Headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, WinWholesale Inc. is a leading national wholesale distributor of domestic and industrial supplies and materials with more than 450 local wholesaling corporations and a wholly owned subsidiary, Noland Co., with nearly 70 locations. The companies of the Win Group handle plumbing and water heating supplies; hydronics; industrial pipe, valves and fittings; HVACR equipment; electrical equipment; industrial and commercial fastening hardware; waterworks supplies; pumps; and irrigation and landscape supplies.
WinWholesale serves the HVACR industry via its Winair unit and Noland, as well as some Winnelson plumbing and Winsupply locations.
A UNIQUE BUSINESS MODEL
HISTORYFive investors founded the company, originally called Primus Inc., in 1956. In 1958, the Pueblo, Colo., branch of distributor N.O. Nelson Co. suffered a serious fire. The company decided not to rebuild, and they discharged the employees and offered to sell the burned inventory.
Primus stepped in to help. Three of the former N.O. Nelson employees said they would mortgage their homes and invest all the money they could borrow if Primus would help them reopen the business. Those local employees then became owners of their own distribution business, with Primus holding majority control of the Pueblo company, the ownership model that would be followed going forward.
In 2005, the company adopted the WinWholesale name. Also that year, WinWholesale acquired Noland of Newport News, Va.
FULL RANGE OF SUPPORT SERVICES"The back-end support services provided to local companies - again Win and Noland - are extensive," said Johnston. "All of the basic day-to-day services a business needs to operate are provided by the fee the companies pay to WinWholesale. The services includes phones, computers, training, a proprietary ERP system, marketing, IT development and support, benefits programs, property and casualty insurance, fleet management, inventory management, inventory supply through WinWholesale Sourcing Services, payroll, accounting, transportation management, customer credit management, and more. WinWholesale also provides short-term and long-term financing to local companies."
Monte Salsman, chief operating officer, pointed out that WinWholesale began as a plumbing wholesaler, and that's where the business grew for many years, so more than half of its locations and revenues are from plumbing locations. "While our four regional distribution centers carry some HVACR inventory, most of the inventory in the distribution centers supports the plumbing locations. The result is that the Win and Noland locations selling HVACR order most of their inventory directly from vendors."
As for e-commerce, Salsman said, "We are developing an e-commerce solution for local company customers to use that will provide access to products and ordering. We do offer customers the ability to view statements and invoices online, and pay online as well. Features like mobile apps for tablet and smartphone access need to be part of the offerings for customers. We don't currently offer them, but will probably explore that in the future."
SERVING THE HVACR INDUSTRYThere are 56 Winair locations and 43 Noland locations handling HVACR products. Thirty-seven of those Noland locations also carry plumbing supplies. In addition, some Win locations such as Winnelson and Winsupply carry HVACR. For example, Bangor Winsupply in Maine and Bismarck Winnelson in North Dakota handle plumbing and HVACR.
Salsman said that Win local companies make decisions on what brands to carry independent of one another based on local market conditions, customer preferences, and vendor agreements. "The result is there are many brands across the Winair companies. Some of them are NuTone, International Comfort Products brands, Lennox, American Standard, LG, Hart & Cooley, Honeywell, and Metal-Fab."
Some of the major brands Noland locations carry are NuTone, LG, Honeywell, and Hart & Cooley.
Winair and Noland companies have product experts on staff to provide advice and expertise to contractors on the right products for the job, said Salsman. "When it comes to training, the companies usually work with the manufacturers to provide product training. This can be done on vendor training or product days, and other events such as customer appreciation events."
EXPANSION OPPORTUNITIES"We never stop looking for opportunities to add locations," said Schwartz. "We do that by starting new companies or acquiring existing ones. Starting a new company is a great way for an entrepreneur to experience what we call The Spirit of Opportunity - to be a business owner and build wealth with the support of the WinWholesale organization. Becoming part of the Win Group of Companies through an acquisition transaction is a way for an existing company to continue to grow, maintain the family business, or for the current owners to exit the business themselves, but still have their legacy carried on."
BIGGEST CHALLENGESConsidering the biggest challenges today for wholesale distributors, Schwartz said, "I think wholesalers in our industry are sometimes slow to use technology in their businesses to serve customers better and operate more efficiently and profitably. More and more we find that customers are using technology - smartphones, social media, e-commerce, for example - to conduct business. The industry needs to meet those expectations.
"Another challenging area is cost control. From the beginning, WinWholesale has said that expense control is an important part of running a successful business no matter what the business environment is. But you have to control expenses in a smart way. You have to spend money wisely to make money, but in the current economy, we caution against adding costs back into the business too quickly. That's a challenge for all businesses, not just wholesalers.
"Then there's the issue of finding new talent to become part of the wholesaling industry. It's not a flashy or glamorous business, but it meets a vital business need and can be very lucrative and fulfilling. We just have to get the message across to young people through our trade organizations and our own personal interactions that wholesale distribution offers good careers and interesting work."
NEW INITIATIVESRegarding new initiatives for the company, Salsman said, "We're building a regional distribution center (RDC) in the Denver area in Aurora, Colo., and in Middletown, Conn. Both of them replace smaller RDCs in those areas - one actually in Denver and the other in North Haven, Conn. Both of the new RDCs will be about 200,000 square feet, which matches the size of our other two RDCs in Dayton and Richmond, Va. In the larger RDCs we'll carry more products and larger quantities of each product. Our goal is to help local companies in the RDC service areas to grow their businesses by having more product available faster. The new RDCs also will allow us to open new companies with the assurance we can supply them and their customers very efficiently. The significance for HVACR is that we'll look at whether to increase HVACR product lines in the new buildings.
"The other initiative is really a continuing effort, and that's to make it easier for customers to do business with Win and Noland through technology. Customers already can do a number of things online with WinWholesale locations, such as viewing and printing their invoices and statements, making payments, and receiving alerts when statements are available. For the future, our IT department is working hard on e-commerce capabilities where customers can see product inventory and order what they need 24 hours a day. We've learned many of our customers get back to the shop at the end of the day and want to order the next day's equipment and supplies. If the supply house is closed, they have to wait until the next morning, then phone or go to their distributor. With e-commerce, they can order what they need online afterhours and it will be ready for pick-up or delivery to the job site the first thing in the morning."