Fort Morgan, Colorado
Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Plumbing parts
Brass boss: COO Barry Walter Jr. is focused on efficiency, culture, and supply chain for a company-wide "transformation."
"It actually started with my grandfather," says Walter Jr. on the origins of the company named for his father. In the 1950s, Lauren Walter Sr. was fresh out of the Navy, working for a plumbing supply house in Southern California, and started making hard-to-find parts on a lathe in his garage. "He'd go home at night and make two or three stems."
That grew into Walter Plumbing Parts in Pacoima, California, but it went out of business in the 1985 after Lauren sold the company. Longtime employee Walter Sr. bought its assets out of bankruptcy the following year and restarted the business as CEO of Barry E. Walter Sr. Co.
"People were asking my father, 'What are you going to do?'" remembers Walter Jr. "He always said, 'The value of that business in in the parts your grandfather accumulated over the years.'"
By buying rights to the deep catalog of replacement parts, Walter Sr. was able to revive the company in short order, then moved it to Colorado in 1992. "The cost of living in California was ridiculous," says Walter Jr. of the impetus behind the move.
Walter Sr. chose Fort Morgan after looking around the West for a base. Proximity to Denver was a factor, but so was a little distance from it. "He wanted to be close to a big city," says Walter Jr. "We currently go through 7,000 pounds of brass a week."
The company steadily grew from six employees at the time of the move to 30 today. Walter Jr. joined with the company in 1994 after a stint in education. "I always said I didn't want to work for my parents, they work too hard," he says. "Then I was working 80 hours a week, and Dad called."
Two decades later, Walter Sr. is semi-retired at age 66, and Walter Jr. has overseen day-to-day operations since 2015, spearheading a "transformation of the company" by implementing Lean principles. It's paying off: "We started to notice inventory reductions and increased cash flow."
Through Lean implementation, we've shifted inventory by $250,000," says Walter Jr.," calling the move an "epiphany" for the company. "I think we can reduce it by another $150,000 by moving machines and standardizing some tools."
Another big initiative: "Automate, automate, automate," says Walter Jr., citing a goal of next-day shipping for every order. "When we moved out here, we had two CNCs and two Acmes. Now we're at 13 CNCs. It's allowed us to do more setups and carry less inventory."
And that's critical, as Barry E. Walter Sr. Co. makes 14,000 unique parts. The company now sells more ceramic products than anything else, but brass remains a mainstay. "We still makes tons of brass parts, but the shift has been to ceramic cartridges," says Walter Jr."We have three different catalogs we publish. Our customers are repackagers, plumbing supply houses, and wholesalers around the country."
Besides Walter Sr. and Walter Jr., three other Walters currently work for the company: Chief Administrative Officer Lauren, CFO Nathaniel, and CIO Franklin.
Walter Jr. says he and his brothers aim to spur growth through the aforementioned transformation of the company. "One of the issues was: How do we grow it? That's why we've been doing what we've been for the last two years."
Beyond more automation and less inventory, company culture is a key piece of the puzzle, he adds. "You've got to give your team members more," says Walter Jr., noting that the company provides competitive pay along with health benefits. "We want to be the best place to work in Morgan County."
The company works with primarily domestic suppliers, including such Colorado companies as Thornton's Newcomb Spring and Colorado Waterjet in Berthoud, and sources brass from Chase Brass in Ohio. "They are an amazing partner of ours," says Walter Jr. "We love the quality of the brass. We love the customer service." He commends his father for "shortening our supply chain" over the years.
All of the initiatives are having an impact. Revenue grew 3 percent to $3.8 million in 2016; the forecast for 2017 is 3 to 4 percent growth for 2017 followed by 5 to 6 percent for 2018.
Walter Jr. says he's made numerous contacts through CAMA and Manufacturer's Edge, and considers Erik Tribelhorn of Agri-Inject in Yuma a mentor. "He's a good friend of mine and a great guy I can bounce ideas off of," says Walter Jr. "None of us are smarter than all of us. We gain more knowledge when we collaborate."
Challenges: "The biggest challenge is imports," says Walter Jr. "We have to provide things customers can't get overseas: service, quality, relationship building."
Swings in commodity prices pose another challenge, he adds. "Since April, brass has gone up 50 cents a pound."
Opportunities: "Thermostatic valves are something we need to get into," says Walter Jr. "I'd love to be looking at injection molding."
Needs: "Talent, but I'm not going to complain about talent if I'm not willing to work on it," says Walter Jr. He says he partners with local middle and high schools and junior colleges in an effort to narrow the skills gap. Barry E. Walter Sr. Co. typically employs three local high-school students. "They can see what opportunities are out there besides fast food," says Walter Jr.
Space could emerge as another issue, he adds. Twice expanded, the company's facility is 15,500 square feet. "We've got room for the two shifts we run now," says Walter Jr. "If we add injection molding or metal stamping, we'll need to add on."