GAWDA’s Charter and Newest Members

Take a look at the similarities among three of GAWDA’s first member companies and its newest member.

GAWDA’s Newest Member

Napotnik Welding Supply

A two-level facility added on to Napotnik Welding Supply’s 50,000 sq. ft. fabrication shop contains space for a showroom, warehouse, demonstration room, offices and customer training rooms.

Headquarters: New Florence, Pennsylvania
Founded: 2013
GAWDA Member Since 2015

Norman Napotnik decided to open a welding supply shop in New Florence, Pennsylvania, with the mission “to satisfy customers even better than they were being satisfied in the past.” Napotnik is third generation in his family’s successful fabrication and repair business, and with decades-long welding experience, he clearly knows what customers want.

Norman’s grandfather, Jacob Napotnik Sr., worked as a welder and millwright at the Bethlehem Steel division in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Norman’s father, Jacob Napotnik Jr., also worked at Bethlehem Steel before opening a welding fabrication and repair shop in 1963 called Napotnik Welding, doing everything from design and rebuilds to reverse engineering for industrial companies and power plants. Napotnik says he never dreamed of getting into distribution until he started having difficulties getting the supplies he needed. “If I can’t get it from other vendors,” he reasoned, “I’ll become a vendor myself.”

Two years ago, Napotnik added a 2,000 sq. ft. showroom and a 10,500 sq. ft. warehouse to the facility that continues to house the 50,000 sq. ft. fabrication and repair business, and began selling welding supplies. Napotnik Welding Supply is a Preferred Supplier to several utilities, coal plants and power generating companies. Napotnik explains, “Because of our fab shop work, we’ve developed relationships with many power-generating businesses over the years and a reputation for customer service that is second to none. These companies cannot afford to be shut down or to wait for materials or equipment. We know what they need and how to rapidly respond to these needs.”

“The Museum” is a wall on the second floor mezzanine dedicated to equipment and tools of an earlier time.

A large and diverse inventory is kept in the warehouse. “If a customer needs 10, we order 20 and put 10 on the shelf to make certain we never again get caught without product,” Napotnik says. And when new equipment comes in, it is taken to the on-site fabrication shop for testing and review so inside and outside sales staff know exactly what the product does. “We truly know the equipment and how it works,” Napotnik says. “We are the customers’ best line of defense against getting something they don’t need or want.

Overlooking the showroom is a mezzanine that holds a conference room, a theater/training center and offices. Customers are encouraged to host business meetings at Napotnik Welding Supply, taking advantage of the large conference room and theater set-up. There is also a demonstration room where customers can try out anything in the store before purchase. To further help the customer, videos are posted on the company website covering such topics as “What’s Wrong with My Welds?” Three Common Welding Mistakes” and “How to Set Up a MIG Welder.” New videos are continually added.

Many welding supply customers started asking Napotnik to supply their gases. Currently with no fill plant on site, Napotnik cylinders are filled by a supplier. Thirty percent of sales are gas sales, which is the prime reason the company became a member of GAWDA this past summer. Safety Sales Manager Cassidy Biss says that with the company becoming more involved with gases, it was critical that staff had the latest knowledge and information. “GAWDA has so much to offer in the realm of safety and compliance. It made sense for us to become a member and take advantage of all the information, support and networking available for membership.”

Napotnik Welding Supply currently has four full-time and three part-time employees.

GAWDA’s Oldest Members

Purity Cylinder Gases

Purity Cylinder Gases, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has 12 additional locations throughout Michigan and Indiana.

Headquarters: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Founded 1938
GAWDA Member Since 1945

Purity Cylinder Gases was established in 1938 by Edward Butterfield, Glenn Garman and Howard Sweet. Like other distributors, these men were experiencing difficulties with their suppliers, and for a still young business, they were eager to find solutions that would keep their company on track. They met with other distributors and helped to form the National Welders Supply Association in 1945. In 1950, Glenn Garman became president of NWSA.

With solution building and innovation as the company’s foundation, Garman and his co-owners opened four stores. In 1960, three employees purchased the business. Ken Nyhuis, Glenn DeVries and Don Wyngarden continued what the first generation of owners did and guided the company through several expansions. Purity is currently in its fourth generation of ownership.

