Rich Jenkins: From company truck driver to company president

For Rich Jenkins, president of Indianapolis Winnelson Company, it’s all about work ethic, the desire to succeed and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Those are the building blocks for being successful in the WinWholesale organization whether you’re a truck driver or company president, according to Rich.

Nothing is impossible

“It’s about how bad you want to succeed. I believe nothing is impossible in the WinWholesale organization if you work hard and do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Rich says.

Rich should know. In 1990 he left Bill Spears Plumbing and Heating as a licensed plumber and took a job at Indianapolis Winnelson as a truck driver. Through hard work he progressed to warehouseman, inside sales at the counter, accounts payable/receivable, and then to the number two person in charge of the company after the president.

In 1995 WinWholesale’s Spirit of Opportunity presented the chance of a lifetime for Rich. The company president at that time left, and Rich had the opportunity to become president of Indianapolis Winnelson. He took the plunge and has never regretted the decision or looked back.

Being a company president the first couple of years is not easy and the hours can be long, Rich advised, but the rewards also can be great.

WinWholesale provides support to local companies

It helps knowing that a president is not alone in running the company. WinWholesale provides each of the more than 470 local companies across the United States support services such as payroll, accounting, inventory management, group buying and fleet management. That frees up the local president and other employees to concentrate on the local market, customer relationships, selling and serving accounts. Each company also has a board of directors with members who are seasoned in the wholesaling industry and are advisors to the president.

“So many people in WinWholesale have been in your position as a president and want to help you succeed. It’s always been amazing to me how people will drop everything to help you out if you have a problem,” Rich said.

For Rich, a big part of having a successful company is treating people right – employees, customers and vendors. “I’ve always said I would treat people the way I wanted to be treated. We’re all in this together,” he said. Apparently Indianapolis Winnelson employees are treated well since, on average, the 14 employees have been with the company eight years.

Winnelson gets it done for customers – whatever it takes

Rich believes Indianapolis Winnelson also treats its customers well. “We offer our customers a ton of things our competitors don’t,” Rich explained. “We help them with job blueprints and quotes, and I have an open door policy. Customers can see me in person or talk to me on the phone right away – not days away. I don’t think we can be out served by the competition. One way or the other our customers know we’re going to get it done for them – whatever it is and whatever it takes.”

Rich’s employees know the boss means it when he says he’ll do what’s necessary to make the company succeed and grow, including any job in the company. “I may have the title of president, but I have no problem doing any job here, whether it’s working in the warehouse, unloading a truck, making a delivery, selling at the counter, or pushing a broom. I wouldn’t ask any of my employees to do anything I wouldn’t do,” Rich said.

At the end of the day – the Spirit of Opportunity

It’s been 18 years since Rich started with Indianapolis Winnelson, and he still looks forward to coming to work each day. “It’s a great feeling every morning to get up and come to work. I like making the decisions every day – the hiring, purchasing, following my own market and running the business the way I think it should be run,” he said.

Even so, there are the occasional business hiccups. Sometimes plans don’t come together they way they were supposed to, but Rich said that makes him “dig deeper.” Indianapolis Winnelson has a lot of competition in the plumbing wholesale area, so that means constant work to compete, including lots of employee training, keeping up with product information and conducting sales and other meetings. “We get the whole company involved,” Rich explained. “Not just my ideas, but other people, and I’ll ask, ‘What do you think we should do?’ Everyone loves our meetings because they feel so much a part of things.”

At the end of the day, in Rich’s book everything – where the company is and how he and his employees are doing within the company – all comes back to the Spirit of Opportunity.

If someone asked Rich if they should start their own Win company, he would encourage them. “I’d try to sell them on the opportunity,” he said. “They’d have to be willing to work hard and learn, but the opportunity is there. It just depends on how much they want to succeed. I can’t think of another organization I could have joined that would have put me where I am today,”

For Gary Reese, “opportunity” is not just a word

Gary Reese, president of Lincoln Winlectric Company (Nebraska), “wore the tools”, as they say in the trade, for several years as an electrician and electrical contractor. Then one day he had a change of heart that led to a change in direction. The WinWholesale entrepreneurial Spirit of Opportunity was calling him, and he didn’t even realize it at the time.

“When I was an electrician, the guy from the supply house would take me out for coffee or lunch, take my order, then get in his climate controlled car and take off. I said to myself, ‘That looks like a job I’d really like to have.’”

