welding Supply in North Lakewood, Washington, where she is undergoing a training program to experience all aspects of the business, from accounts payable and human resources to warehouse and cylinder management.

The Kissler Foundation
One of the core values of Norco is giving back to the communities it serves. In 1997, Kissler came up with a way to turn the company’s tradition of giving into an institution by establishing the Kissler Family Foundation. To fund the organization, Kissler designated one-twelth of the company’s shares to be allocated to charitable giving. “Because the foundation is a shareholder of the company, the money going to the foundation is dictated by the company’s earnings,” says Kissler. “The more we make, the more we give.”

Larry Kissler (center) with Jim Kissler and Dan Steele, circa 1987

Larry Kissler (center) with Jim Kissler and Dan Steele, circa 1987

In all, Kissler estimates that the money—more than $1 million every year—goes to some 300 charities every year throughout the Intermountain West. An independent board helps determine how the Foundation will distribute its charitable gifts based on the organization’s stated goal of supporting healthcare, education and the betterment of mankind. In Boise, Kissler Family Foundation donations have led to the creation of the Norco School of Nursing at Boise State University, the Kissler Family Chapel at St. Luke’s Hospital and the Kissler Family Library at St. Alphonsus Hospital.

To help spread the giving across all of Norco’s market areas, branch managers at all locations help identify charities in their communities that they want to support. Says Kissler, “The Foundation allows us to give back and share the wealth with the communities that support our organization. We get a lot of joy in giving back.”

The Road Ahead
Since coming under the guidance of Larry Kissler more than 40 years ago, Norco’s path has been one of steady and near-systematic growth, thanks to a simple philosophy of reinvesting in the business and taking care of customers and employees. Even as it grows, Norco strives to maintain the highest level of service. “When a company is small, it can be nimble and quick and provide service that totally delights customers,” says Pontious. “That’s something we strive for every day at Norco, even though we’ve become large.”

Just as growth is integral to Norco’s history, so too is it entwined with the company’s future. Long term, Jim Kissler hopes to grow sales to $500 million while filling in market share within the Intermountain West region. And Kissler plans to remain closely involved with the company’s operations for many years to come. “As long as I’m having a good time growing the company and carrying on my father’s legacy, I’m going to keep doing it,” he says.

A few things have changed in Boise since 1968, but the way of doing business at Norco has not. Kissler may have traded in his jeans for a pair of slacks, and his motorcycle for a high-performance sports car, but one thing is just as true now for Norco as it was then: The future is wide open.

At Norco’s 24,000 sq. ft. central warehouse, order pickers have no need to travel up and down aisles. Product bins affixed to six carousels circulate to deliver merchandise directly to pickers stationed at the carousels’ ends. Watch the video above to see Norco’s one-of-a-kind warehouse come to life.

 

Ned Pontious

Ned Pontious Joins Executive Committee

With one acquisition in 1996, Norco got more than it ever could have hoped for. American Dry Ice in Seattle, Washington, was divesting its beverage CO2 business, and Norco found itself pitted against another distributor in a bidding war. The man who orchestrated the masterful sale was American Dry Ice’s Ned Pontious.

When Norco acquired the beverage gas operation, company President Dan Steele asked Pontious to join Norco, but the timing was not right for Pontious. In 1999, Steele again approached Pontious, who was now working for Airgas after it acquired American Dry Ice two years prior. Says Pontious, “I was at a transition point. I had an office in Seattle and one in Atlanta, and I was traveling a lot.” This time, Steele offered Pontious the opportunity to be his successor at Norco. “Dan told me he wanted to retire and asked me to reconsider coming to Boise.” At 38 years old, Ned Pontious became president of Norco.

Pontious, 50, describes his path to the industry as serendipitous. After completing his degree in chemical engineering at Arizona State in 1983, Pontious took a job making plutonium for the government at the Hanford Site in Washington. After three years, Pontious decided it was time for a change. He flew back to Phoenix and answered a two-line ad in the classifieds for a gas applications engineer. Pontious took the job with Air Liquide, where he worked for ten years, ultimately landing in Seattle as Northwest regional manager. In 1996, Pontious left to work for American Dry Ice.

Despite his many years in the industry, welding is not Pontious’ trade of choice outside of Norco. “I’m a woodworker,” says Pontious. “I’ve made cabinetry and wooden canoes for years.” Recently, he fulfilled a lifelong dream by restoring a 1946 Chris Craft wooden boat. “I had so much fun that I bought another one, a 1947 that I’m working on now,” he says.

As GAWDA First Vice President, Pontious says the association must look to reinvent itself. In the coming year, the executive committee will look to streamline regional meeting schedules and maximize the value these meetings provide. “We need to provide knowledge that enables members to operate smarter and more efficiently,” he says. “This includes management training, sales seminars, best practices—anything we can do to impact the bottom line at our companies.”

Pontious brings a unique perspective to the executive committee as a self-proclaimed “hired gun” at Norco. “The combination of business acumen and the technical background of a chemical engineering degree has served me well in my career,” he says. When Pontious takes over as GAWDA President in 2013-2014, he will succeed Larry and Jim Kissler as the third Norco executive to lead the association. He looks forward to lending his leadership to the task of creating value for members. “Success comes from being excited about our businesses and the industry,” he says. Pontious hopes to excite members for years to come.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

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