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News and Press

Velan View: A&M Industrial - From single store to major provider of expertise

David Young with Kevin Rosenthal, Executive Director of Business Development

When Arnold Young, President of A&M Industrial, started a small hardware store back in 1954, he had the right entrepreneurial spirit. His go-getter attitude accelerated the growth of his business as it transitioned from retailer to hardware and equipment supplier to manufacturing companies in the booming corridor of New Jersey/New York.

Little did he know that the family owned business he began would grow into a leading regional and national supply chain management company offering a complete line of industrial products and services - include a wide range of Velan valves.

Because the world was a different place in the 1950s, he also couldn't have foreseen the reputation the company developed as a leading emergency responder in the energy field. The only factor he may have been able to predict was that the company would remain a hands-on operation despite its growth.

"One of the most rewarding aspects of my 60-year journey with this company is that we've managed our growth. We've done so by using our intelligence and street smarts to determine which direction is the right direction. The most important aspect of this business remains one-on-one contact with our customers," Arnold says.

He likens A&M's success to a good marriage.

"Just as in a marriage, you learn to never say 'no' - to act in an affirmative manner. That positive way of thinking and doing resonates throughout our company, just as it resonates in a strong family," he adds.

Arnold's son David Young, Executive Vice President of A&M Industrial, describes the hands-on, can-do attitude another way.

"Before he started the company, my dad was in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War," David explains. "One of the lessons he learned from serving is that, regardless of what you go on to do in your life, you always remain a rifleman - someone on the front lines that has to know how to shoot a gun," David says.

"Here at A&M we teach our associates that everybody is a salesperson for the company first no matter what else they do. We are first and foremost a sales organization," David explains.

The growing years

Today, A&M Industrial has over 100 employees operating out of a 160,000-sq-ft distribution center in Cranbury, New Jersey and headquarters in Rahway, New Jersey. The company opened its pipes, valves, and fittings line in 1987, which now falls under the engineered products division.

Over the years, as some manufacturing migrated southward and across the seas, the company's clientele has expanded to include major power-related companies as well as specialized industries such as petrochemical, mechanical contracting, construction, chemical processing, and transportation. Today, it sells to more than 1,000 manufacturers and offers products and services to some of the major powerhouse energy providers in the area.

The company has grown through a combination of growth within product categories and by taking on new types of ventures. The consistency has always been proficiency.

"As our company has grown, we've expanded into many different market categories," David says. "While the largest portion centers around valves and piping products, our overall expansion has closely followed our growth in expertise."

His father Arnold adds that, "One of the reasons I've always loved this industry is that you are really in the business of solving someone's problems. You need knowledge to be able to do that and you need to know how to think on your feet."

Instead of jumping into entirely new products and services, the company expands by acquisition, which broadens that level of knowledge. For example, A&M purchased several different safety distributors and as a result, developed experience in personal protective equipment, which then became one of its product lines.

"In another case, we received a large contract that required a huge quantity of hose assemblies. We were buying them in quantity and realized it made more sense to bring this in house, so we developed skills in hose fabrication and opened up a separate division that caters to that particular market," he adds.

David, who has been with the company his father started for 30 years, has overseen much of that growth. He graduated from New York University with a degree in business and worked on Wall Street for several years before deciding he didn't want to travel the fast-growth track of a huge corporation.

David says that A&M's advancements came not from the business books, but from the attitude of both his father and the staffing teams put together by A&M to lead each new venture as it happened.

"My dad realizes this is not a black and white business," David explains. "There are many gray areas and it takes leaders and personnel who understand those areas to understand what a customer truly needs," he adds.

To provide the kind of personal, valuebased service that addresses the gray areas, the company stopped looking at itself as merely a distributor a long time ago and started to see itself as a provider of solutions.

Quality products such as Velan valves are part of those solutions, Arnold points out.

"We take a lot of pride in our manufacturers, including Velan, a company that is greatly respected both within our own walls and in the industry at large," he says. "Over the years, Velan valves have proven to be key in helping us address customer needs."

However, the right products are only part of the picture.

"As the world of selling has evolved to the Internet, it's amazing how readily available any product is today - even Amazon has opened up a commercial supply division," David explains. "On top of that, you have the big box stores and the large catalog companies as competition. All of this has required anyone who sells to take a good hard look at what they do and the value they provide. What A&M has concluded is that we are selling technical knowledge," he says.

