Growing up in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Mike Larkin didn’t have much.
“The neighborhood I grew up in was good,” he says. “It was a bunch of hardworking folks, but nobody had anything. For the most part, our house had dirt floors and we didn’t have any indoor plumbing. It was a great experience because you can’t miss something you never had.”
After graduating high school, Larkin went to work for Masters’ Supply in Elizabethtown and then opened his own HVAC contracting company.
“But I missed the supply business,” he says.
During that time Larkin got word N.O. Nelson (the precursor of what today is Winsupply) out of Bowling Green, Kentucky, was interested in opening a store in the Elizabethtown-Hardin County area. After some talks, Larkin became the local company president there on April Fools’ Day in 1977.
Over the years Larkin opened and sponsored eight local Winsupply companies in Kentucky. In 2004 he was asked to consider being the PHCP-PVF distribution giant’s area leader in the Southeast region.
“Truthfully I had no interest,” Larkin told me during Winsupply’s recent Strategic Planning Meetings & Vendor Showcase in Nashville, Tennessee. “I was very happy with what I was doing, but after 27 years we owned the lion’s share of the market. A lot of the challenge was gone. After thinking about it, I needed the challenge and accepted the role.”
And since 2004, Larkin has been doing what he does best, helping grow Winsupply local companies.
“When I started this journey with Win, I couldn’t spell entrepreneur,” he says with a laugh. “But I wanted to control my own fate and destiny. Anything I might gain in life I wanted it to be due to my efforts. It’s didn’t take me long to realize after I joined this company that is what it’s all about. I have a sign that says, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ If you are willing to put the work in and willing to invest your own hard-earned money, you are given the opportunity to do what I was looking for: control your own fate and destiny.”
Larkin, who couldn’t walk 10 feet during the Vendor Showcase in Nashville without someone stopping him to say hello, says the risks of being a local company owner are real. “For me, there was no chance to fail. It was never an option,” he says. “Everyone has their own tolerance as it pertains to risk. My grandparents taught me I could do whatever I wanted to do. I believe that. If anybody believes that, risk is mitigated.”
Larkin’s great run with Winsupply has come full circle. His older son, Luke, is a local company president in Fayetteville, North Carolina, while younger son, Jake, is a company president back in Bowling Green.
“Luke is the only one who probably knew since the age of 14 that he was going to sell plumbing supplies,” he says. “When I see them involved in the company and look at the results, I have a tremendous amount of pride. When I watch what the boys are doing, you cannot imagine how proud I am.”
Winsupply COO Monte Salsman talks about the company being successful because of its “dogged defense of the entrepreneurial spirit.” If there is a textbook case of that, Larkin’s face probably should be on the front of the training manual.
“I’m not that different,” he says. “There are a lot of great stories in this organization. In my case, I love people and I love helping them. When I was running my company it was the only thing I ever cared about — making sure my customers had what they needed. That always has come back to me tenfold. The Bible teaches us to whom much is given, much is expected. I believe that. I’ve been blessed. I’ve always had a grateful heart and I’m so grateful for this organization and this family. This is home.”
This article was originally titled “Anything is possible” in the April 2018 print edition of Supply House Times.