Distributors Look Ahead With Confidence

New markets, fresh staffing, better efficiencies, customer partnerships and a strong sense of purpose are propelling distributors through many challenges in 2015. Eighty-eight percent project an average sales increase of 10.3%, compared to last year when 81% projected an average increase of 9.4%. In 2011, the increase was only 7.6%. So after a couple of cautious years, there is an air of excitement about the new year and what it may bring. Distributors have no other plans than to succeed.

Economic Growth Generates Sales

The economic climate in a distributor’s backyard has a huge impact on sales and on sales growth. The economic development taking place from coast to coast is providing an impetus to sales growth and GAWDA members are taking every advantage of that development by meeting the needs of those new customers.

Dave Mahoney, president of Noble Gas Solutions (Albany, NY), is optimistic, and is hoping for an uptick in sales because of new construction and infrastructure repairs. The local area is turning into a high-tech hub with tech companies relocating to the area and a School of Nanotechnology at the local university. “We’ve made major investments in our specialty gas facilities, our lab and our people to be able to support this industry, says Mahoney.” In 2015, he will make additional investments in a move to increase capacity in the specialty gas arena. Always looking for ways to be better, the company recently took a look at pay scales for drivers, with the help of ADP. “Because drivers are becoming a scarce commodity, we wanted to make sure we were paying fairly.” Turned out the company was in the lower 50th percentile. “The good news,” says Mahoney, “is that we don’t have a lot of turnover.” The company is changing their driver pay scale.

New construction plans that include a new hospital and a new casino are driving a sales growth of at least 5%, says Greg Bradshaw, vice president, Interstate Welding & Steel Supply (Murphy, NC). In addition to selling welding and gases, Interstate also rebuilds trailers, which has been a good opportunity for the company as customers choose to repair rather than replace.

As the Denver area experiences a population boom, the local economy is growing with new construction projects to not only provide necessary housing, but also create an infrastructure to support new residents, contributing to a 5-7% sales increase, says Aaron Fischer, sales manager, General Welding Supply Company (Denver, CO). Also noting a healthy energy market, Fischer hopes to add an additional sales person.

Oil and gas exploration is supporting a growing number of businesses in Montana and that growth will result in a sales increase of 6-7%, says Glenn Bliss, president, General Distributing Company (Great Falls, MT). Last fall, the company put in a new fill plant, upgrading argon, nitrogen and oxygen fill capabilities. “We dramatically reduced product loss,” says Bliss. An aggressive sales budget will recoup that investment. To achieve his goals, Bliss has contracted with a leadership consultant to work with his highly trained, qualified workforce during the 1st Quarter. Frequent training takes place not only on products and processes, but on people skills. “Soft skills are important to us,” Bliss says.

A word of mouth reputation will drive Carbonic Systems Inc.’s (Grand Rapids, MI) sales growth of 7%, as customers rely on the independent distributor to stay abreast of changes in regulations that impact them. Bob Finnie, president, notes, “The new FDA regulations have filtered down to the restaurants. CO2 is considered a food additive now. New regulations governing the purity of the product are very similar to those governing medical gases.” Finnie assures his customers that he is providing them with certified beverage-grade CO2 and that a certificate of analysis breaks down all impurities in the full tanker loads that he purchases. Finnie plans to purchase a 6-ton DOT unit in the spring.

Gas shortages remain a challenge. “Customers can’t remember the last time they went to a store and were told they couldn’t have something because the store was out of it. They are not responding well,” says Robert Iverson, president, Ivey Industries (Springfield, MA). “It’s hard to go into the marketplace without supply.” There are some bright spots, though. Three casinos will be built in Massachusetts, one in Springfield, and a railroad car manufacturing plant is coming to town. Iverson is looking forward to the new construction projects of these new businesses and anticipates a 6-7% increase.