Success bred success

After that self revelation in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1984, Gary began calling every supply house in town looking for a job. He got to Nelectric in the Yellow Pages, the precursor to Winlectric, and through persistence landed a job in outside sales. That began a path that would lead Gary to great success in the WinWholesale organization as president of his own company, Lincoln Winlectric, and in helping to start seven other Win companies and investing in them.

He actually helped start Lincoln Winlectric in 1985 after leaving Fort Collins. Then the president of Winlectric Inc., as WinWholesale was organized at the time, asked Gary to go to Bowling Green, Ky., to help a Winlectric company in the fall of 1986. “I knew the only way I was ever going to get my own company was to do that sort of thing and work my way up the ladder, so going to Bowling Green was a stepping stone for me,” Gary explained.

Not long after arriving in Bowling Green, he left for Yuma Ariz., to be a manager at the Winlectric there – but again just for a few months before he returned to Lincoln Winlectric in 1987 to help the struggling company. Gary was proving his worth as a person who could help companies become more successful.

Opportunity is not just a word

The difference when he went to Lincoln Winlectric this time, however, was that he bought the current president’s stock in the company. In the three years since opening the Yellow Pages in Fort Collins to find an electrical wholesaling job, The Spirit of Opportunity had become firmly planted in Gary, and he was the president of his own electrical wholesaling company.

“The word opportunity means that a warehouse person, a college graduate or even a competitor can go to work for WinWholesale and make it as grand as they want,” Gary said. “The opportunity is absolutely endless. To start a supply company with the amount of money a company president has to put in is pretty remarkable. The opportunity is there for anyone who wants to take advantage of it"

Local company; local decision making

Gary always wanted to have a successful business some day and said the WinWholesale model helped make it possible. With that model, he has ownership and makes the decisions for his company based on local market conditions and has the use of central support services such as accounting and vehicle fleet services. “WinWholesale is the only company that I know of where I can have a small business with all the backing of a big business,” Gary said.

Not everyone wants to own their own business and be a company president. For those people, local Win companies also offer opportunities. According to Gary, the type of person who does well at WinWholesale is a person who wants to invest in themselves in terms of hard work and be successful in a local company. “Every president has great people who work for them,” Gary said. “But for people who want ownership, the Spirit of Opportunity works. All the tools are here to make it happen.”

If the right person came to Gary and said they wanted to start their own Win company, Gary’s response would be simple: “Let’s put a plan together and see where it takes us.”

Gary wouldn’t trade his WinWholesale experience

Nevertheless, a successful company requires long hours and building and maintaining customer relationships. That includes helping customers (and employees) accomplish their dreams as they run their own businesses.

Gary said Lincoln Winlectric tries to provide as much information as possible about the business – and advice. Which, says Gary, happens quite often since he’s been in the business a long time and has become a trusted supplier and friend to his customers.

“I can give that advice because I’ve already made the mistakes. It’s a great satisfaction to me to be able to help others,” Gary said. “We treat apprentice electricians at our counter as though they’re going to become a big company some day. When they do go on their own, we’re usually the first wholesaler they come to because we developed a relationship with them when they came in to buy their first set of tools.”

Day to day now, Gary spends less time selling products like he used to and devoting most of his time to managing the company – keeping up with technology and growing Lincoln Winlectric at a healthy pace.

“It’s always been fun, but now it’s more of an easy fun,” Gary said as he summed up his WinWholesale experience to date. “I wouldn’t trade the work of loading trucks, building racks and the rest of it for the world, but being president is even more fun.”

An industry veteran becomes part of WinWholesale and seizes the opportunities

In 1971 singer Judy Collins recorded a song called “Both Sides Now.” While it not may be the stuff of ‘70s song lyrics, Colin Davis, manager of Noland Company’s West Palm Beach, Fla., company, has had the chance to look closely at both sides of the business at WinWholesale. That is, the side with a traditional corporate compensation model, such as Noland, and with one built on the WinWholesale entrepreneurial approach. And, he has an opinion about what he thinks works for businesses and the people who work in them.

When WinWholesale acquired Noland Company in 2005, it welcomed a long-time leader in the wholesaling business in the Southeast operating on a traditional corporate model: a headquarters with top-down decision making, salaried and hourly employees and local branches.

