As I said back in my January article, it is really good to be back in print for The Wholesaler and sure hope all of you will enjoy all the articles I manage to get down in print, know what I mean? I’m really glad you stopped by today to see what I have to say. It is going to go something like this …
How many of you can recall what has happened in the past say 50 years in your company, your job, your industry or your marketplace? I am sentimental about the 50 years between Oct. 1, 1968, to Oct. 1, 2018, as the 1968 reference is my original hire date at the original Grinnell Co. in Providence, R.I. The reference to 2018 happens to be my 50th year of being employed by and continually involved with Grinnell and the markets it has served all through the changes due to acquisitions, mergers and name changes.
Since 1999, the company that started as Grinnell Co. became known as Anvil International. It is very active in the pipe, valves and fittings market in which it serves with pride. So many of the people who have hung in there with the leadership of the company through it all have had no regrets. How does that happen? Why does that happen?
When I think about that, I sort of smile, then laugh a bit. Sure, I suppose I could have jumped from job to job back in the day for $100 bucks here or there in pay increases, but loyalty meant something to me. Why? It goes back to my upbringing. My parents had nine kids and they insisted we go through all 12 grades of school, work hard in the off times, get a good job with a pension, get married and take care of a family.
Simple, huh? To that end, I don’t believe I ever heard them talk about college or the military to any degree. I was in the Army and I had one brother join the Air Force. Neither of us saw overseas duty (it was all timing) but after serving our country, we went back to Texas and found those jobs our Dad and Mom had drilled into us to do.
They never asked any of us to be farmers (we lived deep in a cotton field, in a fabricated house for farm workers most of the time) and such was life. With little experience with life and living outside of that cotton field, I found myself in Dallas. It was the early to mid-1960s for me. My point to all this back story is simply to say from my birth time (1944) and forward, we were raised from working age (7th to 8th grade) to work hard, respect our elders, attend school and study hard.
There were not too many outside gadgets to take up your time back in those days — only AM radio, for the most part, three TV channels (if you had a TV), an old car to drive … and a mom who was constantly pressing you to be “in by 10” every time you went out by yourself or with someone. No smoking or drinking beer; if she smelled it on ya when you came home … well, it was as she would always say, going to be “just too wet to plow” when she told Daddy about it! He was a big man, and he knew how to give “tough love” when he had to, if you know what I mean!
Many of you readers have heard me tell a lot of these stories, so again I’m saying that like so many people (including many of you), I surely lived a very different and slower life for much of the past 50 years than the young people growing up now — indeed, for the bigger part of the next 50! This will apply in education time, military time, dating, communication, free time, travel, driving, professional jobs, etc. — every phase of living your life is changing right in front of us as we live our lives today.
Early PVF Days
I look at our industry today and wonder, “My goodness, how will the landscape look and how will industry people be able to function in the next 10, 15, 20, 25, 35 … yes, even within the next 50 years?” In simple Texas language, I’ll say it in five easy words and I quote: “THERE AIN’T NO DAMN TELL’IN!”
You know, I go quickly back to 1968 when I started at Grinnell. We did not fly anywhere then. We drove company cars (as salesmen) equipped with the bare minimum extras such as air conditioning and heaters — that was it.
Driving into the Panhandle of Texas from Dallas every four weeks to make sales calls, I would make my first night stop in Wichita Falls, Texas, at a local roadside motel — a true motel. No phone in the rooms. A rotary dial pay phone was positioned in the parking lot so you could drive right up to it and, reaching out like a drive-in movie, you could take the earpiece right into your car via the window and dial the operator.
In my case, I would make the call to the switchboard phone operator at Grinnell and ask her if I had any phone messages needing to be called back. She either said yes or no. If yes, I’d make note of them as she shared with me, then in the early morning the next day, before I started driving to make my sales calls, I’d return those calls from that same phone, take action if needed on them and then proceed to my day’s work. Over and over, that was the routine.
That effort and way of communicating do not exist today and we all know why. No need, as we have phones in the cars, phones on the planes, phones in our pockets, briefcases, pagers in some cases, emails, texts — it goes on and on. Back then you had time and the customer had time for you to get back possibly to work on his or her issue, but today everyone’s call is an urgent one — gotta know now. FaceTime calls can be made; everything is technology-driven — from the factory to the middle man to the field.
Today, there are so many large companies (customers) in the PVF distributor business and so many specifically identified market segments to work within. Many times, one call at a headquarters office takes care of that location and many field locations where you may need only to make a quick stop every other trip to say, “Hey,” and see if there are any issues you need to handle.
In the “good ‘ole days,” most really good accounts of a commodity PVF vendor such as Grinnell were local independents or larger regional independent-type players with three to four branch operations in a market area where they were connected but each did their own purchasing, so a focus stop was needed at every location. Due to the rapid pace of mergers and acquisitions over the past 20 years or so and the generational changes that have taken place in a lot of markets, the number of local accounts that need to be “worked” on each trip into a market territory is dropping.
I’m not saying it is a bad thing for the most part; it is what is known these days as progress. The economy is great and has been for a while now. It is booming in almost all sectors for all products. Technology advancements in inventory control and accounting have had a lot to do with these changes, too.
To the writer, it boils down to one thing: “The only thing constant is change itself — in all areas, all the time!” I’ll say this as a fact: Fifty years ago, if someone had told me (as I was at that pay phone in Wichita Falls) that the future would bring us to where we are today in the communication field, I would have felt sure he was drinking something pretty darn strong mixed with his “branch” water!”
While I have absolutely no earthly idea where the future is going to take us in our industry or any industry for that matter over the next 50 years, I am quite sure folks starting in business today will indeed need to buckle up and get ready for “one hell of a ride!” I gotta tell you that I would sure like to see what all things will look like by 2068 but I am afraid it will be up to the younger folks to figure out!
As long as our free society exists and the United States continues to be blessed from on high as it has always been, then I suggest that everyone just hang on!
Thanks for reading my short look back into the past 50 years and a rather quick thought process on what is coming in the next 50.
See ya again in a couple of months. Stay safe and stay focused on now and the future! And may continued blessings keep coming your way.