Winsupply Inc. — Winning on Purpose
— by Lynne Brandon
“We are family-oriented – it is a way of life for us and what we do.”
— Bill Tolliver, Vice President of Real Estate Services/In-House Counsel, Winsupply, Inc.
“We are different on purpose,” said Richard W. Schwartz, Chairman, Winsupply, Inc. (Winsupply). Schwartz was smiling as his words ring true for the company, which is one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. – a leading supplier of plumbing supplies, HVAC equipment, pipe, and other products for nine industries. And, to put a cherry on top, these products come with local ownership.
Innovative Business Model
Setting the company apart is their philosophy, business methods, and expertise. To start, Winsupply is not a single entity, but a collection of more than 660 separate, local wholesale companies located in 45 states aided by a robust collection of centralized back-office support services. And, don’t call Winsupply a franchise – it is not. Instead, the unique business model establishes equity partnerships in these 660 separate legal companies that empower entrepreneurial local owners with local autonomy to make decisions on how best to conduct daily business and meet the needs of their customers. It is an uncommon business model in the industry and one based on sound fundamentals. “The ownership model is one built on relationships and a model that no one else in the wholesale space has with local owners making their own decisions,” said Rob Ferguson, president, Local Company Group.
Sharing, Trusting, Helping
It is easy and common for companies to say their businesses are different. Therefore, it is refreshing to see a company that actually walks the walk versus just talking the talk. Winsupply founders built a business model that was different on purpose based on the human virtues of sharing, trusting and helping. These virtues are found in the company’s equity partnerships (sharing); local owner autonomy (trusting); and high-quality, low-cost, centralized support services (helping).
Equity Partnerships (Sharing of Risk and Reward)
Sharing the risk and sharing the reward with entrepreneurs is evident in everything Winsupply does. As Schwartz said, “We are not a franchise, we are not family-owned, and we are not a typical organization with a headquarters and branches that share little, if any equity or stock ownership.” Equity partnerships create motivated local entrepreneurial owners since they actually own a piece of the local wholesale company. Winsupply is intentional in their equity partnerships with local wholesale businesses as well as acquisitions and carefully ensure that each equity partnership makes sense for everyone involved. “It has to be a culture fit,” said Ferguson who was a previous local wholesale company owner before taking his current position. “Our business model works with like-minded individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Key principles of Equity Partnerships
- A local owner partners with Winsupply to form a local wholesale company
- Local owners are the president of their local wholesale company – essentially, the local owner is the boss.
- Local owners tap Winsupply’s vast business and financial knowledge, systems and best practices that enable them to run a profitable company.
- Local owners become more competitive thanks to Winsupply’s national buying power, access to product lines and nationwide distribution centers.
- Local owners can get capital through the financial strength of Winsupply.
- Local owners put in most of the sweat equity and Winsupply puts in most of the capital to assist the local company during its initial startup and growth.
- Financial rewards are based on results. The better the results, the better the rewards, which grows as equity in the local wholesale company grows.
- “I remember every profit-sharing check I ever got. After you’ve worked hard doing all that’s required, and you finally get that reward – it’s an emotional thing,” said John Coulter, Area Leader at Winsupply.
Local Owner Autonomy (local owners are the decision makers)
A local owner with local autonomy means there’s a local owner and decision maker at each local wholesale company. The business model places maximum authority, flexibility and responsibility at the local wholesale company level with the local owner. “We believe decisions to support and serve customers are best made by local owners, and that local owners must control the major decisions that affect their company’s success.” said Schwartz.
Key Principles of Local Owner Autonomy
- Local owners can run their business the way they want by selecting industries, markets, vendors, products, pricing, policies, customers and employees.
- Local owners can decide how they will take care of customers.
- Local owners can do anything they choose to recruit, retain and reward the employees.
- The local wholesale company’s board of directors offers oversight, support and accountability.
- Each local wholesale company board of directors, not Winsupply Inc., is solely responsible for that local wholesale company and represents the interests of that local wholesale company’s shareholders.
- Local owners are trusted to do the right things every day – they are ultimately responsible for their local wholesale company’s success.
Centralized Support Services
High quality, low cost is how Winsupply describes its support services. Support services at wholesalers is not a new concept. Most wholesalers provide some form of services. However, Winsupply’s approach is different. Because of equity partnerships and local autonomy, the support services at Winsupply cannot and do not behave like headquarters overhead. “The service companies must entice the local wholesale companies to use their services which keeps the service companies constantly striving for greater innovation and efficiencies to help the local wholesale company.” said Schwartz.