Scott Myran, president, Mississippi Welders Supply (Winona, MN), attributes a projected sales increase of 7-8% to customers that are in a growth mode, as well as to a talent pool focused on providing great customer service. “We add exceptional people and create roles for them if their talents match where we can strategically grow in areas where we’re not currently staffed,” Myran says. Fill plant and store facilities will be upgraded, and an overhaul of the company’s operating system will be completed in early 2015.

The positive overall economy in the Northwest is providing a steady growth of 9%, believes Bob Laing, president, Industrial Source (Eugene, OR). In a very competitive marketplace, Laing is focused on his specialty and medical gas business and recognizes a need to provide excellent e-commerce solutions for customers. He notes, “Our customers are becoming more sophisticated with technology, particularly with online order fulfillment.”

Consumer confidence and local economic development efforts will drive a 10% sales growth for Complete Welders Supply (Napa, CA). Investing in his company during the economic downturn of several years ago, Benjamin Bisconer, CEO, prepared for growth by investing in technology, asset improvements and infrastructure. He expects to reap the benefits of those investments. He says, “We opened a branch and we were able to offset the negative impact of the recession. Anticipating the downturn, we hit it on the head, rather than allowing it to hit us.” He also invested in bar coding technology and notes, “We bar code and track every customer, every situation. It’s good for us and for the customer. We improved our management of receivables. Improved record keeping has actually increased our revenue.”

As the large equipment manufacturers and related business begin to rehire, Joe Campbell, president of Machinery & Welder Corporation (West Allis, WI), is seeing a resurgence in orders and is hoping to see a 10-12% sales increase. He would like to add an additional salesperson to support that growth. He says, “Customers are looking more closely at product quality and the training that is provided in order to use products more efficiently.” That training is in Campbell’s wheelhouse, as he and his employees are experts on welder training and certification, welding codes and technical support.

A local boom which includes new construction and pipeline work and the nimble customer service that is required to support it are fueling a 10-15% sales growth for Gano Welding Supplies (Charleston, IL). T.K. Slaughter, vice president, says, “We watch the oil prices, just like we watch corn and agriculture prices.” Medical gases, which comprise 35% of sales, will also grow.

“We help customers make money and become better business people,” says Bob Fine, vice president, Compressed Gas Solutions (Orlando, FL). As the economy improves in Central Florida, sales increased by 4.5% in 2014 and likely will increase by 11% in 2015. Fine notes that as competitors are acquired by larger companies, his company tends to flourish. “Owners of locally owned businesses like to work with other locally owned businesses.”

With primary customers in the construction, gas and petrochemical power markets extremely busy, Donald Rosenthal, president, Economy Welding and Industrial Supply (Sewickley, PA), anticipates sales growth of 20%. “We’ve primed our stores and are evaluating inventory levels to focus on managing our cash reserves.” A third branch store was opened in 2014, and another may be opened in 2015.

New Store Locations

Distributors have their eyes open and remain alert to new opportunities. The economies of scale can come into play with new locations and an opportunity to serve a larger customer base. With access to low-cost money, now is the time to spread one’s wings.

The State of Maryland is incentivizing economic development by providing monies to companies that will build windmills. They have also provided a $100,000+ grant to Earlbeck Gases & Technologies (Baltimore, MD) to expand its operations to provide training to the workers who will build them. Additionally, a multi-billion dollar construction project beginning later this year will provide a multi-year shot in the arm to the local economy. Looking forward to a 5% sales increase, Jim Earlbeck, president, plans to hire two new people and is looking to add additional stores. He notes, “We’re expanding our training operations and will add customer service, accounting and operations staff.”

All Gas Welding Supply Co.’s (Monticello, NY) sales numbers will grow by 8%, driven by its small to mid-size customers and will be supported by eight new 2015 hires. Company owner Mike Taylor explains, “We do more light commercial and bulk carbon dioxide. Our bulk CO2 in restaurants has grown.” The company recently opened three new branch stores and hopes to add another in New Jersey. Taylor says, “You have to reinvest in your business. If you have access to capital, now is the time.” Taylor has worked hard to diversify product offerings and, in addition to compressed gases, also provides propane, fuel oil and water treatment chemicals.

