Locke Supply: Keeping a Lock On Tradition & Employee Advancement
Relying almost entirely on its own internal efforts, the Locke team plans and preps for more than 300 vendor booths and schedules nearly 70 training sessions. “We take a lot of pride in it,” says Nancy Brashears, HVAC buyer. “Everyone plays a part and takes ownership in their role.”
Every show, Locke’s headquarters operates on a skeleton crew while the rest of the corporate employees devote attention to the two-day event. Furthermore, on day two, they completely shut down their 166 branches in order to give all of their employees throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas the opportunity to attend.
This mind-set directly reflects the importance and value that Locke Supply places on even its most junior employees. And it should: The majority of their management came up through the ranks. According to Mike Muzny, vice president of sales, operations & real estate, the 200 most tenured associates have a combined 4,300 years at Locke.
CEO Tammi Bryant epitomizes that. She’s been a Locke employee for 32 years. Bryant worked her way up through the ranks and served as Don Locke’s right hand for 20 of them. Having spent so much time working that closely with Mr. Locke, his vision for Locke Supply and the principles of community and character became ingrained in her. “We’re employees but we’re family,” she says.
Furthermore, they’ve recently become 100 percent employee owned and emphasize advancing their own employees. “Because we promote so heavily from within, people are always chomping at the bit to move up,” says Leona Stepp, accounts payable supervisor.
As Louie Sevier, a recent Locke Supply retiree, says, “Always be nice to the people beneath you, because one day they might be your boss.” Sevier is one of Locke Supply’s original cast, coming on board in the late 50s and retiring just a couple years ago. He now returns to man the Locke History & Showroom booth, symbolizing the type of dedication in the Locke Supply family.
Since opening its doors in 1955, the Oklahoma City-based distributor has always done things its own way.
For example, in the early days of the company, Don Locke used to prefer job applicants with farm backgrounds over formal education. “He figured if you could work on a farm, it qualified you as having a strong work ethic,” says Tom Euper, manager of Locke’s branch in Ada, Okla., himself coming to Locke with farm experience in 1978. “He knew that we could teach someone, but we couldn’t make someone a hard worker or give them common sense.”
Though the company started as a plumbing supplier, it quickly grew to include HVACR and electrical supplies, as well. While the sheer breadth of their offerings is uncommon, the way they handle it is what’s really unique: Though Locke currently has 166 branches, one physical location often serves as three different branches. One part of the building serves as the HVACR branch, another part of the building is plumbing and still another is electrical — each with its own entrance and counter staff.
With each branch specialized in its own division of the business, counter associates become experts in one area instead of having to learn all three, yet they also gain the efficiencies of maintaining just one warehouse among them. “We’ve tested combining the counters, but we see the efficiencies drop,” says Bryant.
The company maintains an impressive fleet of 90 trailers that run inventory throughout their branches. For larger orders, they drop trailers at their customers’ job sites, keeping them secure but providing ready access when they need their supplies.
But for all their efforts in trailblazing their own path to success, they have also insulated themselves. The company didn’t have email or utilize EDI until after 2001. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that they do not have an outside sales force.
“Because we’re such a tight-knit organization, we’ve always been inwardly focused,” says Muzny. “We’re only just now beginning to get out of our comfort zone and explore what all is out there.”
For years, the company only belonged to one association, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), in support of its contractors. But under Bryant’s leadership, the company has expanded its field of vision. In 2014, they joined the buying group, Affiliated Distributors (AD).
As with any change, it’s not without its challenges. According to Brashears, they’ve had to change their ordering and billing processes to accommodate AD, but that on the whole of it has helped the company.
Their membership in AD also includes membership in HARDI. “We were extremely proud to welcome a member like Locke Supply,” says HARDI Vice President of Professional and Program Development Emily Saving, who attended the event. “Locke Supply has an impressive footprint in the South Central U.S. and they have a lot of unique qualities. A company like that is not only important as a member we can serve, but a member we can learn from and, ultimately, help the entire industry to grow.”
Growth is on Bryant’s mind, too. “We’re looking at expanding, primarily in Texas, whether it’s through opening up branches or through acquisitions,” she says.
Director of HVAC Sales & Branch Operations Kyle Cline said, “It will have its challenges. Texas is a different animal. The contractors in Durant, Okla., might expect you to do business a certain way. Then, you go just 20 miles to the south, cross the border, and they expect something completely different.”
According to Cline, part of the growth strategy could include implementing an outside sales force, but that is still early in that discussion.
As a company that encourages its employees to climb to new positions and that can handle change, they’ve proven they’re not afraid to take on a challenge.