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Recently, The Wholesaler sat down with Trey Cook, president of AIV, and Ryan Loving, president of Gulf Coast Modification, to discuss the industrial PVF companies’ growth and their investment in technology as well as their employees.
AIV is a global wholesale distributor of valves and actuators for the chemical, oilfield, petrochemical, pulp and paper, refining, power and water treatment industries. Gulf Coast Modification is a sister company to AIV and is the modification arm to AIV’s full-service approach, offering valve modification, cleaning, coating, inspection and testing services for industrial valves.
AIV (www.aivinc.com) opened its doors 28 years ago in 1991 by Cook’s parents, Ray and Elizabeth Cook, with “$10,000 and a dream,” Trey Cook says. “My father’s idea was to be the go-to source for hard-to-find valves for all distributors globally. In the early ‘90s, hard-to-find valves were typically only available as surplus or remanufactured and had no traceability back to the manufacturer. My father believed if he bought these specials new from the manufacturer and had full documentation, he would be able to create a niche and that is how AIV started.”
It worked. Over time, that dream and small investment would grow into a small international empire, headquartered in Houston, with additional locations in Odessa; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Canada; the United Kingdom; Dubai; and Singapore.
Trey Cook started with AIV 22 years ago. As in many family businesses, he started in the warehouse to learn about the products AIV sells and over time worked his way up through the company.
As Cook moved into a leadership role within AIV, he began to incorporate some of his dreams and ideas of how to expand the company. At one year end management meeting where we had just come off of a record year, “The management team said, ‘You’re going to freak out the employees if we project that high of a goal after having a record year.” Cook remembers. “But we surpassed the goal, we put plans into action, we doubled our inside sales staff in Houston acquired EZ Automation in Chicago and continued to heavily invest in our inventory.”
Following the EZ Automation acquisition in 2005, AIV continued to open strategic branches, made key acquisitions and diversified in to new products. AIV opened branches in Philadelphia, Edmonton, the United Kingdom, Dubai, and Singapore. In 2013, AIV started AIV Automation applying the same master distribution model to automation products. In 2018, AIV opened a branch in Odessa, Texas and acquired Pennsylvania-based Zenith Supply, a master distributor of Velan valves.
Cook’s vision was to take the company internationally. “Our goal was to be in every time zone in the world,” he explains. “At any given time, anywhere in the world, you can pick up the phone and call an AIV person and we can quote from our global inventory.”
That vision goes back to the 24-hour response rate the company stands behind. Cook explains that when refineries, which operate seven days a week, have a problem and they have to shut down, they need a quick response rate to get parts. “Regardless of the day or time, if a company needs a valve, we have an on-call service where we can assist them 24 hours a day,” he says.
During this time of expansion, the company outsourced modification work for many of its orders. In 2003, AIV made the decision to develop in-house valve modification capabilities and opened Gulf Coast Modification (www.gulfcoastmod.com), run by Ryan Loving since 2005.
About 20 percent of AIV’s sales orders require modification, Loving notes. “In house valve modification fosters growth because it allows AIV the opportunity to capture larger and more unique orders.” As AIV put inventory in locations throughout the world, it was evident that we needed valve modification in those locations as well. In 2014, GCM Canada was started to provide those services in Edmonton, and in 2015 Adanac Valve Specialities was acquired in the United Kingdom.
The focus of the group of companies is to provide 24/7 service to the customer” Loving says. “No matter where they are, what they need or when they need it, if you don’t have it, go find it. If you can’t find it, build it. If you can’t build it, offer an alternative. It’s all about the customer.”
Today, the company carries more than $100 million in inventory throughout the world, and $60 million on order at all times. The company lives up to its tag line: “AIV is here for ALL of your valve and actuation requirements.”
Workforce Development, Technology Investment
AIV employs more than 150 people, with the majority based in Houston; Gulf Coast Modification has around 200 employees. What sets AIV apart is its tenure of employees, with many having been with the company for more than 20 years. “When we hire, we’re looking for someone who wants to retire from here,” Cook says. “Our goal is to keep our employees engaged by challenging them and offering opportunities for their growth and advancement.”
To bring new people into the PVF industry and show them the different career paths available to them, AIV and Gulf Coast Modification have built a comprehensive training program. “Having the modification business allows training and understanding of the different components that make up a valve as well as the different types of valves that we sell,” Cook explains. “On the sales side, we put new employees through a two- to three-month training program. Once finished, each salesperson should know about every valve product we offer.”
Both companies boast multiple generations of employees, which feeds into their philosophy of giving opportunities and investing in employees. “The companies have a family feel and an entrepreneurial spirit,” Loving says. “People are given freedom to expand and grow pieces of business.”
AIV purchased 33 acres in Houston to accommodate its expanded growth and earlier this year, it opened its new 320,000-sq.-ft. facility. The new building houses AIV, AIV Automation and Gulf Coast Modification. With all three companies under one roof, the processes of selling, servicing and modifying a job are more efficient.
It was important in the design of the new building that technology and organization be at the forefront. “The building has optimal warehouse organization,” Loving says. “For the modification side of the business, it’s about having state-of-the-art infrastructure.”
He adds that the building has a higher hook height capability for its cranes — and there are more than 30 cranes in the new facility, maximizing its lifting capabilities. In addition, stronger concrete was used to handle heavier loads, allowing the company to expand into larger, heavier valves prevalent in the midstream industries.
“We have an enhanced electrical, water and air distribution system, welding, fume extraction systems, enhanced painting and blasting facilities,” Loving notes. “This infrastructure allows us to grow the business as we see the needs change.”
Investment in employees and technology is part of the values and culture at AIV and GCM. “We continue to invest in our facilities, we’ve invested in our people and we’ve invested in our recruiting and training capabilities,” Loving says. “I believe that in continuing to reinvest and develop our employees, our facilities and our customer relationships, we will always be one step ahead of the competition.”
With satisfied employees comes increased productivity. With increased productivity comes faster, more accurate fill rates and more precise modification work. And it all leads to being the best option for AIV’s customers.
“When a customer says, ‘I have no idea where to buy this’ — that’s the call we’re looking for,” Cook says.