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With 100 employees spanning six locations, Chino Hills, Calif.-based Western Water Works Supply Co., a distributor of pipe, valves and fittings for potable, waste and stormwater in southern California and Utah, is dedicated to providing “smooth-running jobs from start to finish.”
And the company is steadfast about following through with this pledge.
“Our main objective is to provide our pipeline contractors and water utilities smooth-running jobs from start to finish,” says Bruce Himes, president of Western Water Works. “We do this through our people, products and systems.”
At the same time, Himes says, the purpose of Western Water Works is to demonstrate that shared capitalism through the company’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) benefits all stakeholders — its people, clients, vendor partners and company.
The PVF distributor has three core values its people strive to practice: work, respect and responsibility. “We strive to work hard, long and smart; respect everyone and everything; and be willing, able and accountable,” he explains. “All our decisions and who we allow to join us are guided and measured by these core values.”
Western Water Works’ leadership model is steeped in the characteristics of trust, vision and inspiring others, Himes says.
“Trust is a function of character and competence; and vision, to us, is about seeing the situation clearly, formulating a clear solution, and then taking specific and consistent actions until resolution,” he notes. “Inspiring others is about providing a solid example, asking questions and listening, providing clear feedback, and demonstrating enthusiasm.”
The company’s business strategy is based on three top objectives: to create loyal clients; to obtain, train and retain the right people; and to achieve key performance indicators.
“We believe that if we have the right people, they’ll create loyal clients,” Himes explains. “If you have the right people and you have loyal clients, you will achieve your key performance indicators. Our [KPIs] are shared with everybody in the organization through our company dashboards.”
Seasons of Change
There’s a great quote, Himes says, that he insists on being on the company’s website. It’s by Isaac Newton, and it reads, “If we’ve seen further, it’s because we stood on the shoulders of giants.”
Himes says he absolutely, at his core, believes in that statement. “Yes, we’ve done a lot of solid things, and we have grown exponentially over the years, compared to, let’s say, the first half of our history,” he says. “Nevertheless, there were others before us who laid the foundation for that success.”
Because of the hard work of those that came before him, Himes says that when he joined the company in 1990, there were certain things he didn’t have to focus on, especially from a financial perspective.
“The company has always been run very conservatively,” he notes. “Now, that may have restricted sales growth or expansion in the past, but as a result, Western Water Works has always been incredibly strong from a balance-sheet perspective. I came into an excellent situation in that regard.
“In the early ‘90s, we were in a fairly severe recession. But it was great to be able to dig in and learn the business, and slowly but surely reengineer the company, without having to worry about being in financial trouble.”
When Himes walked through the doors at Western Water Works in 1990, in many ways the company was still doing business as it did in 1945. For example, the distributor took inventory for the first time after Himes signed on.
“We then automated and changed the business by implementing technology and best practices,” he says. “We streamlined operations to run more efficiently. And with technology, it’s never a single thing. It’s a process over time that takes discipline and focus. But we have implemented and utilized technology and best practices throughout the years to create smooth-running jobs for our people, clients and vendor partners.”
Growth in STEPS — the Western Edge
A key differentiator that sets Wester Water Works apart from others in the industry, Himes says, is not only the company’s belief in shared capitalism through its ESOP but its dedication to personal development in its quest for overall prosperity and financial success.
The company is unwavering in its commitment to promoting from within, says Eric Loudon, director of marketing. Seven out of its 10 warehouse supervisors and eight out of its 11 project managers have gone through the PVF distributor’s STEPS development program.
“We have found that some of our most successful salespeople have started as drivers, so we no longer hire drivers; we hire future salespeople who fit our core values and are willing to drive,” he notes. “It is a process, but we have development checklists (or STEPS) for each position in the company to help each person prepare for the next level. We provide opportunities to grow.”
Loudon adds that being a 100 percent employee-owned company has helped Western Water Works create a robust company culture, improve the loyalty and retention of its people, and boost the overall growth of the company.
“And we are increasing our reach,” he says. “We recently acquired top talent in the Pacific Northwest and will be expanding to that market with multiple locations in the near future. Our goal is to expand throughout the entire western United States over the next several years.”
The Grand Guarantee Club
The company’s Grand Guarantee Club consists of about 36 of Western Water Works’ premier clients. The company guarantees these clients accurate orders, delivery times and billings. “If we mess any of these up, regardless of the size of the order, we give the customer a $2,000 credit on their job,” Loudon says. “We currently have a 99.83 percent accuracy rate.”
For the past 13 years, the company has held a Grand Guarantee Club Conference where vendors and clients get together to collectively learn key business strategies to achieve success. With a different keynote speaker each year, Loudon says this conference is one of the company’s key differentiators from others in the industry, and probably the only gathering of its kind.
“We had more than 300 vendors and customers in attendance this year,” he says. “We are truly better together, and this gathering of industry professionals (and in many cases, bitter competitors) is a true testament to the strength of the collective.”
Loudon adds: “It’s not just a conference about the industry. It’s a conference about how to be a more successful person — and a more successful business. It’s about how to get the most out of yourself and your people.”