That contrasted with WinWholesale’s model of local company ownership, local decision making, compensation based on company performance (in addition to some salaried and hourly employees), all backed by support services from a central office/headquarters.

As a wholesaling industry veteran for almost 20 years (11 at Noland Company), Colin has accumulated a considerable background to be able to compare the models.

Colin built his wholesaling experience

“Noland hired me in 1997, but prior to that I had several years of experience in the industry at Ferguson Enterprises and Hajoca Corporation – both in Richmond, Va.,” Colin said.

Colin honed his skills at Ferguson and Hajoca making deliveries, working inside sales , systems administration and as assistant manager in addition to other positions. He then joined Noland’s Richmond location as a commercial sales specialist. There he did job quotes and organized the department before becoming Richmond’s operations manager.

“The move to Noland Company was a career move. There was more opportunity for advancement by going to different locations in Noland,” Colin explained. Continuing to work his way up, in 2000 Colin became manager of the Winston-Salem, N.C., location until 2002 when he moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., to be the company manager there.

WinWholesale offers increased opportunity

Then along came WinWholesale in 2005 with an offer Noland Company couldn’t refuse. “Although there was some concern about change, there was some excitement about increased opportunity,” Colin explained about the acquisition. “WinWholesale wasn’t in the Florida market in a large way at that time, but it was a significant industry player.”

In fact, one of the reasons WinWholesale acquired Noland was to have a bigger presence in the Southeast market by acquiring more than 100 Noland branches (as they were called then) in 13 states.

It didn’t take long before Colin began to see how the way Noland (as well as other wholesalers) and WinWholesale were different, and to wonder if the acquisition and blending the company cultures and people was going to work out.

“The biggest difference is the autonomy the managers have in WinWholesale companies. There is much more opportunity to operate your business they way you see fit. It’s your business to run, within certain guidelines, but without having to go up the ladder for approval.”

Colin said he also sees that autonomy as good for the business. “You have more of a personal stake in the outcome of your location. What you do, the changes you make and the decisions you make at the local market level have an impact on your business,” he said.

What’s the “Spirit of Opportunity”?

Opportunity. It’s a word that Colin frequently uses in describing the business. The word goes to the very heart and soul of WinWholesale. So much so that the company’s motto is “The Spirit of Opportunity”, and it’s on the back of employee business cards. It refers to the entrepreneurial spirit of the company and its employees, and the opportunity to do well professionally and personally through investing in a local company. It also refers to working hard and smartly in that company to serve customers by meeting their needs.

“The Spirit of Opportunity is the chance to earn an income based on the effort you put forth and the results you achieve,” Colin said.

WinWholesale has pushed more decision making down to the local company level in Noland. In addition, a compensation system for Noland locations in now in place that is similar in many ways to the rest of the organization.

As Colin explained it, “Now that profit sharing has been allocated to each Noland location, there’s a greater emphasis on individual locations and the results that your team puts together. They benefit from that effort.”

Advancement is available to anyone

On a personal level, Colin believes that the opportunity to advance is available to anyone willing to make certain sacrifices. It’s all about putting out the effort individually and as a team, he said.

“I think being a team player is really important. We need people who are ambitious, who can multi-task, and probably as important as anything – someone who understands that their value to the company is in their ability to do whatever the company needs to be successful,” Colin said.

To a finer point, Colin went on to say, “We’re going to look at the person who can get into the delivery truck, jump on the sales counter, receive inventory, do a sales quote – all those things. Those skills translate into future managers – people who are looking for that Spirit of Opportunity and to advance in a career as managers and local company presidents.”

The emphasis is on customer service

Market changes – up or down – drive the business. In good markets and bad, the goal is to separate the Noland business from competitors through superior customer service and high quality products. For example, some competitors cut back on service when markets drop, but Colin said it’s important to fill every order and back order. That’s part of customer service.

“In the past, Noland was more price driven. Now there’s more emphasis on customer service,” he said, and believes in the long run good customer service will make the company more money.

Colin: We operate in a more entrepreneurial way now

And in the long run, how does Colin feel about the acquisition of Noland by WinWholesale?

He admits that at first he was skeptical it would work out because of the different ways of doing business between the two companies. But after more than three years, “The skepticism is almost all gone,” Colin said. “I think it’s all been worthwhile. There probably will always be differences in the way the two companies operate, but we operate in a more entrepreneurial way now, and I’ve tried to take advantage of the opportunities.”