Harris Industrial Gases (Citrus Heights, CA) recently opened a store in Nevada. Kathleen Harris, president, calls this a calculated move to take advantage of companies moving into the state from California, pointing to car-maker Tesla and the fuel-cell and new-technology battery companies following suit. She is looking for an increase of 6-10%, and is making sure the company will be able to keep up with the rapid pace while maintaining the financial ability to keep growing infrastructure at the same pace.

Gas and Supply (Baton Rouge, LA) will be adding 50 employees. A scratch-start store in Dallas and one in Atlanta opened at the end of 2014; another will open in Fort Worth in January. CEO Lori Kearns says the company will be close to hitting double-digit growth. When shopping for new locations, Kearns researches census data that ranks job locations and projections for welders, solderers and cutters. Her philosophy for growth is to start with the customer and go backwards. Kearns explains, “We make sure that we are saving the customer money every day, either through the actual processes or in the back office, including managing their inventory.”

CEO Myles Dempsey remains focused on building Tech Air (Danbury, CT ) through acquisitions, through scratch starts, and through organic growth. A projected sales increase of close to 10% will be the result of market growth initiatives as well as the economic strength of the areas where he operates. He notes, “We’re not going into a market to stand still.” Dempsey will continue to add resources, especially people, who can help Tech Air to grow in both existing and future markets.

A more positive economic climate and the December 2014 purchase of a local welding supply business will support a 15% sales increase, says Gary Stoneback, vice president, Metro Welding Supply Corporation (Detroit, MI). Noting that the company recently added capabilities to service the bev-carb business and small liquid nitrogen applications, plans call for the purchase of a bulk oxygen trailer, as well as liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen transports later in the year. A second production facility will open in early March. “Customers continue to look for excellent service,” says Stoneback, “and they are demanding ‘unique’ services to which we continue to adapt.” Some of the “unique” services Stoneback provides include invoices bundled together each month as opposed to sending them out with each transaction, and Metro-managed inventory at the customer’s location.

Expecting sales to increase by at least 15%, Hartman Brothers-Allair (Montrose, CO) is entering a new market area, described by President Kirk Hartman as three times larger than the current one his company serves. He is also making investments to better serve his customers. He recently purchased a tanker for bulk CO2 distribution in order to serve larger customers, and will stock nitrogen/blending generators to complement bulk CO2 systems. On his shopping list for 2015: large bulk CO2 storage tanks that will be strategically placed within the company’s 120-mile service area.

Noting price increases of 6%, Miguel Angel Aguayo, CEO, AOC Mexico (Santillo, Coahuia, Mexico), expects an overall sales increase of 17-20% as the local economy improves and as he develops his company’s newly opened branch locations. He will pursue new markets which include health care, food, energy, distribution and agriculture. Plans call for investments in ultrasonic testing equipment and an automated paint coating system. Aguayo says, “One of our biggest challenges is to reduce costs in our most remote business units, while using economies of scale and increasing productivity as we make more efficient use of our assets.”

The gas and oil industry plans on spending $15 billion in the region in 2015. In December, James C. Dawes Company (Martins Ferry, OH), opened a branch located in the heart of the drilling area. Expecting a sales increase of 20-25%, Brian Dawes, president says, “We added products that are specific to this sector, including sandblasting cabinets and related equipment. We’ve increased our inventory by more than 25%, adding special tooling for this industry.” The company recently installed a cylinder retest facility.

Inventory Management Impacts Bottom Line

You want it delivered when? Hold on, let me see if we have it in stock….The key to some customers’ hearts and checkbooks may be to never having to hear the words “back order.” As distributors take steps to expand, they point to good inventory management as synonymous with good customer service.

