Optimism in the Air for Distributors

Many See Improving Prospects for 2017, Tell What Has Helped Them Grow

By Charles McChesney and Diane Stirling

Every year brings unique business challenges, and usually a few opportunities to make good. As GAWDA distributor members set forth on a new year, they discuss what worked well for them over the past 12 months and the conditions and issues they anticipate 2017 will bring.

There’s a lot to learn by asking questions, businesspeople understand. To get at what the year was like for distributors around the country for the benefit of other members, that’s just what we did.

Eastern Region

Church Towne Gas

Shifting prices for fuels helped drive growth during 2016 for Church Towne Gas and Welding Supply in Cochranton, Pa. The company bought a used propane bobtail truck and began servicing residential customers who have been converting from heating oil in northwestern Pennsylvania. Things are going so well on the propane side of the business that company President Charles Mundt is thinking of adding a new bobtail to the fleet, he says.

Looking to 2017, Mundt sees price hikes as a concern. Noting that copper prices rose rapidly in the days after Donald Trump was elected president, he expects prices of other commodities to rise as well. The challenge, he says, will be passing those price increases along to customers. “They are going to complain and they are going to shop. The challenge is to figure out a way to keep customers from shopping everywhere.” Mundt has a strategy: that is to let the majors and largest independents take the lead on hiking prices, so their unhappy customers call him first.

Cryo Weld Corporation

Opportunity presented itself to Cryo Weld Corporation, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 2016 when a major competitor pulled out of the market. The company responded by buying the competitor’s building and picking up more than a few of their customers, says company Vice President Nick Centorani. Cryo Weld moved into the building, increasing its space by 50 percent and greatly increasing its visibility, he says.

Looking to the year ahead, Centorani is concerned about other competitors’ efforts to move into the market by undercutting pricing on gases. To deal with that, he is pushing Cryo Weld’s sales staff to meet with customers and keep delivering the kind of service that keeps customers loyal.

All Welding Supplies

Vice President Jason Castro doesn’t hesitate when asked what idea worked best for All Welding Supplies, in Lynn, Mass., last year. “Putting my father on the road,” he says with a note of pride in his voice. He explains that for the past couple years, company President John Castro has been showing him how to do things “in the shop.” That effort is completed, and John Castro is back out there meeting with old customers and bringing in new customers, Jason says.

“I’m seeing more optimism than in the last 9 or 10 years.”
Howard MacKay
President

West Penn Laco

Continuing weakness in the coal, oil and gas industries drove West Penn Laco, of Pittsburgh, Pa., to focus on holding down costs in 2016, says President Howard MacKay. That meant reorganizing delivery routes for more efficiency of travel and reducing personnel costs through a plan of not replacing workers when they leave.

MacKay sees signs of a better year in 2017. “I’m seeing more optimism than in the last 9 or 10 years,” he says. While he hopes regulations and taxes might be reduced in the new year, he hasn’t made changes in anticipation of better times to come. Should demand rise, “we can ramp up pretty rapidly,” he believes. In fact, West Penn has been at work on a fifth location, in Greensburg, Pa., even during its belt tightening, expanding the company’s footprint some 30 miles east.

Tech Air

Tech Air, of Danbury, Conn., grew into a coast-to-coast gas distributor in 2016. CEO Myles Dempsey notes that the company made six acquisitions during the year, bringing the total number of Tech Air outlets to 38. “Our value proposition is that we are a credible alternative buyer,” Dempsey says, and that positions the company as a viable choice, he believes, “instead of selling your business to a multibillion dollar public company.”

In 2016, growth included building new fill plants in Los Angeles and Houston. Dempsey says he continues to work on acquisitions, noting that in the vast majority of cases, letters of intent turn into actual signed deals. The company’s record is that most employees stay on, customer retention is high and about half of the previous owners continue to work in the business, he says.

Dempsey wants to continue the trends that helped Tech Air become a truly national company: owners sell and then stay on; the new business has greater access to suppliers; and back-office chores such as bill-paying and human resource matters are managed by others in the overarching organization.

City Welding Sales & Service, Inc.

It was a good 2016 for City Welding Sales & Service,inc. in Skokie, Ill. Sales met the projected goal of increasing about 20 percent, President Shawn Coffey says. He credits that increase to avoiding the piles of paperwork he sees competitors require customers to wade through. “We try to not make it hard for people to spend money,” he says. In addition, Coffey says the company has been tweaking its internet presence.

