Grand Junction, Colorado
Katie Munro Powell and her father, founder Allen Munro, are diversifying the family business into new markets with innovative pumps and valves.
Allen and his father, Jack Munro, started distributor Munro Supply a half-century ago. "They were a pump specialty house," says Powell.
Jack's experience with mining and reclamation led him to start the company, and that was a prime market for the company, which soon expanded into the distribution of hoses, valves, and related fittings.
In the 1970s, the business started assembling pump stations for customers, which led to broadening into manufacturing in the '80s -- thus, the moniker Munro Companies: One is the legacy distributor and the other is the manufacturing operation.
To set the stage for the sister businesses, pump manufacturers were making cheaper and cheaper pumps, which meant more returns for Munro Supply. The distributor helped its manufacturers improve their designs, but the resulting pumps were carried by other distributors, so going into manufacturing was a natural move to capitalize on innovation.
"We have really evolved," says Powell. The company still distributes pumps, hoses, and valves to customers in Colorado and Utah, and the manufacturing business makes pumps and relevant subsystems and components. "One of our specialties is the electrical controls for the pumps," she says.
Irrigation is a primary market for Munro Companies. It also sells into the mining and energy markets. Its products are sold through a national network of wholesalers.
Manufacturing and distribution "are getting to be on equal footing," says Powell, noting that each business has about 25 employees. That may not be the case for long, she adds. "We definitely see our future in manufacturing. We're focusing a lot more on sales. We're finally getting a lot more adoption from bigger irrigation wholesalers and distributors across the country."
She points to innovative products like the Complete Pro 2, a self-contained pump station for small office buildings, parks, and even homes that debuted in 2014; and the Munro Cam Valve that's about 90 percent lighter than legacy products. "That's been very successful in the energy market," says Powell.
Growth jumped "from single digits up to double digits” in recent years, but has hit 25 percent in 2015 as the national sales push gains momentum. The company has plenty of room to grow more in its 100,000-square-foot facility in Grand Junction.
Munro Companies' combination of distribution and manufacturing offers deep insight into its target markets, Powell adds. "We like to think of ourselves as problem solvers and not 'me, too' people," she says.
While Powell says she's "kind of been with the company forever," she worked in marketing for diverse industries before returning to the family business full-time in 2012.
Why'd she come back?
"Having a better understanding of our customers and the industries we serve," she answers. "These are really the backbone of our economy. Nothing happens in our society without these industries."
Challenges: Volatile energy prices. "We're definitely feeling the downturn on our Munro Supply side," says Powell, adding that diversification "definitely evens things out."
In 2015, the wet spring was also a challenge. "People weren't installing new irrigation systems and they started their existing irrigation systems later and discovered problems later."
Opportunities: Customers dealing with drought conditions. "One of the areas we see a lot of opportunities with is with water reuse," says Powell.
"We know energy is going to come back," she adds. "Mining is a little trickier. Who knows where coal is going to go in this country?"
Needs: "Workforce needs are a real thing, especially in western Colorado," says Powell. "On the manufacturing side, we haven't seen the people with higher-level manufacturing skills." Same goes for sales, she adds, noting, "When energy is hot, there are people who want to try out those markets."