Name: Seth DePuy
Title: Director of Sales & Marketing
Company: First Supply LLC
Number of Locations: 28
Number of Employees: 650
Year Founded: 1897
Seth DePuy had already handled some work calls for Wisconsin-based First Supply before making time early on a Monday morning to talk about everything from early leadership lessons to PPE in the latest MTW interview.
Listen to the interview, or read below.
Q: I read that First Supply started way back in 1897, selling pumps and windmills. You guys were on the cutting edge of renewable energy! I’m curious if you have a sense about your longest-running one or two customers at this point.
First Supply is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and we have many longstanding relationships with customers, vendors, and our associates.
One of our longest customer relationships is with a current customer in Iowa, which has been passed down for over three generations. After helping them celebrate their 125th anniversary a few years back, were able to document purchase orders dating back to the 1920s.
On the vendor side we have framed purchase orders from Kohler dating back to the late 1800s. Additionally, I know we are one of A.O. Smith’s longest-standing customers.
On the employee side, we have several associates working for us now in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, whose parents worked for us as well. Additionally, our current leadership Katie Poehling Seymour and Todd Restel are both fifth-generation in the company, and we have a strong succession plan to keep us going for another 125 years and beyond.
Q: It’s been a year of uncertainties and adjustments for individuals and certainly for businesses. Was there a particular moment this year when one accomplishment, idea, or contribution by your team or a team member made you feel like, “OK, we are going to get through this in good shape”?
In early March when COVID was fast and furious, there were a lot of questions about what was going to happen the next month, week, or even day. Dramatic changes were taking place, and our largest concern was the health of our customers and Associates. During this time in March going into April, we were scheduled for upwards of a dozen in-person product shows to take place. This is typically a very busy time for fluid handling division, as a large percentage of our business is locked up for the year at these shows. All but the first two were canceled, but that did not serve our teams from being in contact with our customers as we took these meetings on the road. We met one-on-one to review the 2020 program and secure their commitments. We tracked the secured orders and were able to beat a strong 2019 performance by over double digit.
This truly was a testament to our team's resolve and conducting business the way our customers want to conduct business. At that moment, I knew we were going to make it through COVID-19 times.
Q: What is the one pandemic-related adjustment in operations or business that went so well that you expect First Supply will keep it long-term?
There'll be a lot of takeaways that come out from COVID-19, but the one main item that I will point to is virtual meetings will most certainly be here to stay post-COVID-19.
We typically meet with our major vendors multiple times a year in person. With the virtual meeting platforms, we don't necessarily need to wait for those scheduled in-person meeting if they have a pressing topic, we can just jump on a virtual call within minutes and review the topic at hand.
While virtual meetings will be here to stay, I believe in-person meetings will take place, just on not such a set schedule as in the past. You still need to sit across from others and look people in the eyes, make sure everyone is on the same page.
Q: What was the worst business advice you ever received?
I'll give you not only the worst business advice but the worst personal advice as well.
I had a manager really early in my career who often utilized the phrase, “Keep me off the radar,” or “Make sure not to rock the boat” or challenge the status quo. As long as things went according to plan in the eyes of corporate, everything was right in the world.
But as leaders, don't we have to ask the questions and look at scenarios from different angles? Don’t we have to think outside the box to make meaningful change?
This advice was managing, not leadership, and that was the worst business advice I've ever received.
Q: Is there a business leader outside your company (or someone from any discipline or profession) who influences you in your work?
I'm going to go way back for this one; I'd probably like to reflect on my high school football coach. My coach instilled it in me as a freshman that you have to put in the work in order to find the success you're looking for. Three times a week in the offseason, we'd be in the gym practicing at 5:30 in the morning until school started. Through my high school years, he taught me there's no cutting corners in life, you need to follow through on the commitments you make, and that there is a collective effort [needed] from all of your teammates to find true success.
He really set me on the path that coming up short was not an option, and I am forever grateful for his leadership.
Q: Tell us about the meaning or story behind something unusual on your desk or on your wall in your office.
This fits in perfectly with the previous question. I want to make it clear, though, that I'm a diehard Chicago Bears fan.
However, when I was younger, I received a framed quote from Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi titled, “You’ve Gotta Pay The Price.”
In this quote, he highlights the winning versus losing mentality — being passionate about what you're doing, having a sense of urgency, and doing things the right way. I reflect on this quote from time to time, especially when I need a personal attitude adjustment.
Q: Looking at the First Supply homepage, I noticed a set of three display links: one for IAQ, one for HVAC & Hydronics, and one for PPE, masks, etc. Would you talk a little about the decision to integrate PPE into your offerings, and how the idea’s execution and reception have gone?
Sure. Early on in 2020, as we were preparing for safety with our associates, we started asking the question, “Where are our customers getting these products?” as we were looking for these products as well.
We found that they were getting PPE from the big box stores, from grocery stores, online, really all over the place.
We decided to bring on a few items that would most likely stay in our offerings for the foreseeable future. We want to be that go-to supplier, where our customers can get what they want when they need it.
Customers have gravitated to these offerings. I expect that when things get back to “normal,” they will continue to source these items from us.
Q: Wrapping up with a couple of personal questions, what's a great vacation look like for you?
I am a family man, and I'm lucky to have a great vacation every year. For the Fourth of July week our family heads up to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. There's top-notch golf, great restaurants, fireworks, a top-five road course in the country — by the way, I am a huge IndyCar fan. There's nothing better than celebrating the Fourth of July with my family. Elkhart Lake is true Americana at its finest. If you haven't been, I surely suggest that you try.
Q: Lastly, if you had to go back to school full-time tomorrow, what would you enjoy studying?
I’m going to go out to left field for this one, and I would say that I would enjoy studying aviation.
I've been fortunate to have traveled a considerable amount so far in my life. I love to travel and see new places and new cultures, and I've always been a bit of a thrill seeker. I enjoy going to places that take me out of my comfort zone, and for that, I would probably choose aviation.