Member Profile – Airweld, Inc.

With locations throughout Metropolitan New York and Long Island, Airweld, Inc. remains fiercely independent and committed to growth through satisfying customers, controlling assets, and acquiring when the time is right.

Arno Biedermann was a visionary. In 1917, he opened Rayno Distributors, Inc., a distributor for the Prest-O-Lite acetylene company that sold B tanks used to light bus headlights and MC tanks for lights on motorcycles and motorcars. As the automotive industry grew and more people purchased motorcars, Rayno’s success grew. Not one to sit back, Biedermann added welding supplies. His son, Ken Biedermann, joined the business and together they grew Rayno into a successful welding supply distributorship with three locations throughout New York.

In another part of the city, Frank Zak was hard at work in the shipyards. After graduating from New York University, he attended a Lincoln school to learn how to weld, a skill that landed him work as a welder in the New York shipyards. After many years at the shipyards, Zak took a job at Whaley Bros., at the time the largest Lincoln distributor in New York City. One day, Frank’s boss got angry and yelled at him, “Frank, you are so stupid you don’t even know when to come out of the rain.” Zak had had enough, and knew if he was ever going to make it, he would have to start his own business.

Airweld, Inc. headquarters in Farmingdale, New York, is one of 11 locations.

Frank Zak and another employee of Whaley Bros. opened F&G Welding Supply in 1954. Within a year, his partner died and Zak began acquiring and merging local businesses, including Armour Welding in 1960 and Barto Welding in 1967. In 1968, F&G Welding merged with Arrow Welding of Farmingdale, New York, forming a new corporation called Fabro. When Frank Zak met Ken Biedermann, the two men decided a merger of

Fabro and Rayno would be a smart business move for both companies, and in 1978, a new entity was created called Airweld, Inc.

Airweld acquired 14 additional businesses, the most recent American Industrial Gases in New Hyde Park, New York. Of all the acquisitions, the one that was most satisfying occurred in 1984, when Airweld purchased Whaley Bros. Frank Zak said that being called stupid by his former employer was the greatest thing anyone ever said to him. It was what pushed him to start his own business.

Today, Airweld has 11 locations throughout Metropolitan New York and Long Island and is considered the largest independent distributor of industrial gases and welding supplies in the area.

Five filling facilities are located throughout Metropolitan New York and Long Island.

Driving for Dollars

One of the challenges of running a business in New York City is the traffic. Airweld CEO John Zak describes New York as very different from other areas of the country, and while a total market range might be a 100-mile radius, 50 miles in New York City is unlike 50 miles anywhere else. “You can’t just get in your car and drive 20 minutes and be where you want to be,” Zak says.

John Zak worked in banking in Amherst, Massachusetts, until his Uncle Frank invited him to spend a week in New York at Airweld. Zak was hooked and has been with the company now going on 43 years. “Uncle Frank knew we were not going to make any money hauling steel,” says Zak. “And he developed a solution.”

That solution involved strategically locating Airweld’s branch locations, including fill plants, throughout the metropolitan area. Of Airweld’s eleven locations, five are pumping and trucking facilities. Airweld President Chris Leahy explains, “The locations are placed throughout the metropolitan area because we would much rather endure some additional overhead to better service our customers in a specific market.” For trucking purposes and to keep expenses down, Airweld serves the smallest possible radius from each facility for complete and overlapping coverage.

Airweld's fleet of 30 trucks navigate tight, traffic-congested delivery routes.

The Borough of Manhattan is serviced out of three Airweld locations. It’s difficult to deliver to Manhattan because of the many restrictions on cars and trucks and street traffic. In one example, two Airweld trucks service the same neighborhood because there are 12 to 15 stops within three square miles. Says Leahy “It’s a very difficult place to make deliveries, but we have more than 20 excellent, professional drivers who get the job done every day with limited amounts of overtime and parking tickets.”

Becoming a Valued Vendor

The beauty of Airweld’s business is that its diverse markets are located not only in urban settings, but also in suburban and rural areas, including farms on Long Island. Each has a unique footprint. Major markets include manufacturing, construction and laboratories, including environmental labs. There is a lot of construction going on in New York City, all requiring soil samples.

Industrial, medical and specialty gases, along with food grade mixtures, comprise about 60 percent of total sales. The rest is welding equipment and supplies. Airweld also packages CO2 and pumps propylene.

Vice President Tom Biedermann conducts safety meetings and training seminars.