Bruce Cook, vice president, Humphries Incorporated (American Fork, UT), has a problem with business advisors who urge inventory reductions as a part of the JIT philosophy (at least as it applies to his business). He says, “As organized as you are, if the supplier doesn’t have it, you’re out. Not all customers plan as well as they should and emergencies happen. Emergencies are when they need us.” Cook is expanding his customer service department and expanding his inventory at a new location. New employees will knock on every door. He adds, “Price continues to be an issue, but people are tired of not being able to get product when they need it. We’re not going in with price. We’re just asking, ‘How’s your service?’”

Max’s Breathe Easy Gases & Supplies (El Dorado, KS) caters to a diverse market which includes agriculture, retail, and the oil and gas industries. While a strong believer in maintaining the inventory levels required to have the right product on the shelves, Max Hoyt, president, is frustrated by those customers who shop in his store and then buy online. He says, “We spend a lot of time walking through the store with them, providing the information they need to make a purchasing decision, only to see them the next week coming in to buy a bottle of gas after purchasing the machine online – because it was the lowest price!”

A positive economic outlook is helping to drive modest growth for Jim Horst, president, Albright Welding Supply Company (Wooster, OH). Noting a new trend for 2015, Horst says, “While customers have always wanted us to maintain high inventory levels to keep back orders to a minimum, we are receiving an increased number of requests to manage their in-plant inventories.” He will be adding additional vending machines in customer plants.

Russell Strate, president, Strate Welding Supply Company (Buffalo, NY), is promoting his status as the only locally owned distributor in town. He says, “Our ability to quickly respond to our customers’ needs is an advantage.” Expecting to maintain the strong numbers he enjoyed in 2014, Strate believes more of his customers would prefer not to maintain their own inventory. He notes, “We’re willing to carry the inventory our customers need.”

Vincent Cirrincione, president, Sky Oxygen (Carnegie, PA), expects a sales increase of 5-7%, supported in part by the Marcellus Shale, along with an increased presence at local trade shows. He notes that his safety equipment sales are on the rise, largely because of the shale. Cirrincione adds, “Customers demand that we have the inventory they want, and that we respond either the same day or next day.” His willingness to continually invest in his inventory insures that his customers will never need a backup supplier.

“Partnering with customers adds to sales growth,” says Guy Marlin, president, Lampton Welding Supply Company (Wichita, KS), who expects an increase of 9-15%. Lampton Welding Supply’s team spends a day in the customer’s shop to figure out ways to help. Marlin explains, “If you can get them to give you the opportunity and you know what you are doing, you can show them ways to reduce their costs.” Marlin recently put a price scanner in a store and surprisingly that store’s margins went up by 7%! “We are our own worst enemy when employees think they should cut a deal every time they sell something.” Two new, larger stores will be built to replace ones in Hutchinson and McPherson, Kansas. At 6,000 square feet, the new stores will be larger, contain a bigger warehouse, and have walls 17-feet high for triple-stacked showroom shelving.

High Plains Gas & Supply (Englewood, CA) has had a busy year. Having completed a showroom expansion and internal structural changes, including hiring quality employees and investing in a strong website presence, Shannon Lind, president, expects the work to pay off for his two-and-a-half-year-old company with a 10-15% growth. Like other independents, the company pays close attention to customer service. Says Lind, “We have strong inventory, try not to backorder, make sure a live person answers the phone, and we return calls promptly.” It is working. Customers are putting good reviews online, drawing in other customers who are reading them on Google’s search results.

Investing in Independence

To be more independent, many independent distributors are investing in their ability to better control their supply of product and their ability to deliver to the customer. The current stable economy is providing an ideal platform for investing not just in today’s business, but in a more profitable future.