While Coffey is optimistic about 2017 and ready to invest in City Welding, he says he has concerns about Washington, D.C. Those concerns include the national debt, which rose from $10.6 trillion in 2009 to $19.8 trillion now, and the potential for significant added federal regulation in the beverage CO2 business. He sees no need for such regulations. “I’m here 40 years now and we’ve sold CO2 all this time, unregulated and without an incident,” he says.

Shawn Coffey Quote

Badger Welding Supplies, Inc.

Customers at Badger Welding Supplies, in Madison, Wis., have been making requests for more specialized filler metals, says W. Scott Griskavich, the company’s owner-president. Consequently, Badger workers studied, cross-referenced and developed expertise in the best filler applications customers are facing. That has been a big help and has made Badger the place for harder-to-get and more expensive filler metals, Griskavich notes. In addition, developing that expertise has yielded improvements on margins, especially when customers buy filler costing more than $20 a pound, versus material that costs 90 cents a pound, he says.

The economy, particular the health of the manufacturing economy, is Griskavich’s foremost concern for 2017. Tractors, backhoes and other equipment can’t keep running forever, he says. While there was a slight uptick in demand from manufacturing customers, he is hoping for 2017 to bring more customers into his store.

Bickett Machine & Gas Supply, Inc.

Like many GAWDA distributor members, Bickett Machine & Gas Supply, in Portsmouth, Ohio, does business beyond welding and gases. For 2016, the company’s best idea was adding a powder coating booth, says Eric Lewis, vice president of sales. At 24 feet by 12 feet, the booth is large enough to allow powder-coating everything from fences to 8-foot-tall gates, plus handrails, security doors and other metal pieces that benefit from a baked coating that lasts longer than paint.

For 2017, Lewis plans to again spend outside the welding and gases business, adding a lathe. That will allow workers to create and repair drive shafts for vehicles and power equipment – “semis, cars, anything,” he says. Lewis expects to have the nearly $100,000 piece of capital equipment installed and running in the first quarter of the new year.

Sutton-Garten Company

At Sutton-Garten in Indianapolis, Ind., President W. “Pat” Garten concentrated on a few previously unserved product lines to boost 2016 revenues. Focus was put on dry ice blasting equipment and the blasting and welding rental-equipment market. Dry ice manufacturing “was an important growth area for us, too,” Garten says. Though the welding side of his business was fairly flat across the year, the added lines produced a nice increase overall, he reports.

W "Pat" Garten Quote

The biggest issue of 2017 is one Garten prepared for last year by adapting operations to maintain his CO2 business. Time and resources were spent obtaining information from GAWDA consultants, setting up new systems, adding services, making building modifications, and training staff in new procedures. “The new Food and Drug Administration regulations are very stringent and are forcing us to change our operation quite a bit. We now operate a food plant and come under all the regulations of the FDA. It’s a considerable change in the operation, really, as well as considerable expense,” he says.
Yet, 2017 is looking up. “I think 2017 will be a better year, particularly on the welding side. Just getting the election over is a big relief for everyone, and we’re looking forward to the next six months. I think it’ll be a good year.”

Minneapolis Oxygen Company
Implementing an idea in 2016 that had been in mind for a few years paid dividends for Minneapolis Oxygen Company, says Mark Falconer, president. “For the last several years we were going to attack the non-welding related markets, industrial gas or specialty gas. We upgraded specialty gases substantially, doubling our investment. It’s beginning to pay off a little quicker, and it’s still growing based on some of the work we’re doing in the field,” he says. The company’s strategy was adding cylinders plus some specialty gas equipment, “so we could take our spec filling to another level, to enhance the products we do in-house versus buying on the open market.”

The result put Minneapolis Oxygen, “in relatively light growth for 2016, but that probably helped us to attain overall 6-7 percent growth in revenues. As we venture into that and get a little more adept at what we’re doing, it’s just going to enhance our capabilities into the future, and pay off for us,” Falconer believes.

Mark Falconer Quote

A big issue for 2017 is personnel, and the transitions necessary as the baby-boomer group of employees continues to leave the workforce, according to Falconer. Four of his 48 employees retired over the past several months, so the company promoted others from within, added a driver, customer service person, salesperson and sales manager, and promoted one employee to VP of Operations. “We’ve got a lot of things going on people-wise, so there’s a fair amount of training and exercises to go through to get people up to speed,” he adds.