With a tremendous amount of diversity in Airweld’s urban market, language barriers must be overcome, even in the company’s signage. Among Airweld’s employees are those who speak several languages. Vice President Tom Biedermann puts it succinctly, “It’s all about serving our customers.”

There are five competitors within a two-mile radius of Airweld’s location in Maspeth, New York. Being so close to each other makes it easy to look over shoulders and wonder what competitors are doing. Says Biedermann, “You can’t come into the market and be cheaper than the present supplier, because in New York, labor and overhead are such high expenses. You need to add value to the products you sell in order to establish yourself as a partner with your clients. In New York, we need to be better than the other guy. We have to provide a level of service that shows value.”

Airweld’s 80 skilled, service-oriented employees are trained on products, processes and safety practices to make sure they know the ins and outs of how to show value. They are devoted to customer service, knowing how their customers make their products and how they deliver them to their markets. Airweld calls it solution selling and the technology Airweld brings to customers—be it through gas applications, welding equipment, medical and laboratory products—helps customers do their job in a better fashion. Company phones are not shut off at 4:30 pm, and customers have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This enables Airweld to become an integral part of their customers’ business and a valued vendor to them.

Tom Biedermann joined his father’s company in 1977 and became an integral part of the growth after Rayno Distributors and Fabro merged to create Airweld. He wears a variety of hats and oversees safety, DOT compliance, procurement and benefits. As Airweld’s director of safety, Biedermann is responsible for overall safety training and making sure safety guidelines and directives are met. Every month he conducts safety meetings and holds seminars on a variety of topics at each branch location. Says Biedermann, “All of our employees know that safety is a critical component of the work we do each day, and we are focused on maintaining and promoting safe practices.”

(from left) Airweld owners Christopher Leahy, Elizabeth Zak King, John Zak and Thomas Biedermann. (missing from photo are owners John Zak Jr., Eric Lundquist and Eric Terwilliger)

35 and Counting

In an effort to gain greater control of the company’s assets, Airweld recently purchased a facility across the street from its Farmingdale headquarters to serve as the company’s central repair station. It is also being set up as a re-testing facility with shot blasting, testing, painting and cylinder rehab.

In 2013, the company marks its 35th year of doing business as Airweld, Inc. but its Rayno roots go back to 1917. That is a lot of lived history, a lot of shared experience, and a lot of customer service to the Metropolitan New York region. What is constant through these years is the commitment of every employee—from management to sales, administration to technician, repair to delivery—to be an integral part of their customers’ business.

At Airweld, Inc. this goal is accomplished every day.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association

Tom Biedermann is Newest Member of GAWDA’s Executive Committee

Tom Biedermann, 55, served on GAWDA’s Board of Directors from 1999-2002. His passion is making the industry safe and profitable for independent distributors. No newbie to the industry, Tom grew up in his father’s business, Rayno Distributors, which was one of the two merged companies that created Airweld in 1978.

Tom’s father, Ken Biedermann, was president of GAWDA (then NWSA) in 1996-97. As association president, Ken recognized that the welding industry was a bit slow adapting to new technologies, and he focused on educating members on how to integrate technology into the business. He hired the association’s first technology consultant. Using technology to provide better solutions to customers, Tom Biedermann is continuing his father’s legacy at Airweld.

Biedermann is jazzed about the gases and welding industry. “We’re the most viable industry around. Our industry is the basis of manufacturing, and it’s a necessary industry that I think will always be around.” He is concerned about product availability and what it is doing to the distributor’s marketplace. “The helium situation is not going away; there will be an argon issue; and CO2 is always a challenge during the summer months.”

Biedermann says that GAWDA’s commitment to the independent distributor is crucial. “Consolidation is not killing the industry,” he says. “It’s changing the industry and as independent as we think we are, we have to be more independent. The independent distributor began the association, and it’s the independent distributor who will make the association flourish.”

When not training employees or overseeing Airweld’s safety program, Biedermann likes to fish and cook. He enjoys working in the kitchen and even enjoys going to the grocery store. He studied wildlife management in college and once thought he’d like to be a park ranger.

Biedermann has two sons, one an assistant principal at a charter school in New York City, the other a chef aiming to open his own restaurant. He describes his wife, Theresa, as the glue that keeps his family together.

Committed to family, his local community, and the global gases and welding industry, Tom Biedermann will become GAWDA’s 68th President in 2014.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association