The gases side of AGL Welding Supply Company’s (Clifton, NJ) business is very good, according to COO Kevin Brancato, and he expects to maintain 2014 numbers in 2015. “The hardgoods side is challenged by a variety of competitors who are competing online, solely on price.” While distributors invest in inventory and in salespeople training, it has become common for the online shopper to pick the salesperson’s brain for product information, examine the product in the store, and then purchase it online from another supplier. Brancato will continue to focus more on customers who place a value on 24/7 service. “We make sure our phone is answered 365 days a year, 24/7.” As pharmaceutical companies leave the state, and physicians move away from the private practices and outpatient facilities to be replaced by hospitals, the market is shifting. Brancato says, “You have to pay attention to your marketplace and to where your bread is buttered.” To that end, AGL is already producing its own specialty gases and is focusing on becoming more independent and producing as much of their own product as possible.

Expecting small, but continued growth, Erin Beckley, CFO, Advanced Gases & Equipment (West Sacramento, CA), says that acquiring new customers will come as a result of targeting new niche markets, driving a 3-6% sales increase. Two new hires will round out his need for inside and outside sales support. Like others, finding qualified people is tough, and he’d rather hire someone and teach them the skills. “It’s time-consuming and expensive, but it’s better to have someone learn the right way.” He says, “I’m a big believer in networking and working with other independents. You can spend a year trying to meet a challenge by yourself or spend 15 minutes on the phone with someone who’s already met that challenge.” To gain better control and utilization of product, Beckley is building a fill plant, scheduled to be online in 2015.

Indiana Oxygen Company (Indianapolis, IN) is making investments in its specialty gas, bulk gas and propane capabilities with the objective of increasing sales by 7-8%. Gary Halter, president, points to an expanding nitrogen market for smaller bulk tanks. A new 8,600-gallon nitrogen tanker was purchased to replace the old one, which is being converted to argon. Argon deliveries will begin in early 2015. A 30,000-gallon propane tank was added to service an expanding market. “These additions, including a new ERP system to be rolled out by the middle to end of 2015, a strong energy sector, the upgrading of the sales team, and the promotion of a senior sales rep to district manager, will improve overall profitability.”

Pointing to his experienced team’s ability to bob and weave through the cracks and an aggressive marketing campaign begun in 2010, Shawn Coffey, president, plans to grow City Welding Sales & Service’s (Skokie, IL) sales by 15% in 2015. Planning to add one production employee, Coffee will invest in vehicles, equipment, physical plant and IT. He explains, “The last correction in the economy taught a lot of people new paradigms and how to do business differently and how to compete.” The challenge for Coffee continues to be supply. “We are getting all of the argon that we need, but I have been told to expect a price increase. During the helium crisis my costs rose by 25-30%. Now that the supply has returned, no one has rescinded those cost increases. Maybe argon is going through a similar correction.”

A-OX Welding Supply Company’s (Sioux Falls, SD) sales numbers have grown steadily by 15-20% for several years and Tom Elliott, president, sees no reason for that rate of growth to be any different in 2015. If anything, he notes, with the addition of a new 46,000 sq. ft. specialty gas lab to be fully operational during the 1st Quarter, that number may be higher. “We have been more aggressive during the past few years and we’ve expanded our marketing efforts geographically.” The company is budgeting for seven or eight new hires. Elliott’s customers are demanding more expertise. He notes, “We have to offer them solutions. As an example, our customers asked us to do high pressure plumbing. To meet their needs we hired people who could do that work.”

New Products Fuel Growth

GAWDA distributors are solution providers. As they listen to their customers’ challenges, they know that the key to their ability to retain that customer’s loyalty is their ability to provide solutions. Rest assured, if they don’t have a solution in stock, they will find one.

Adding new products, Ned Lane, president, Cee Kay Supply (St. Louis, MO), expects sales will increase by 5-6%. A new dry ice division will be in operation for its first full year in 2015. Lane says, “We listen to our customers when they make inquiries for specific products or services. We would rather add new products than spread out geographically.” The company will explore the addition of vending machines in 2015. Plans also call for the installation of a new palletized fill island to replace one that was installed in 1997, and an upgraded UE cylinder testing system. To prepare for open positions as employees begin to retire in the next five years, Cee Kay is taking steps in 2015 to recruit sales trainees and will add two this year. Lane sums it up: “The status quo is not an acceptable position. We must challenge ourselves to improve every year. One example is an online ordering process. We need to make that available to our customers. While a small percentage of customers require it today, it will be a larger percentage in the future.”