American Gases Corporation

American Gases Corporation, of Gurnee, Ill., saw sales rise in 2016, says President Scott Bell. He says the force behind that improvement was a long-simmering idea, implemented in 2016, to expand the company’s sales force. He implemented that plan in 2016, and saw sales grow, he reports.

Like many in the industry, Bell is concerned about the rising cost of health care. The election may signal changes, but he isn’t sure things will get better. Even though American Gases pays the lion’s share of its employees’ health insurance premiums, Bell says workers still feel the pinch when their share goes up. “Even though we pay two-thirds of it, it’s hurting their pockets.”

Flint Welding Supply Co.

Stacey Budae, owner of Flint Welding Supply Co. in Flint, Mich., says her business has big plans in cyberspace for 2017. “We are working on an email database for current commercial customers as well as retail walk-in business. This allows us to broadcast email our customers, supplying them with coupons, sale information and new product information anytime we wish.”

She says a large portion of the company’s billing functions already has been moved online, improving efficiency. Flint Welding also has begun construction on a new, more user-friendly website that will include current inventory, delivery information, and affiliate information. “With the combination of an advertising plan targeting certain types of social media, our new website, and an email marketing program, we expect to be able to compete outside of our regional area,” Budae says.

Stacy Budae Quote

Toll Gas & Welding Supply
Slow demand in the refinery and power plant industries weighed on Toll Gas & Welding Supply in 2016, says President James Quicksell. The Plymouth, Minn.-headquartered company did manage to find growth in bulk gases and installations, though. He says customers of all kinds were receptive to switching to bulk gas. That allowed the company to maintain the same total number of transactions as the year prior, even as the size of the average sale slipped.

The new year is very promising, Quicksell says. Clients are telling him that 2017 will be “their best year ever.” He hopes that is the case and would like to see the size of the average sale rise. With an eye to Minnesota’s iron-rich Northern Range, Quicksell reports, “we’re positioned pretty well no matter what happens.”

South Region

Andy Oxy Company

Andy Oxy Company, Inc. in Asheville, N.C., focused its 2016 sales efforts on selling more to current customers, says Britt Lovin, company vice president and general manager. The strategy was to convince customers that Andy Oxy also offers products that they may be sourcing elsewhere.

The company reached out to new customers, but salespeople were reminded to stress to current accounts the value of getting additional products from a provider they already relied on for good service. “Instead of issuing three purchase orders, why not issue one to us?” Lovin asks rhetorically. He says Andy Oxy counted on salespeople to deliver that message face to face with the company’s customers, and to make sure to “go back and knock on that door again.”

Looking to the new year, Lovin is concerned about recruiting, training and keeping good employees. “The talent pool that’s out there is limited and unemployment is pretty low in our area,” he says. The company provides a generous health-insurance program — covering 93 percent of the costs for employees — that workers value. It also offers training and education. The challenge, as Lovin identifies it, is to maintain the discipline to continue that level of spending. “We can’t lose sight of continuing to invest in our folks.”

B&R Industrial Supply, Inc.

Soft demand in the oil and gas industry has been trying for B&R Industrial Supply, in Laurel, Miss. Faced with a challenging market, company President Nathan Stringer says the business has diversified its offerings in the last year, and now looks to seasonal items to help drive customer traffic to its single Southern Mississippi store.

For 25 years, B&R has offered welding hardgoods. In the past year, it began selling coolers and high-tech thermal cups that work as impulse items, as well as products for hunters, such as pop-up blinds and game cameras. Suppliers have helped B&R by crediting back seasonal items, such as fans and heaters, without requiring him to ship them back, Stringer says. That permits him to return the items to the showroom floor when the season resumes.

Despite recent slowness, Stringer is ready to undertake a major expansion in 2017. Early in the decade, he purchased four acres of land adjacent to B&R. Now, he’s planning to double the size of his store and warehouse to 40,000 square feet. “It’s something that needed to be done for years to take us to the next level,” Stringer says.

Compressed Gas Solutions

Vice President Robert Fine cheerfully admits he got shamed into acting on what may have been Compressed Gas Solutions’s best idea of 2016. When attending meetings of the Independent Welding Distributors Cooperative (IWDC), he didn’t like having his Orlando, Fla.-based company land at the bottom of the list for those making use of IWDC purchasing. So, the company reversed course, did more purchasing through IWDC and landed a trophy — for most improved — and a bigger rebate. The trophy is on his desk and the rebate goes to the bottom line.

