Good times in Hawaii
This year’s Supply House of the Year winner, while very familiar to readers, is starting the next chapter in its nearly six-decade history.
The former WinWholesale reveals in this issue in an exclusive to Supply House Times that it is changing its name to Winsupply to better reflect the diversification of its local companies across numerous markets.
During a visit to company headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, one particular comment from Winsupply Chief Marketing Officer Steve Edwards continued to repeat in my thoughts. “We are no different than any other supply house, but our model and our people are our two biggest differentiators.”
Winsupply and many other distributors around the country do thrive thanks to their own unique personal touches, whether it’s a business model centered on free-market capitalism or implementing programs designed to increase efficiencies and customer-service levels.
Mike Signaigo falls into that unique category as well. The owner of Kapolei, Hawaii-based Valve Service & Supply Co., Signaigo started the company in 1976 as a one-man operation assisting a gentleman selling surplus pipe, valves and equipment to local sugar plantations.
But the sugar industry in Hawaii had other ideas. “It provided a good market for products because they all used mills that had irrigation piping,” he says. “The market has changed dramatically where now there’s one sugar company left. I had to change with the times.”
Signaigo actually started his distribution career in Memphis, Tenn. But an Elvis Presley movie put a bug in his ear about the 50th state. “‘Blue Hawaii’ made me want to come here before I died,” he says.
Signaigo has adapted rather nicely after enduring some rough waters related to opening branches in California and Florida — both have since closed. “I was very naïve in business in the beginning,” he says. “I believed what people told me and it didn’t work out. I’m fortunate. I worked a few years to pay for my mistakes and then I started focusing only on Hawaii.”
And Signaigo now is front and center in Hawaii complete with his own unique distribution success story. Today, Valve Service & Supply has 28 employees and thrives as a distributor of piping materials in Hawaii with occasional service to Guam, South Korea, the Fiji Islands, the Philippines and Japan.
Signaigo notes he’s found his calling thanks to concentrating on supplying a wide variety of customers including mechanical, fence and fire sprinkler contractors, refineries and power plants. “There are square blocks in Texas that do more business in a week than we do all year — not a lot of smoke stacks to chase here,” he says with a laugh. “We have developed a great niche because we are very knowledgeable about the markets we are in. We are involved in so many things. Diversification has been a big key to surviving here.”
That diversification includes an onsite valve-repair shop, which recently was certified by the National Board of Boilers and Pressure Vessel Inspectors. The stamp authorizes the company to test and certify water, air and steam safety valves. “It’s the equivalent of achieving a Ph.D. in a field of study,” Valve Service & Supply’s John Gleeson points out.
While diversification certainly has helped, Signaigo stresses relationships on the islands are of critical importance. “You don’t get an endless list of customers here,” he says. “The island (Oahu) is 118 miles around. You better treat the customers you have well. Because of that we’re able to compete with larger companies that come over from the Mainland to work on projects. The same goes for vendors. We work well with a lot of companies, including a lot of domestic manufacturers. Our customers like domestic.”
Because of the high-quality vendors he deals with, price usually takes a back seat. “You can’t sell the cheapest stuff you can find,” he says. “We care about being associated with quality rather than just price. I’ve never been focused on only making money because I would have a lot more money than I do now if I had that attitude.”
And then there is the big X-factor when it comes to the Pacific — freight. “Most people underestimate getting materials to Hawaii,” Signaigo says. “You must have great relationships in order to buy right, ship the best and compete against the guys from the Mainland that bid against you. There’s not a company that says they don’t give great service. These are relationships that take years to cultivate. We can’t afford to lose customers here.”
Quite the opposite, Signaigo has built a long-term Hawaiian winner.