Mark Falconer, president, Minneapolis Oxygen Company (Minneapolis, MN), is projecting a growth of 5-6% in gas sales, 2-3% in hardgoods. Falconer and his team are helping customers improve their processes. He says, “It’s an investment on our behalf to come up with ways for customers to be more efficient, whether, for example, through the use of bulk tanks or the addition of a piping system.” IT capabilities have been enhanced, allowing for improved customer access. Falconer is searching for a new and larger facility and hopes to have identified a location by the 2nd Quarter.

Mitchell Welding Supply’s (Terrell, TX) large in-house service and repair center is one of the reasons people come into the store to check out products, rather than go online, says Rodney Wray, president. “They know we’re here for them,” he says. Many of his large customers are forecasting strong growth, and he is optimistic with a projection of a 10% sales increase. To handle the upswing, he recently added a route truck and will add another in 2015.

“We’re aggressive and we’re service-oriented,” says John Brewer Jr., president, Advanced Welding & Industrial Supply (Greenville, MS). His employees put themselves in their customers’ shoes when planning for what their customers need. Brewer’s dad built the company with a mindset that dictated: First, your customer is your livelihood; and second, you can’t sell out of an empty wagon. That mindset will generate a 10-18% sales increase in 2015. With plans to add 10 employees, Brewer notes that the ability to maintain an adequate inventory of gases and then to deliver those gases in a timely manner is a critical challenge.

New Market Niches

The art of identifying new markets in your backyard can be responsible for enlarging your customer base and can drive potential sales growth. The independent distributor is both hunter and farmer. Targeting new markets while caring for existing ones, GAWDA members do not hesitate to identify those new markets that are a match for their companies.

Expecting a sales increase in 2015, Kevin Heckel, vice president, American Cylinder Gas (Butler, WI), says that his company has found its niche: the small to mid-sized company that does not get the service it requires from a larger supplier. American Cylinder Gas has recently taken on additional lines of clothing and a new line of abrasives in order to meet the needs of tool and die customers. In response to competitive pressure from online competitors, Heckel monitors the pricing his customers can find online and while he knows his costs are usually a bit higher, he also knows he is competitive. Orders are hand-delivered to customers. Says Heckel, “It puts us in front of the customer again.”

F & M Mafco (Cincinnati, OH) is a very diversified business, and Patrick McKenna, vice president, will use this diversity to his advantage. “We’re charging after petrochemical,” he says. Competition is always a challenge, but he is not worried about facing off with larger companies. “We work hard to make sure that every employee shows professionalism and service to the customer.” McKenna says it’s not unusual for people to contact F & M looking for alternative approaches.

Celebrating its 85th Anniversary, Craig Welding Supply Co. (Vernon, CA) anticipates a 10% sales growth. While many heavy steel fabricators have disappeared from the Los Angeles area, smaller companies with diverse products continue to lead the way for welding and related needs. One example of a new niche market is the food packaging industry. Steve Craig, president comments, “If we can provide a solution to our customers’ challenges, they’ll come back. Too many of our competitors just sell stock numbers, we sell the sizzle.”

As a new company, Compressed Solutions (Antioch, CA) is looking forward to a 20% sales uptick. Owner Scott Robinson says, “We make our money on cylinders and refills and on being on-time with guaranteed, next-day delivery.” Targeting new balloon-grade helium customers, as a new niche market, Robinson notes that retailers can be a steady customer. With plans to add two new employees, he adds, “At 31 years old, I’ve learned that it is important to value your customers, to keep them and your employees happy, and to not take yourself too seriously.”