Customer First. Always. Michigan winters have never stopped delivery of gases or equipment. Circa 1958.

From its inception, Purity has always sought best practices and has become a company known for meeting and solving challenges, whether creating internal improvements or improving customer operations. A management system called “Traction” was recently instituted that encourages Purity’s associates to find solutions to everyday issues. Douglas Nyhuis, vice president, calls it a “bottom up approach to solving issues within the organization and at the customer level.”

Purity has 13 locations throughout Michigan and Indiana. Three of these locations came via acquisitions; the rest were scratch starts. Four fill plants plus an acetylene plant produce oxygen, argon, CO2, nitrogen, specialty gas, nitrous oxide and acetylene. Currently serving the automotive, furniture building, metal fabrication/construction, food process and medical industries with solutions like automation and better gas and equipment technologies that reduce customer costs, Purity strives to be a true partner in their customer’s business.

Like those early supporters of NWSA, Purity Cylinder Gases continues to reap the benefits of membership in GAWDA. Doug Nyhuis says the ability to network with other distributors and the availability of GAWDA’s Consultants are a tremendous value. “We’ve been a member since 1945 and will continue to be a member to support our association and help strengthen our industry.”

Willard C. Starcher, Inc.

Willard C. Starcher’s delivery trucks can travel up to 100 miles from headquarters in Spencer, West Virginia, before making the first stop.

Headquarters: Spencer, West Virginia
Founded 1938
GAWDA Member Since 1945

Willard C. Starcher, Inc. was founded by Willard Starcher in 1938, in a garage behind his home in Spencer, West Virginia. Concerned that manufacturers were going direct to customers and would hurt his young company’s hard-won business, Starcher organized with other distributors to form an association that would represent the interests of the independent welding supply distributor, NWSA. Willard Starcher remained active in the business until his death in 1974.

Starcher’s son-in-law Fred Hill succeeded him as president of the company and was instrumental in the complete renovation of the company’s facilities. Upon Hill’s death in November 1985, his wife Joan became president and began the initial computerization of store activities. Joan Hill died unexpectedly only three months after the death of her husband. Today, the company is owned and operated by their children John Hill and Mary Beth Titus, and John’s wife Carol.

In addition to hardgoods and equipment, the company offers compressed industrial, medical and specialty gases. Because of its location near the Marcellus and Devonian Shales, major markets include oil and gas drillers and pipeline companies. Being in a rural area calls for creative solutions. “Challenges are opportunities,” says John Hill, and he is looking to add additional routes. “A route truck in a large city can do 20-25 stops and when the day is over, the driver has traveled 50-70 miles, maybe 100. In our case, we often travel 100 miles before we even hit a stop.” Connecting with the customer prior to delivery is crucial so the driver has what the customer needs on the truck.

Willard C. Starcher delivery vehicle, 1948

Hill points to several benefits of his GAWDA membership, including networking with other distributors. “Most of us have similar challenges, and I learn a lot by talking with them and finding out how to make improvements to our organization.” Other benefits include access to CGA publications and GAWDA’s consultants. “Ours is a safe industry and we need to continue to keep it safe.” Hill knows from experience. In the early years of the company, Willard Starcher suffered serious injuries from a propane explosion. When Hill wanted to reintroduce the sale of propane, the family pushed back. “I don’t know if he was following the proper procedures, or those procedures just didn’t exist back then.” Adamant that employees receive regular safety training, Hill credits his membership in GAWDA with helping him maintain a safe operation.

Willard C. Starcher, Inc. is first and foremost a family business. Soon after opening, Willard Starcher joined the war effort and served as a civilian technician for the Navy during World War II. His wife ran the company while he was gone. When John Hill was recalled to activity duty as a helicopter pilot in the Gulf War, his wife Carol ran the company. Willard’s sister, Imogene Starcher, also worked at the company until she retired in 2014 at the age of 94. Known as the “cylinder police,” she kept track of all the cylinders. Legend has it that every time a cylinder went out the door, she took a picture of the customer with his arms around it. Call it “arm-coding,” not many cylinders were ever lost to Imogene’s system.

