Note: This article is a sidebar to the March 2015 profile of WinWholesale, "The Will to Win."
Carl Long, president, Odessa Winlectric, Odessa, Texas, is a pretty well-known guy in the ranks of WinWholesale local company presidents. He won WinWholesale’s 2013 Overall Company of the Year and Company of the Year in the electrical industry segment, and in 2011 Odessa Winlectric also won the Overall Company of the Year Award. His location has consistently been among WinWholesale’s most profitable when measured by bottom line net profit.
No two WinWholesale local company presidents seem to take exactly the same path to running their own business at the company, but Carl’s path may have been a little more unusual than most. He graduated with an accounting degree in college, but after six months of being an accountant he discovered that he didn’t like being immersed in numbers all day long. A family member was working for WinWholesale and helped him get an interview with the company about 21 years ago. He ended up buying out the person who was running Odessa Winlectric three years later, and as he says, has “been going full speed ever since.”
“You are your own boss,” he says. “WinWholesale is your big brother and they watch after you, but you are running your own company. You make your own decisions. They watch over you, but they don’t jump in.”
Long says that while he wasn’t motivated to be an accountant, his training in the field gave him the financial background to analyze WinWholesale’s financial plan and business model. “I couldn’t find any flaws in it,” he said. “It’s a well thought-out plan.”
These days he spends more time with the financials of his own business, one that’s located in one of the biggest growth areas of the entire United States — the Midland-Odessa oil region of Texas. While oil prices have crashed over the past year, Long is a native of the area and is used to the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil industry. “In 2005-2006, oil went up to $131 a barrel and everything started getting real busy,” he recalls. “And then it crashed and went to $37.”
Today, he has three salespeople calling on oil field contractors and says that supplying pump panels for the drilling rigs is big business for Odessa Winlectric, and that they sell so many of them that his location is in the Top 5 in motor control sales in the entire country for Siemens. Commercial construction accounts for approximately 40% of the branch’s business and he generally takes care of calling on contractors involved in this market.
When asked what advice he has for anyone considering WinWholesale, he says, “I always tell them this organization will let you write your own paycheck. I had a guy come in here two years ago who is running the Midland store now. I told him it is up to you what you want to make. The organization lets you figure out what you want to make and they let you go do it.”
Jeffrey Walker took an entirely different route to the president’s seat at Douglasville Winlectric in Douglasville, Ga. After graduating from the University of Alabama-Birmingham with a finance degree, he served in the Army for four years to fulfill his ROTC commitment. While in the Army, he honed his managerial skills a scout platoon leader and tank company commander and traveled the world. Walker says “every single bit” of his Army experience directly translated to what he is doing today. Interestingly, he picked up inventory management skills there, too. “The only thing that changed was the part numbers,” he says. “I have conducted tons of inventories for millions of dollars of equipment. Instead of it being tanks, M4 rifles and night vision goggles, it’s pipe and wire, stuff like that.”
While looking to re-enter the civilian world, he me Monte Salsman at a career fair in Phoenix, and Salsman liked what he saw in Walker, as WinWholesale has had great success over the years integrating military personnel into its operations because of their discipline, managerial skills and drive.
“He asked me what was the part of the Army that I liked the most,” says Walker. “I told him when I was in an environment when I had true autonomy and could do whatever I wanted to do and not be micromanaged. That’s where I thrived. He said, ‘That’s what we can give you.’”
Walker trained at a Windustrial in Dayton, Ohio, for two months, after that spent a week at Beaufort Winlectric in South Carolina before coming to Douglasville Winlectric in July 2010. In just six months, he turned around what had been an unprofitable operation and says he has never looked back. He has proud that Douglasville Winlectric is considered to be #4 out of 58 Winlectric operations during the past year and says the past year was the best for his location since it opened in 1991.
While his company is located in the western Atlanta metropolitan area, his employees often make deliveries for area customers who have other jobs far outside the Atlanta market, going as far as Charleston, S.C., Birmingham and Montgomery, Ala.; and Raleigh, N.C.
One market niche that’s particularly hot right now for his company is multi-family housing. Walker says once you get a feel for which products are in multi-family projects and how contractors want their deliveries staged (by building, by floor, etc.), it’s actually a fairly easy but very lucrative market to serve. “Once you figure out the formula of what these guys use and need, it’s extremely easy, same stuff over and over, it’s just mass quantities of it. You have the rough order and the trim order. It’s easy to replicate.”
He says the biggest challenge for a local company owner is finding and keeping the right people. The people he hires don’t necessarily need a background in the electrical industry, and he has done great with employees from outside the industry who have a great attitude and are willing to learn.
“We have gone from doing $2 million in sales to almost $10 million and the greatest challenge is finding a good person,” he says. “If they were good for you when you did $2 million in sales, you have to make sure they can keep up with the pace when you go to $10 million.”