For 2017, Fine is concerned about government overreach in the industry, but is looking forward to continued strength among light manufacturing and at the region’s nearby theme parks. The company has been investing in new trucks and other equipment and it added larger tanks. “We’re prepared for growth,” Fine says.

G.E.T.S. Welding Supplies

G.E.T.S. Welding Supplies of Dothan, Ala., took steps to grow in 2016. The company installed an oxygen fill plant with a 3,000-gallon bulk tank. That operation allows the company to fill cylinders for its own customers, as well as for one of the majors that had been trucking oxygen all the way from Tennessee, says G.E.T.S. owner Dewayne Buckelew. The addition hasn’t required adding staff.
Buckelew is optimistic for 2017 and thinks changes in Washington could improve economic conditions, including bringing some relief from burdensome regulations.

Discount Welds

A new location allowed Discount Welds, of Miami, Fla., to increase its inventory on hand, says CEO Silvio Fernandez. “I’ve got a bigger facility, more room, more of everything,” he says. The increased inventory is allowing the store to carry more of what he has been selling, and also has allowed him to increase the types of equipment he sells.

Welder education is Fernandez’s top concern in the new year. “Lots of welders are tradesmen who didn’t go to school,” he says. He believes that leaves some of them unaware of different techniques for joining metal. He is looking to team up with local educational institutions to offer courses he could host to give welders a better understanding of their craft.

Mabscott Supply

Weakness in both the coal and natural gas industries have been challenging for Mabscott Supply, of Beckely, W.Va., says President Michael Massinople. To keep going, Mabscott Supply has concentrated on keeping costs down and looked to other markets, particularly small medical consumers. “We’ve been focused more on what the market gives us, and recalibrating,” he says.

For the future, Massinople sees signs of improvement in his core market. The price of coal used in making steel has risen dramatically lately, and customers in that business are starting to invest again, he says. Likewise, Massinople thinks oil and gas will make a comeback, boosting area businesses. “We’re feeling much better about things now,” he says. “We think there is a lot of pent-up demand.”

Michael Massinople Quote

Jones Welding & Industrial Supply, Inc.

Across its nine-store footprint, Jones Welding, of Albany, Ga., worked to uncover opportunities to increase business in 2016 and to pass along price increases. Still, to get price increases to stick required a review of relationships, says COO Brandon Jones. The review didn’t come out of a scientific playbook, but was based more on knowing customers, how long they had been with Jones Welding and what would happen going forward, Jones says.

The company also benefited from competitors’ customers calling to complain about the service they were receiving elsewhere. Some of those calls resulted in more business for Jones Welding, he says.

Brandon Jones

For 2017, Jones is wondering what the changes occurring in the nation’s capital will mean for his business. If pro-business policies are implemented, he expects to see things improve. Regardless, he says, “business is resilient. People are going to continue to work and make decisions for their business whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in office.”

Dixie Welding Supply Company

Dixie Welding Supply Company in Attala, Ala., benefited from some refreshing around the company’s two stores, says President-Owner Ken Williams Jr. He says painting, signage and entryway improvements have brought more foot traffic, particularly to the Oxford, Ala., branch. He says suppliers helped with the facelift.

For 2017, Williams is focused on cash flow and getting customers to pay in a timely manner. “We don’t want to cut anyone off,” he says. However, it doesn’t do any good to get sales and then not get paid. He is reviewing ledgers every month or so and reaching out with a phone call or visit to customers who are falling behind. “We want to work with them,” he says.

Advanced Welding and Industrial Supply

Growth was strong in 2016 for Advanced Welding and Industrial Supply, in Greenville, Miss., says President John Brewer Jr. The company bought the facilities of a former cross-town competitor and moved into the larger space. Growth means the old facility, about 2 miles away, is used for storage.

Continuing to grow is the top concern for 2017, says Brewer. The plan is to continue to stay on top of customer needs and thereby anticipate demands. Brewer says that effort is helped by his father, 86-year-old John Brewer Sr. “He generally is the first one here in the morning and last to leave in the afternoon,” the younger Brewer says.

Cross Texas Supply LLC

Continued weakness in the oil and gas industry pushed Cross Texas Supply LLC, in San Angelo, Texas, to diversify its offerings in 2016, says Chief Operating Officer Jay Dyches. Safety equipment, gas monitors and more specialty gases have played a bigger role in the company’s sales, albeit with lower margins, he notes. His tactics: “We are doing anything we can to turn a dollar and keep the cash flow going.”