Reflecting back on the early days of NWSA, Hill points to the support he receives from manufacturers as a result of his GAWDA membership. “I know people in the manufacturers’ hierarchy on a first-name basis, and when an issue arises, I can escalate it up to a level to resolve a problem.” He adds, “People still buy from people, and GAWDA helps develop those relationships.”

Weiler Welding Company: First To Join NWSA

Headquarters: Dayton, Ohio
Founded 1920
GAWDA Member Since 1945

Tubby Weiler was 15 years old in 1915 when he went to work at Weiler Broom Works, a manufacturing company in Dayton, Ohio, owned by his father. His job was to pick broom corn in the fields and bring it back by horse and wagon to the plant where the brooms were manufactured.

Tubby knew he could gather more broom corn more quickly so the company could manufacture and sell more product, if only his father would invest in some new technology. He summarized the problem: the horses got tired, had to be fed and cared for, and could only work a couple of hours each day. Let’s replace them with a truck! From his early years, Herbert ‘Tubby’ Weiler Sr. knew how to recognize a challenge and craft a solution.

Tubby’s father agreed to purchase a truck on the condition that Tubby attend Michigan State University’s automotive school to learn how to maintain and fix the truck. The curriculum included courses on engine repair, tire retreading, vulcanizing, welding and brazing. Upon his return to Dayton, he purchased repair equipment and set up shop in a garage at the manufacturing plant. During the day he gathered broom corn—much more than ever—and at night maintained the truck. Soon, the locals found out that Tubby had the skills and the equipment to work on their machines: trucks, plows, engines of all kind. He could fix anything. But he was passionate about welding. He loved to weld.

By the time Tubby was 20, he opened a fabrication and repair shop in his father’s garage called Weiler Welding Company. Over the next 10 years, he stopped collecting broom corn to nurture and grow his welding business. By 1930, he was purchasing welding supplies from Air Reduction Company (Airco) and reselling them to other repair shops. When Airco asked him to stock and sell more of their product, he agreed. Airco, in turn, would no longer sell direct to these customers and would turn them over to Weiler. In 1932, Weiler Welding Company became an official Airco authorized distributor with a sales counter, delivery trucks, inventory and salespeople.

It wasn’t long before other manufacturers learned that Weiler Welding Supply had a captive base of customers. They wanted in on Weiler’s distribution expertise. Weiler saw the opportunities of investing in his supply business and agreed to take on their products.

As Weiler Welding Supply grew, it relocated from the garage to a storefront directly across the street from the Dayton Electric Company (Delco), which manufactured parts for General Motors. Weiler’s office had a large window that faced Delco’s front door. After the manufacturers’ reps and salesmen left his office with an agreement that Weiler would sell their products, he watched them cross the street and sell directly to Delco.
This did not sit well with Herbert Weiler.

During the summer of 1945, Weiler met in his office with George H. Ohmer, a manufacturer’s rep who rented office space in Weiler’s building. In town to visit a relative, Von Stacey Rice happened to drop by. Rice owned Virginia Welding Supply Company in Charleston, West Virginia, and he and Weiler were long-time friends. The three men talked about the situation with the manufacturers and decided that something had to be done. Each man contributed 50 dollars to be used to start a groundswell of support for distributors.

This was the beginning of the National Welding Supply Association.

Over the years, Weiler’s tenacity and focus on independent distribution bode well for his company. The sale of hardgoods continued to rise, as did new markets for industrial and compressed gases. While Airco provided bulk gas to large companies, Weiler knew that smaller end-users were a profitable market. At the time, Airco filled cylinders, brought them to Weiler, who delivered them to the end-user. Weiler purchased a building from Airco, opened a fill plant and began to fill his own cylinders.

Today, Weiler Welding Company has five locations throughout Ohio and one in Indiana, including a division devoted solely to the large-scale sale of helium and balloons. Sixty percent of sales are gas sales.

The business is managed by the children of Herbert Weiler Jr., who at the age of 80, continues to keep an eye on the company founded by his father. This third generation—James Weiler, Herbert Weiler III and Janet Ferguson—has inherited their grandfather’s and father’s foresight and ability to see opportunity in any challenge.

In November 2013, the company moved to a new 50,000 sq. ft. facility in Dayton that includes a state-of-the-art fill plant, corporate offices, retail sales and, in a nod to Tubby Weiler, a section devoted to equipment and truck repair.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association