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.
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.”