Managing the Front Lines

Managing a branch store is an intricate dance that requires a high level of skill in many disciplines: communication, time-management, diplomacy, organization, and oh yes, math.

Jeff CallJeff Call
General Air Service and Supply Company
Branch: Denver, Colorado

I love the variety of our business – the variety of customers, the variety of their questions, the variety of our products, and the variety of sales we can make. I like talking with the variety of people we encounter, whether it is a lab engineer about specialty gases or the guy who works with oxy-acetylene in his garage. The key is to be able to communicate with everyone and to help them to understand how a particular product functions and why that product can be important to them.

I am not afraid to stock a lot of product and parts, and I’m proud of how efficient we are and how quickly we can get customers fixed up with the right product and back to work.


Hours I am at the store on the mornings it snows to plow and shovel the walks so employees and early customers can get in

Mike EchavarryMike Echavarry
WestAir Gases & Equipment
Branch: El Cajon, California

The best part of my job is the customer base that we serve. A lot of our customers are in the aerospace industry and tend to be very knowledgeable about high-end products. I enjoy doing the research needed when a customer has an unusual application. The time is never wasted because if the same questions arise in the future I will be prepared with the answers that my customer needs. I am lucky. My crew is very knowledgeable and that makes my job easier. I still roll cylinders and work the counter. I’m good with part numbers and take a lot of calls from the other branches regarding specific parts.


Rank among 18 stores as Best Performing Branch in 2013

Rick RamsayRick Ramsey
A-L Compressed Gases of Spokane
Branch: Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

I have a good memory and can quickly recall old parts and catalogue numbers. Keeping an organized and clean, good-looking store is very important, and I pay close attention to inventory. I like to pass on what I’ve learned from experience or from the Internet or from our customers, whether it is about merchandising or sales techniques. Our customers are very knowledgeable about their specific industries. They have taught me a lot about the trends that impact them. I listen to our customers’ questions and then provide a quick, concise answer.


Number of years in the industry

Jim YelvertonJim Yelverton
United Welding Specialties
Branch: Longview, Texas (Tyler Welders Supply)

I’m all about Customer Service. It is our duty to meet the customers’ needs. My job is to make the customer’s problem go away. Whether the customer calls us or comes in, I always let that customer know how glad I am to talk with them. When we are talking about a customer’s problem, there is always something new to learn. If I were to tell you that I know everything in this business, it would be a white lie.


Number of years with company

Mark ZinkMark Zink
Lampton Welding Supply Company
Branch: Salina, Kansas

I am a people-person. A branch manager needs communication skills in order to relate to customers, to employees and to company management. Whether I am talking with a happy or an irate customer, I look at the long-term implications of the decisions I make. I may be a bit of a control freak, but I like being involved in everything that concerns this branch, whether it is the paperwork or planning, mentoring of young employees, or developing sales strategies. I walk through the store early in the morning and look at our inventory and try to stay ahead of the Purchase Orders. I like being able to extend my expertise to the rest of the company. Since I’m pretty good with computers, I’ve gone to every branch to train people on our new computer system.


Number of years with Lampton

Tom RiddleTommy Riddle
Cleburne Welding & Industrial Supply
Branch: Cleburne, Texas (Dupuy Oxygen & Supply Company)

It’s all about managing a quality-driven store, growing our business, and taking care of our employees. I’m always learning something. Helping our customers when they are in a tight spot is the fun part of my job. As a manager, I need to understand each of the personalities that work at our branch. A good manager is able to maintain harmony in the office while getting a variety of people to move in the same direction. I understand what motivates each employee. I end each meeting with the question, “How can we do better?” New ideas tend to work better when they come from an employee who already owns the idea.


Average number of daily walk-in tickets

Erich HaunErich Haun
Haun Welding Supply
Branch: Latham, New York

Understanding time management has helped me to focus my time wisely. The less time I have, the more efficient I need to be. I spend a lot of my time talking with my customers and doing the research needed to help them accomplish what they have to do. I read industry publications to learn what others in our industry are doing. I try to find ways to get customers their products sooner than normal lead times allow. I like learning how various gases work with other gases. I spend a lot of time inside the branch making sure things are going smoothly, so I like when I get a chance to go out and meet with customers.


Number of hours in a typical workday

Jay OesterlingJay Osterling
American Welding & Gas
Branch: Indianapolis, Indiana

My employees are amazing. We do not have much turnover. I’ve been able to promote key people which has allowed me to take on more responsibilities away from the store. My company is aggressively acquiring other stores, and I really love teaching and bringing the new branches into the fold. It feels good to see a new branch become a top-notch branch and to know I had a hand in it. I watch expenses very closely and make decisions based on the bottom line, but never forget that these decisions must always result in great customer service. I look at the reports of the sales and profit of all our stores and I always want my branch to be the best. At one time I was shy. Today I can talk with anyone.


Branches I always want to beat.

Arnie ArboledaArnie Arboleda
Branch: Bronx, New York

I like the multi-tasking part of my job. It’s easy to be thrown here and there by different demands. It is important to juggle different tasks at the same time and to not get stressed out about it. I establish a plan and prioritize what needs to be done. I’ve learned what my guys are capable of and I delegate different jobs, knowing that they can get the job done. We stay focused on meeting the customers’ needs and making sure that their questions are answered. It’s fun when a customer shows me a plan and says ‘this is what I need’ and then I go and figure it out.


Average number of walk-in customers

Gases and Welding Distributors Association