For 2017, Dyches is hoping for an economic turnaround with oil prices recovering somewhat. In the meantime, Cross Texas will pinch pennies. “We are still in survival mode, operating as lean as we can,” Dyches adds.

AWI/Arkansas Welding & Industrial Supply

Anticipating some challenges in its market, AWI/Arkansas Welding & Industrial Supply, Inc. in Hot Springs, Ark., spent 2016 reaching out to key customers to solidify business relationships through sales agreements. That was done to ensure AWI and its customers could count on each other going forward, says Carey McMillan, the company’s sales manager.

Looking to 2017, McMillan is expecting to leverage AWI’s other offerings in hardgoods. In addition to welding supplies and gases, the company sells fasteners — and “everybody anywhere that makes anything uses nuts and bolts and some kind of fastener,” he says.

The company realized that, while it is big into the fastener business, it has not used that leverage to go after welding supply-type business from fastener customers. The new plan is to offer to bundle the products, perhaps with a discount, to existing customers.

Noel’s, Inc.
In a region with an energy-based economy and “energy definitely taking a hit” in 2016, Greg Noel, president of Noel’s, Inc., in Farmington, N.M., is hoping 2017 brings an improved business climate as the new presidential administration takes hold.

Business was down in 2016 for Noel’s, and the economy in New Mexico “has been at a standstill for quite a while,” Noel says. One of the area’s coal-fired generation units was put in mothballs, creating a slowdown, and a major gas producer there has its infrastructure up for sale, he notes. Still, Noel is looking to 2017 with the hope that “a more business-oriented administration” will bring with it a “business-favored environment.”

Tyler Welders Supply, Inc.

A few years back, Tyler Welders Supply, in Tyler, Texas, added an acetylene plant to its site. That has allowed the company to continue to grow and add customers, including fellow independent distributors, says company President Ronald Ruyle.

Price pressure from majors is always an issue, Ruyle says. To stay ahead, Ruyle says the family-owned company stresses repair service and a level of customer service that makes those who travel for sales or service feel they are more than just a number. “When they come up here, we try to make them feel like family,” Ruyle says.

Thompson Brothers Supplies, Inc.

Thompson Brothers Supplies, of Coffeyville, Kan., added a third store in 2016, purchasing a former competitor in Chanute, Kan., in June. The new store is helping to increase sales, reports President Rick Thompson.

Looking to 2017, Thompson says he is very optimistic about the prospects for improved business if the new U.S. president follows through on policies discussed during the campaign. Thompson says he believes the areas of DOT regulations, driver regulations, overtime regulations and other related issues present opportunities to free business to grow by reducing regulatory burdens.

Western Region

Colorado Compressed Gases/DME Solutions

As a pioneering state in the legalization of recreational marijuana, Colorado has been a hotbed for businesses that are cultivating, processing and extracting medical oil from marijuana. Colorado Compressed Gases/DME Solutions, in Colorado Springs, Colo., has actively served the industry. This year, President and CEO Mark Frydenberg says his company had success by developing equipment and processes to serve the specific needs of the cannabis industry. That included everything from delivery equipment to monitoring devices and alarms for the high-tech “grows” where marijuana is cultivated.

Frydenberg says the success of marijuana cultivation is likely to create a challenge in 2017 since supply may begin to outstrip demand. He says marijuana’s price per pound has dropped 30 percent in the last year. To adjust, the company is doing a bit more due diligence, focusing on the strongest players in that market, particularly those involved in producing marijuana oils. Frydenberg says the company will also look to strengthen its medical and industrial sales.

Craig Welding Supply Company

Steven Craig pauses before offering up the best idea his company had in 2016. “Buy low and sell high,” he says, a smile in his voice. For 86 years, the Craig family and Craig Welding Supply Company, of Vernon, Calif., has been serving customers in Southern California. What worked then, works now, says Craig, the company’s president.

One practice that’s sure-fire: buying dented and scratched equipment at a discount from other, larger dealers who are glad to be rid of it. Craig says buyers in his community are always looking for used equipment, so a discounted dented or scratched welding machine that still has a warranty is an easy sale. In the year ahead, Craig says he expects to keep looking for purchasing opportunities that will keep his customers coming back.

Industrial Source, Inc.

Hiring was the best move Industrial Source, in Eugene, Ore., made in 2016, says President Bob Laing. “We hired a champion to sell our medical gases and a second salesperson for our electronics business,” he says, adding that both have helped grow the business. Electronics, a stalwart of the Northwest’s economy, is an area with growth potential for the company.