It’s All About the Customer

The customer is the lifeblood of our business. Keeping existing customers happy is a prerequisite to all growth. Whether we are aggressively marketing our companies to new customers or hunting for new solutions to their challenges, it is all about the customer.

Customers repeatedly ask the technical sales staff at Miller Welding Supply Company (Grand Rapids, MI) to take on management roles and engineering duties, thus greatly reducing the customer’s need to have a welding engineer on staff. That extra attention provided by Michael Clay, president, and his team is supporting their ability to capture market share and increase sales. Plans call for two inside and two outside salespeople, as well the installation of new automation software.

“Our customers want us to be an extension of their company,” says Tony Parrish, owner of Evansville Welding Supply (Evansville, IN). “They want us to provide excellent customer service as well as to help them improve their processes and procedures.” New customers and the growth of current customers will drive a sales increase. Parrish says his main challenge will be recruiting highly qualified personnel and continuous improvement of current personnel. He plans to communicate company goals and make sure everyone is involved in achieving and taking ownership of those goals.

Kenny Williams, vice president, Dixie Welding Supply Company (Attalla, AL), is hoping for sales improvement supported in part by customers who have been purchasing from his company for 20-30 years. He stresses, “When we offer them service, including a technician that does warranty work at their site, they are more willing to not base their purchasing decisions solely on price.”

Tommy Hagan, president, Logan Hagan Welding Supply (Statesboro, GA) says that major markets in the area, which include agriculture, manufacturing and a local university, remain steady, as do his company’s sales. A strong supporter of continuing education, company employees attend training sessions devoted not only to new product knowledge, but government regulations, licensing, parts and repairs, among others. “People can get quotes online from all across the country, but we are hands-on,” Hagan says, “and that is what we sell.”

Charlie Mundt, president, Church Towne Gas & Welding Supply (Cochranton, PA), is seeing a possible slow down during the first half of the year precipitated by a general slow down amongst his fabrication customers. Aggressive marketing efforts begun late last year will pay off by mid-2015 and generate sales growth. Mundt says, “Our customers are looking for us to provide them with technical support and most of all, attention. Speed of service continues to impress them.” When it comes to saving money, Mundt says, “I have learned not to purchase insurance products without getting several new quotes. Surprisingly, we continue to save money when we shop for new quotes and make changes as required.”

Drawing on their online sales experience since 1998, Oxygen Supply Company (White Plains, MD) is expecting an overall sales growth of 5%. Brant Romero, president, notes a difference between his walk-in and online business and says. “The walk-ins know what they want; online customers have to be walked through product information and application use.” He plans to invest in online customer training by utilizing more online product reviews and product information. A recently purchased facility will house a welding institute. The company plans to offer morning and afternoon classes using 15-20 welding booths, beginning in the 1st Quarter.

Jim Mikus, general sales manager, Advanced Gas & Welding Solutions (Wickliffe, OH), expects a combination of new customer acquisition and some price increases to result in a 10% growth in sales. He says, “If we keep listening to our customers, they will tell us what they need.” On his company’s To Do list for 2015 is the purchase of a new vehicle and new cylinders.

An additional salesperson and the ability to bang on more doors will support a 10% sales increase, believes Peter Ficarrotto, president, Ace Welding Supply (Freeport, NY). He says, “Our small- to middle-sized customers are willing to spend a little more, when we can promise them more in service. I’ve learned that it takes an average of eight to nine calls on a prospect before he becomes a customer. Persistence is the key.”

As his customers’ business improves, so has A-L Compressed Gases of Spokane’s (Spokane, WA) sales. Shan Bush, president, says his plan to add an additional five people will help to support a 10-15% sales increase. He notes, “It’s important to stick to your core products and to hire and train the right people. We are very good at delivering the products that our customers need.”

Yes, distributors are very good at what they do, and they will work hard in 2015 to help their customers get very good at what they do. The challenges are many, and they are up to the task. It is sure to be a very interesting year.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association