Fulfilling the mission since 1930
What is the key to a long life in the material handling business? Dan Senecal, Paul Souza and Karl Miller know the answer. “Strong leadership with an entrepreneurial spirit and good people to carry out the mission.” As the co-owners of a company celebrating 70 years of success, they should know. Collectively, they have an 85-year association with the company, and have seen first hand the potent impact of following that simple business formula.
The entrepreneurial flame that has burned so brightly for the company was first lit by a young accountant named Paul H. Werres. In 1930, Werres went into business representing several equipment manufacturers to the federal government, which at that time was little more than a shell of the huge bureaucratic structure that exists today. Werres made the most of the limited potential of the government market by successfully lobbying the War Department to incorporate the specifications of the equipment he represented into the military’s own procurement specifications.
The move proved a tremendous boon to the company as government procurement grew sharply following the country’s entry into World War II. During the war years, the company took on additional suppliers, expanding into conveyors and a variety of allied products.
Anticipating a contraction of the government market once the war ended, Werres laid plans to redirect the company’s focus toward the commercial arena. He enlisted Joe Clausen to set up a commercial side of the business, using the company’s wartime profits to finance the expansion.
As Clausen moved forward on building up the company’s commercial business in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Werres realized that government demand was not receding. To seize the unexpected opportunity, he restructured the company, placing Clausen in charge of government sales. Bill Plunkett joined the company in commercial sales and soon was put in charge of non-government sales. Plunkett, along with Clausen, would lead the company through most of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Werres Corporation has continued to serve both the government and commercial markets throughout its history, and the two sides of the business have complemented each other in important ways. In the mid-1950s, The Raymond Corporation approached Joe Clausen for his expertise in dealing effectively in the government sector. The relationship between the two companies has been sustained for over 45 years, and Werres Corporation enjoys healthy forklift sales in both the government and commercial markets. In 1999, the company was recognized as one of Raymond’s Dealers of Distinction.
An important component of Werres Corporation’s longevity has been its ability to nurture strong leadership from within, a factor that has contributed to continuity and stability in the company. In 1984, Clausen and Plunkett sold the company to Dan Senecal, Paul Souza and Karl Miller. Senecal, who has been with the company for 30 years, currently serves as president and CEO. Miller and Souza have been with Werres for 35 and 20 years, respectively. Souza heads up the commercial division and Miller oversees the government division. All three owners are very much involved in the day-to-day activities of the company along with Janet Kuhn, the company’s vice president of finance and operations.
Under the current owners, the company has continued to expand its offering of products and services. In addition to selling, renting and leasing new and used forklifts and allied warehouse equipment, the company designs and builds integrated conveyor systems and mechanized material handling systems with complete project management. Werres Corporation also offers operator and technical training for customers.
The company’s strategy is to integrate a wide range of abilities and resources to provide a one-stop source for all of a customer’s material handling needs. Miller says, “We use the consultative approach to selling. We analyze the customer’s operation and come forth with a solution to his particular problem, whether it be trucks or conveyor or some other method.”
Continuity among the company’s leadership is complemented by long-standing relationships with respected suppliers. “We gather around us some of the finest material handling manufacturers available,” says Souza. “Because we trust the quality of the products we represent, we can focus on the other areas that are just as important in determining whether customers come back. We focus on customer retention through customer satisfaction.”
The success of Werres Corporation’s strategy is evident from the growth pressures that necessitated a move to a larger facility. The company had been operating out of a 9,000 sq. ft. facility that Paul Werres built in 1962 and several smaller satellite locations. The move to the current 47,000 sq. ft. building in Frederick, Maryland in 1994 enabled the company to consolidate its entire operations under one roof, including most of its 125 employees, a fleet of 40 service vans, 3 delivery trucks and a $1.5 million parts inventory.
While the change of address took the company farther away from downtown Washington, D.C., the new facility provides a more central location to markets in Virginia and Maryland, reflecting just how far the company has grown beyond its roots in government sales. The move to Frederick also has given the company access to an extended labor market, as it is now able to attract employees from southern Pennsylvania and West Virginia. At the same time, the company remains close enough to Washington and Baltimore to draw on the young, highly educated talent available there.
Like many other firms in the material handling industry, Werres Corporation’s most pressing personnel problem is finding qualified technicians for the service end of the business. The company’s government connections have benefited both sides of the business in this area as well. The Naval base in Norfolk, Virginia has been a good resource for finding new employees with a high level of technical expertise.
Seeking Out New Talent
Looking ahead, Senecal says the key will be “finding good people and maintaining a focus.” Toward that end, the company created Werres Systems, Inc., a new division that will handle the engineered systems side of the business. The restructuring is intended to provide management and employees throughout the company with a sharper focus on their specific areas of responsibility, and to better enable the different areas of the company to develop the talent and resources needed for growth.
Miller is confident that the company’s solid relationship with cutting-edge suppliers will help to perpetuate an innovative spirit within Werres Corporation. The increasing complexity of material handling equipment poses a continual challenge to translate greater sophistication into greater customer satisfaction.
Werres Corporation is in the process of cultivating the next generation of leaders, the new entrepreneurs who will out line the mission to guide the company to its 100th anniversary and beyond. Senecal, Souza and Miller have little doubt that those leaders will be found close to home. All say, “When we hire new employees, we ask, ‘Can this person take my place?’ We want to bring the new breed along from a succession standpoint.”
Business longevity requires willingness and an ability to change, to adapt to the obstacles and opportunities that emerge in the marketplace. Werres Corporation has met the challenge to change through diversification and by responding to take advantage of innovations arising in the industry. Miller says, “I’m sure Paul Werres never dreamed of this company being what it is today.”
Even so, his imprint on the company goes well beyond the name above the door. The qualities and ideals that laid the basis for Werres Corporation’s first successes continue to serve as the standards by which the company conducts business today. Miller says, “A lot of the company’s culture, the work ethic, the integrity in the marketplace, the things we’ve built our reputation on, go back to the founder.”
The sense of ambition that set Paul Werres to calling on government offices along Constitution Avenue in 1930 and that has fueled prosperity for seven decades remains strong within the company. The drive to succeed will form the basis for mapping out future plans and assembling the team to see them through. Guided by a tradition of integrity, innovation and a commitment to customer service, “the new breed” that Senecal, Souza and Miller see already within the company’s ranks have a leg up on ensuring Werres Corporation’s continued success as it faces tomorrow’s challenges.