Key Principles of Centralized Support Services
- Local owners receive essential services such as accounting, finance, accounts payable, and IT.
- Optional services are also offered in areas such as collections, marketing, and digital.
- Local owners receive business consulting from a team of highly successful former local company presidents in addition to the ability to get help from anyone in the support services, or anyone of their peers nationwide.
- Local owners receive “big-company” buying, selling and sourcing power: buying power with Winsupply’s negotiated national programs with national manufacturers; local owners receive selling power with Winsupply’s ability
“Our acquisitions are successful both in the short and long term because we do a great job with our due diligence and asking the right questions,” said Ferguson. “Acquisitions are part of our strategy and we have an experienced team in place.” The company’s strategy is successful and has resulted in numerous acquisitions across all industries. The company ended 2022 on a high note with strategic growth that netted the company its best year for acquisition investments, including one of the largest acquisitions to date – Hydrologic Distribution Company, which has 12 locations in Florida. “Right from the top…setting the tone, down to everyone else who I’ve worked with, they’ve been great,” said Chris Lynch, President of Hydrologic Distribution Co., while referring to being acquired by Winsupply Inc. “I feel like I’ve known these guys the entire time since I started the company.”
Support Services – Custom Designed to Help
To provide support to over 660 separate companies requires organization and coordination of the support services. Winsupply has this covered as well and makes it look seamless. Services are separated into three groups called consulting, support, and equity. The consulting group entails direct business consulting to owners of each local wholesale company. The Support Services group, as its name implies, supports local owners with IT, payroll, accounts payable, training, other services, and assistance. The Equity Group is the financial arm of Winsupply and provides finance, accounting, risk management, tax, audit, as well as business advice when needed.
Winsupply even writes its own custom software to support its business model. “Winsupply works with local wholesale companies to define best processes and integrates these best practices into the software used internally,” said Bill Tolliver, Vice President of Real Estate Services/In-House Counsel. “Our custom designed, in-house software is an advantage differentiating us from competitors because it is tailored to support local wholesale company operations and the business model. We ask entrepreneurs what keeps them awake at night, and that is what we try to make better – whether it is taxes, payroll, etc. Our job is to alleviate pain points from local owners so they can focus their energies on their customers.”
The Winsupply Support Services Campus
Winsupply’s support services are coordinated and facilitated at the Winsupply Support Services Campus located in Moraine, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton located an hour north of Cincinnati. The orderly and walkable campus is made up of four buildings as well as neighboring land for expansion. This includes soon-to-be land from the former Relax Inn motel that was purchased for strategic future growth.
The 3110 building, the first building purpose-built to house Winsupply’s support services, includes communications, payroll, training, and many other offices and teams. Over the years, expanded service offerings to meet the needs of the local wholesale companies required more space which led to the purchase of the 3131 building, a six-story tower block which houses IT, sourcing services, accounts payable, a podcast studio, and more.
Wilcon is a construction arm of Winsupply with a building and equipment yard on campus. Wilcon is a key reason Winsupply can keep its campus buildings up-to-date and operating efficiently for the always expanding and growing company.
The newest building on campus houses both Winsupply of Dayton and the Richard W. Schwartz Center for Innovation. Winsupply of Dayton is an actual local wholesaling company servicing contractors in the Dayton area.
Innovative Support Services Campus Design
Attention to detail is found in every part of the support services campus and places you might not expect. No stone is left uncovered, from innovative exterior building design to efficient, modern interior design. Employees experience high-level design details in break rooms with the latest in technology (upscale faucets, cabinetry with the latest hardware, standalone stainless-steel appliances, and more), workstations made in-house, boardrooms/conference rooms with sophisticated and beautiful tables made onsite, tin ceilings, reclaimed wood elements, coordinated wallpaper, and training rooms. Even the bathroom facilities have modern tile and design elements only sometimes seen in business or industry.
Why is this important to note? The high-level attention to detail with eclectic and modern materials, such as reclaimed wood, tin ceilings, stone, and other materials, is rarely found in businesses today – especially in the manufacturing cluster. “We want everything we do, including design, to be intentional,” said Tolliver. “When visitors come to our campus, we want them to know we are intentional about being different on purpose and that translates over into being intentional with the physical campus itself.”
Richard W. Schwartz Center for Innovation
The Richard W. Schwartz Center for Innovation is a dominant showcase for Winsupply innovation. The facility opened in 2022 and serves as a training facility for both Winsupply Support Services employees and local wholesale company employees. It’s also where new, innovative services for local wholesale companies can be piloted.
