The Haun Edge is more than a slogan for Northeast’s largest independently owned distributor.
When you have an edge, you are considered sharp, precise, straight on target, better than the average competitor. When your business and every one of your employees have that edge, you are doing something right, succeeding at satisfying customers.
President: Mark Haun
And that’s exactly what Haun Welding Supply has. Its fleet of 100 delivery trucks and sales vehicles declares it as they roll down the road; its website promises it; its employees know it, can describe it, and work it. It’s The Haun Edge, a mission that keeps this company headquartered in Syracuse, New York, on top of its game.
Haun Welding Supply was established in 1958, but it really dates back to the early 1930s when Orval Haun was building welders for the Owen Dyneto Corporation in Niagara Falls and later in Syracuse, New York. Orval Haun developed a more efficient welder design that the company was not interested in manufacturing, so he went out on his own and began building the Orval Haun Welder. His son, Ken, joined the business to build the welders alongside his father, but by 1958, the liability insurance required for the manufacturing processes had become too expensive to continue. Father and son made the decision to focus their efforts on the sales and service of the welding supply equipment they were also selling. And they never looked back.
Today, third-generation owner Mark Haun presides over the family business headquartered in Syracuse, New York, with 17 additional locations throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, from where the company distributes welding and industrial supplies along with compressed and liquid gases. Its mission is to deliver The Haun Edge to a variety of industries, including construction, fabrication, manufacturing, commercial, medical, laboratories, education and homeowners.
As the business grew, so did the need for additional warehouse, service and operating space. Up until 2009, operations were spread across several buildings in the Syracuse area. Near the fill plant stood an empty 130,000 sq. ft. building. “My initial thought,” says Mark Haun, “was that it was too big. We’re just a small welding supply place, we can’t fill this space.” While the space was larger than what they were used to, the reality was that they could consolidate four remote locations into one, reducing redundancies and increasing productivity. The best part was the opportunity to build a new automated fill plant. Mark Haun explains, “We had 2,000 cylinders outside. It was awful in the winter as we wiped snow and ice off the tops of them. We had zero productivity.”
Haun and his team looked at the facility again and again and finally decided it was worth taking a chance and buying the building. Three years after moving in, 90 percent of the space is used and filled with company offices, a retail store, repair facility, cylinder storage area, warehouse operations and a new fill plant, which went online in August 2011.
Haun Specialty Gases
With more than 40 percent of the company’s sales coming from gas supplies, a division of the company called Haun Specialty Gases was created in 2005 to focus on this market. In 2011, a high-efficiency gas plant was built inside the new headquarters’ location. At 120 feet long and 20 feet wide, the fill island is currently the largest in the United States. The fill plant supplies high-pressure industrial and medical gases, as well as high-purity specialty gases. The gases are distributed in either liquid form or as a high-pressure gas through more than 100,000 cylinders and dewars in the Haun system. Haun Specialty Gases manufactures most of the specialty gases it sells, enabling it to meet critical delivery requirements of both Haun Welding Supply and its direct customers.
An automated fill plant and 40,000 sq. ft. of production space bring a lot of efficiencies. Plant workers fill cylinders and stage the next batch simultaneously. When filling is complete, the system automatically updates the inventory list with the cylinder types filled. All systems are networked together with computerized control systems. Cylinders are sorted by type. Now, orders are filled as they come in, eliminating the need to project how much of each gas the branches will need for the day. Productivity has increased by 30 percent.
The Haun Edge
“Business relationships don’t just happen,” says Mark Haun. “They take time to develop.” To reward loyal customers, Haun Welding Supply offers a Customer Rewards Program called “The Haun Edge” to customers that sign a long-term cylinder gas agreement. A variety of benefits are available, including discounts on service and rental equipment, free loaners, limited liability, fixed pricing for the first 12 months, priority access to technical support, custom billing, free emergency delivery and more. The program is designed to differentiate Haun Welding Supply from other businesses. And it’s working. Over 1,000 customers are currently enrolled in the Customer Rewards Program.
Twenty years ago, Haun Welding Supply’s biggest customers were the manufacturing plants in the area: Carrier, Nestle, Lockheed Martin, General Motors and others. As the manufacturing landscape changed, Haun diversified and now counts healthcare as one its largest markets. Three salespeople are dedicated to medical gas sales, calling on nursing homes, hospitals, veterinarians, laboratories, etc. The market area boasts several large universities and colleges, including several medical schools, and specialty gas is in high demand. Add to these markets a large number of small fabricators, and Haun Welding Supply can point to a variety of customer experiences.
With 185 employees spread across 17 locations, Mark Haun is adamant about his reliance on the people of Haun. “I communicate the message throughout the organization that taking care of customers is our primary mission.” And then he expects employees to take ownership and be responsible. “I can’t take credit for our success,” he says. “There are 185 people here who are making it work.”
Among those 185 employees are several relatives. Sister Patti Haun Kidd manages the branch store in Fulton, New York. Her husband Victor works in sales. Oldest son Josh is the company’s credit manager and does online marketing. Kyle is the company’s service manager, and youngest son Erich runs the store in Latham, New York. Mark’s wife Janine works in administration. This past summer, two more relatives joined the company after earning degrees in business: Niece Amy Haun is a credit analyst, and nephew Jared Giacobbi is working in the fill plant.
Mark Haun calls himself a “distributor rat” and admits to working in the business since he was 12 years old. He smiles when he adds, “It still seems fresh and new.” Having studied both engineering and marketing at the University of Vermont, Haun is always looking for unique ways to promote the company. The Haun Edge is one of those ideas, as are the company’s vehicles highlighted with the company logo, along with radio spots and late-night television commercials.
Mark Haun pays close attention to what successful companies outside of the industry are doing. New ideas and new strategies come from this focus. “We’re always trying to improve things,” he says. “If something doesn’t work, we put some heads to it and fix it.” When working through new projects and ideas, a team of four or five employees meet regularly until the goals are accomplished. “Otherwise, it’s just an idea that never goes anywhere.”
A recent fresh idea came from the newly hired director of finance. Every fall, each store manager submits a budget of what the store is expected to do the upcoming year. The store is measured against budget, rather than what was done the previous year. Haun acknowledges they are hard on those numbers and it’s had a tremendous result. “People are paid a bonus based upon their ability to meet the store’s profit budget, so everyone in the store is paying attention to the same thing because they know there is a reward at the end.”
Another idea came from Credit Manager Josh Haun, who worked as a school teacher for seven years before joining the family business. He suggested holding a free training class once a month to introduce people to welding. The idea was formalized after Mark Haun purchased his first digital camera at a local, independent electronics store. The purchase included a free training class on the use of the camera. “The idea of a free class where people are taught and encouraged how to use products seemed like a good idea,” he says. “Free Training Thursdays” are two-hour programs that take place on the last Thursday of each month and feature a different skill each month. An average of 10 individuals attends the free classes, which include intro to welding, TIG/MIG/stick welding, and others. They typically return as customers for additional (paid) training classes.
The company website contains video testimonials from satisfied customers, another employee-generated idea. Viewers hear directly from customers the benefits of a specific type of training or piece of equipment.
As Haun Welding Supply continues to grow and thrive and meet head-on the changes taking place in a formerly industrial market, it is not lost on Mark Haun that two of the company’s best selling products are helium and medical oxygen, gases that are unrelated to welding. “We remain diversified and prepared to go where the market leads us.” That is The Haun Edge.