Emergency response

One of the most visible areas of expertise for A&M in recent years has been as a provider of emergency response. The company has been involved in a number of crises including 9/11, the 2007 midtown Manhattan steam explosion, and 2012's Hurricane Sandy.

A&M's emergency response program is actually an outgrowth of a venture A&M Industrial pioneered about 15 years ago called cross-docking. That program involved partnering with an end-user client to create a transparent, all-electronic means of cutting through the problems created by a crisis to get that client exactly what was needed in the least amount of time possible.

As the program evolved, it has grown from about 200 products to include 5,000 needed engineered components, including top-entry ball valves and API 6D trunnionmounted gas transmission valves. The company also offers the specialized services, such as assessment of damages and creation of engineered equipment, needed during a crisis.

Kevin Rosenthal, Executive Director of Business Development for A&M Industrial, who heads up the team in charge of emergency response, calls this area of business "one of the most technologically and serviceability-oriented systems in the energy field."

Every crisis from manhole cover explosion to transformer fire to the all-encompassing problems that occurred during 9/11 carries its own set of challenges, he says.

Yet no matter how well prepared, the key is often flexibility, "because for a majority of the situations, a great deal of what we do is literally shoot from the hip. As proactive as we try to be in this field, it's often the ability to be extremely quick and reactive to emerging and undiscovered needs that enables the best emergency response," Kevin says.

Hurricane Sandy provided a double challenge because the company and its staff were located right in the middle of what was happening.

"Our whole region was without power for about two weeks," David explains, and when power was restored, it was intermittent.

"We had no computer systems, no phones, no lights, or heat. Yet people came to work every day, operating with cell phone service when it was available to communicate with key vendors and those in need," he says.

"Then there was the humanitarian aspect. Not only did some of our own employees have major damage to homes, but our communities were devastated - whole blocks were wiped out," David adds. "My wife Monica, who also works for the company, stepped in to coordinate some of the employees' humanitarian efforts."

Meanwhile, the greatest problem for many clients was the storm surges from the Atlantic Ocean, which quickly flooded many businesses and plants in the area.

"Even a relative novice to the industry knows that salt water and electrical equipment do not get along," Kevin explains. "The meeting of the two truly created havoc along the seaboard for our energy clients as hundreds and hundreds of exposed actuators were adversely affected."

A&M sent teams of people out to refineries and other plants to both help with the cleanup efforts (provide needed safety equipment and warm clothing, tents and sleeping bags for workers), but also to help assess damage.

"Some of this assessment we did in the field; other equipment we brought back to our shop. It was a tremendous challenge just evaluating what was salvageable and what needed to be replaced," David said. Then came locating specific equipment needed and dealing with vendors who offered the right products and could get them there quickly.

It took about two months before A&M itself was back to full capacity, and that area of the country is still feeling the effects. But for A&M, the ability to respond led to cemented relationships, as well as much praise.

"You don't think in terms of good will when the disaster is occurring, but it's a positive byproduct," David says. "When you can come through for a purchasing agent or buyer or maintenance supervisor who is on the phone and desperate, that client sees exactly what you can do and how far you'll go to serve a customer."

Looking ahead

A&M received a lot of positive publicity and thanks following Hurricane Sandy, and David says emergency response will remain an invaluable and growing part of the company business.

"A lot of the products we sell, including valves, orient us to the critical industries such as power generation, utilities, and government infrastructure. All of these industries are highly reliant on stability and consistency and if you're serving those markets, you have to have internal capability and the right products to respond," he says.

But it's only one of the many services the company offers that make it unique, he adds.

For the future, the company is looking for growth both geographically and in terms of product offerings while the emphasis will remain on providing expertise.

"A&M Industrial's success is attributable to the 'work-hard-play-hard' corporate culture started by Arnie," Kevin says.

"The resulting can-do attitude of our staff has driven the company to unprecedented heights in a highly competitive field, and it will take us into the future as we find new areas where our skills are needed."

Arnold adds that, "the biggest change I've seen in this industry over the years is that big businesses have gobbled up small businesses. We are still a smaller business, growing by acquisition. But we have something we don't intend to ever lose: a broad and loyal customer base."

David also says that, "To be the best today requires being able to understand the pain points and specific needs of clients' applications, then to be able to produce products and build service around fulfilling those needs."