The first sign of innovation is visible on the exterior of the building, with mixed materials, a stone façade, and landscaping featuring a footbridge into the building. Inside, the storefront displays multiple textures and materials combined with a modern design for a unique visual showroom experience. Reclaimed wood mingles with industrial elements and an acoustic ceiling tile for a modern-rustic design. The wood is featured throughout the space, adding warmth to the showroom area (most showrooms lean to industrial and sterile design) and modern offices.
The Innovation Center holds training development programs for both local wholesale company and service company employees. Thoughtful and purposeful design in the space is evident, with room dividers hidden behind a door built to keep the room streamlined and immaculate. Modern videoconferencing and presentation equipment is built into the room to host everything from intimate meetings to large training sessions. Purposeful design extends to the foodservice area that features modern design elements and attention to details most companies overlook (trash cans receptacles covered in reclaimed wood).
The innovative design concept flows to the attached Winsupply of Dayton warehouse, which features an overhead protective cover for delivery trucks and a wide delivery door allowing pipes spanning more than 20 feet to be driven into the space without turning. Tolliver had a hand in the innovative designs throughout the company and pointed out windows at the top of the warehouse, which allows natural light.
A rendering of Moen’s new North Las Vegas distribution center, the Prologis Speedway North Distribution Center 1, opening in 2024.
Pex supplies are just one of the many products stored in the Winsupply highly organized warehouse. Photo courtesy Winsupply of Dayton.
Wilcon construction builds and designs the company’s cabinets and furniture. Photo courtesy Winsupply of Dayton.
The exterior of the Richard W. Schwartz Center for Innovation, which houses multiple training facilities.
“The ownership model is one built on relationships and a model that no one else in the wholesale space has with local owners making their own decisions.”
Rob Ferguson, President, Local Company Group
The Moraine Fire Department and Winsupply, Inc. are community partners.
The Moraine Fire Department in a venting exercise and preparing the Relax Inn for demolition. Winsupply will use the space for future expansion.
Relationships & Community Partnerships
Winsupply is a company about people with strong relationships at all levels – a key ingredient to their success. Not only has Winsupply cultivated relationships with business partners and local wholesale company owners, but also with the city of Moraine where the support services campus is located. “We have a strong relationship with the city of Moraine,” said Tolliver. “We take a personal ownership in the community and neighborhood. We want it to be a good place to live, work and play. We are family-oriented – it is a way of life for us and what we do.”
The relationship-focused company practices what it preaches and holds employee events, such as the family picnic in June that brought the community together with firefighters, police, and medics, who showed up to entertain and educate children. The close camaraderie among the Winsupply family is on display during lunchtime meals with co-workers at a local favorite business, DiSalvo’s Deli.
“When we see a good opportunity to help the community, we take it,” added Tolliver. “We have taken land space that is blighted and holding it for future use while making the community look better in the meantime.” The former Relax Inn is a perfect example of purchasing property for a future Winsupply space. A strong relationship with the Moraine Fire Department led to a few days of hands on training in June – an experience that new firefighters do not often receive prior to a real-life emergency. “This experience (venting) is a rare opportunity and not the same as these firefighters get in fire school,” said Lieutenant Josh Wilson, Moraine Fire Department.
On the Horizon
As to what is on the horizon, Winsupply has growth in their forecast, with entrepreneurs opening local wholesale companies throughout the U.S. as well as opening a regional distribution center later this year in Arizona. “Our expectation is that we will continue to grow,” said Ferguson. “And, even in times of disruption in the economy, we see that as an opportunity for growth.”
About Winsupply: Winsupply is in the business of creating and enabling entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams through wholesale distribution. We call this “The Spirit of Opportunity,” and it motivates each and every business decision that is made.
As one of America’s leading suppliers of materials for residential and commercial construction, Winsupply Inc. owns a majority equity stake in more than 660 local companies across the United States. Collectively, Winsupply is known as “The Winsupply Family of Companies” and includes Win-branded locations, Noland Company, Carr Supply, APCO, and other acquired regional suppliers.
Contractors across America rely on Winsupply to provide business solutions and materials in plumbing and heating; hydronics; pipes, valves and fittings; HVAC and refrigeration; electrical; fastening hardware; waterworks and utility; pumps; turf irrigation and landscape; and fire system fabrication. Follow Winsupply on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram.
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