While Laing had been thinking for some time about adding a salesperson for medical gases, he’s also making it a top concern this new year that the company continues to grow at a reasonable, sustainable rate. “We need to make sure we don’t get overemployed. We do not want to get out over our skis,” he says.

Bob Laing Quote

Advanced Gases and Equipment, Inc.

Erin R. Beckley, CEO of Advanced Gases and Equipment, in West Sacramento, Calif., points to the company’s relocation as the best idea of 2016. Advanced moved into a larger location, with space for a 2,000 square-foot showroom and an outbuilding that can be used as a fill plant, he says, all while staying near the original location.

Like many GAWDA members, Beckley is concerned about government regulations and their possible spread into other lines of business, including beverage gases. To keep up, he says Advanced Gases attends GAWDA and other trade-group meetings and pays close attention to advice from GAWDA consultants, particularly Tom Badstubner.

Erin Beckley

Gem State Welders Supply, Inc.

Willy Watt, president of Gem State Welders Supply, says things were busy for much of the year. Even so, the Twin Falls, Idaho, company made time in the fall to remodel its two-building site. The new look features colors of dark blue and gray, set off with new, bright yellow signs to match Gem State’s bright yellow trucks. The remodeling work allowed Gem State to give business to three of its own customers, Watt notes.

In the Southern Idaho-Northern Nevada market that Gem State serves, the agriculture sector—particularly dairy and dairy-related businesses—have been strong, Watt says. He believes there likely is more economic growth coming in 2017. While he’s not expecting a surge of new business, he says he is “feeling pretty good,” as he looks to the new year.

Vern Lewis Welding Supply Inc.

Vern Lewis Welding Supply, in Avondale, Ariz., was focused in 2016 on figuring out what was going to set the business apart from competitors, including big box stores and the majors, says CEO Stacy Lewis Hayes. To do that, Vern Lewis Welding reached out to vendors to improve relationships. That brought more employee training, more joint visits to customers and volume discounts. It also gave Hayes insight into which vendors were committed to helping the company succeed.

Hayes says hands-on training has proved popular, citing a metal art show that brought people to one of the Vern Lewis Welding branches on a Saturday, as well as sessions for existing customers. “People are starved for hands-on training,” she says, contrasting that with lessons on the internet. More hands-on programs are on tap for 2017 as is a new thrust to reach out to millennials and generation Z through social media and internet marketing. Hayes says Vern Lewis Welding has hired a marketing communications and events manager to lead the charge.

OXARC Inc.

Marijuana is a rapidly growing industry in the state of Washington and that served OXARC Inc. well in 2016, says Michael Sutley, executive vice president. “We embraced that industry,” he says, mentioning that OXARC, headquartered in Spokane, Wash., added 11,000-gallon tanks for natural butane and natural propane, both of which are used in processing marijuana for medical, edible and electronic-cigarette uses. With the new tanks, OXARC can supply marijuana processors and repackage the gas to supply other distributors. “We’ve become sort of a leader, if you will, for the Northwest on supplying products for the marijuana processors,” Sutley says.

He sees that trend continuing into 2017, but is concerned about the specter of regulations. With facilities in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, Sutley is concerned that state or federal regulators could drive up the cost of doing business, not just for OXARC, but for its customers. To head that off, the company is involved in discussions with others in industry as well as those in government.

Canada and Mexico region

AOC

Back in 2015, AOC, headquartered in Saltillo, Mexico, implemented an outsourced call center. The results were mixed, says Luis Rico, AOC’s sales manager. So, at the end of the second quarter in 2016, the company brought the call center in-house, moving it to Monterrey, Mexico’s largest industrial market. Six months later, the center is responsible for 20 percent of the company’s sales, Rico reports. The center’s staff members are not commissioned, so they help customers with technical issues as well as handling sales.

For 2017, AOC is focused on improving the effectiveness of its sales force, and that includes having members undertake Sandler Training. In addition, the company is expanding into the Guadalajara market in western Mexico, Rico says.

AOC building

Western Gasco Cylinders, Ltd.
Western Gasco Cylinders, Ltd., of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, made necessary investments in 2016, says President Stu Younger. Changes at suppliers meant the company had to buy new skids, pallets and related equipment. He is hopeful those investments will pay off.

Looking to the new year, Younger sees some possible bright spots, particularly if a new pipeline planned for the province gets approved. Regardless, he is looking forward to focusing fewer resources on needs created by suppliers and more on growing Western Gasco’s customer base in the vast interior of British Columbia.