What advice does Colin have for someone thinking about joining a WinWholesale company? “You’re going to work longer hours, possibly relocate and make a few sacrifices, but if you’re interested in advancing your career and having financial stability, joining WinWholesale is absolutely worth it. There are very good opportunities with this company,” he said.

Sioux Falls Winair competes and wins in a crowded local market

Like father, like son the saying goes. Kevin Severy’s father, Robert, was president of N.O. Nelson Company in Sheridan, Wyo., which was the predecessor of today’s Winnelson plumbing distributors – part of WinWholesale and the Win Group of Companies. So it was natural that Sheridan was where Kevin, now president of Sioux Falls Winair in Sioux Falls, S.D., got his start in the business when he was in high school.

He left Sheridan and made stops at several Win companies in Missouri and Nebraska to learn the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) business. One stop was an extended stay as president of Norfolk Winair (Neb.) for 17 years. He also was an area coordinator. That was a job in which he oversaw operations of local WinWholesale companies in five states in other industries, such as electronics and industrial supplies.

Then in 2002 the board of directors of Sioux Falls Winair appointed him president of the HVAC distributor. Under Kevin’s leadership, sales revenues doubled in four and a half years.

“We’ve got 25 wholesale distributors in a town of about 125,000 people. There are a lot more competitors to deal with here than in Nebraska,” Kevin said. “You’ve got to be on your A game all the time. You can’t let your guard down, but it’s been a great opportunity.”

Opportunity is the operative word

Opportunity is the operative word in WinWholesale. In fact, the phrase “the Spirit of Opportunity” is the organization’s motto that encourages individuals to be all they can be, whether it’s as a truck driver, warehouse manager, salesperson or company president

Kevin has his own thoughts about the Spirit of Opportunity. “The number one idea I try to convey to anyone I’m talking to, whether it’s a friend or a potential company president, is that it’s the opportunity to invest in a company where they can make the majority of the decisions and have all kinds of help in WinWholesale as a large family to rely on,” he explained.

If a potential market for Win company products and services exists in the first place; if the local company follows WinWholesale’s business procedures, and if hard work is the rule rather than the exception, success will come, Kevin said.

He claims people think the potential for success is too good to be true. “Most people think you’ve got to have very deep pockets for a Win company to be successful. People seem to think it’s a franchise where you have to have millions of dollars to start a company,” he explained.

Not true, however.

Win companies are separate corporations – not franchises

A Win company is not a franchise, doesn’t operate like a franchise, and it doesn’t take millions of dollars to start a company. Win companies are separate corporations with a president and a board of directors that advises and partners with the president as they would in any properly governed corporation.

Just like other corporations there also are opportunities for profit sharing and dividends at Win companies. “It’s rewarding to know that all the sweat equity you put in is rewarded every year after you find that you and your people have done a good job,” Kevin said.

Hard work, customer service, quality products = success

Win companies are places where everyone rolls up their sleeves to get the job done, including the president. Sioux Falls Winair is a busy place that covers lots of real estate with a fleet of trucks to serve customers in four states. Even with employing 17 people, Kevin comes to work in working clothes so he can help in the warehouse, load or unload trucks, work the counter, sweep floors – whatever it takes.

“I do everything that can possibly be done in the company,” Kevin explained. “I think it sets a good example for everyone, including customers, knowing the president is not above jumping in and that the broom handle fits his hands too. It also shows employees they can step up to the next level in the company.”

As you might expect from those comments, a Win company needs people with a good work ethic, good work habits, are willing to listen and learn and have goals to advance in their working career.

When you put a company full of people with those qualities together and they operate as a team serving customer with high quality products, it’s a winning combination. Kevin stresses that all of the employees working as one team - a fine, tweaked system as he puts it - takes communication, continuing education, meetings, etc. Those are priorities for him because the team is the most important thing that has made Sioux Falls Winair successful, Kevin emphasized.

There’s another thing that helps. When someone comes to work for Sioux Falls Winair, in essence it becomes their company. Kevin tells them to apply a test to their work. “Typically what I tell new people is that from this day forward in any decision they make to pretend it’s their company and that they are the president. If the choice is good for everyone in the company, then do it,” Kevin said.

It’s a test that’s working well at Sioux Falls Winair as the company continues to be successful in a highly competitive market area.