Making PVF Versatile
Cohn & Gregory, a homegrown PVF supplier, builds for the future.
It all began in a small warehouse right outside Fort Worth, Texas, when two friends Harry Cohn and Clyde Gregory founded Cohn & Gregory, an independent PVF distributor servicing the industrial market. In 1977, the business began with mostly OEM work, but eventually evolved to include contractors and planned MROs. In 1979, the modest 7,500-square foot facility grew to 17,500 square feet. A mere two years later, they needed even more space and decided to rent out another building.
In 1985, Cohn passed away, and in 1986 Scott Mahaffey, CEO, purchased Cohn’s controlling interests. Thirty years have gone by and the company has been sharing the legacy together ever since. Over the years, they’ve hired various salesmen, acquired new business, built a distribution center and overall made it a point to put their name out there and hustle. Not every business move stuck, yet the company was able to find and grow value in everything they touched.
For example, in 1997, Cohn & Gregory bought a PVF rep agency. The acquired company didn’t stock much, but provided Cohn & Gregory with some solid, long-term relationships.
“It wasn’t a really good fit, but we did pick up some customers. Some of them we still have today,” Gregory, president, explained. “It wasn’t like the home run we thought it was going to be, but it was an opportunity to grow and get into the Dallas market.”
The company also experimented with oil field projects, looking to diversify their clientele. Overall, the experimentation has led to a working knowledge of various industries’ ebbs and flows.
“We’re definitely not an oil field supply company, but we try to pick up some of the little things here and there,” explained Chris Mahaffey, director of technology and Scott’s son. “When we feel it’s going to slow down, we try to focus on other areas. Sometimes food and beverage might be really hot, and we might be in that for a little while. We’re trying to follow what makes sense.”
Cohn & Gregory like sensible solutions, and continuing to bridge the business gap into Dallas has proved to be one of these solutions. Last August they made one this biggest moves acquiring M-Tex Industrial Supply, a company with sales roughly half Cohn & Gregory’s size. The companies admired each other for their similar values and decided to combine efforts.
“They decided we were very similar companies. Really, you couldn’t find two similar companies like we are,” Gregory said. “They service the same kind of industries we service, and they’re very customer-oriented, and had a very good reputation.”
Which is why Cohn & Gregory has tried so hard to make sure the M-Tex folks, many whom are industry veterans, are comfortable. It’s a big reason that former owners Danny McCartney are Jim Martin are staying on.
“They do business like we do business, and we want them to stay. They wanted a computer system, and we’ve gone through our pains over here on bringing on a computer system. They wanted the security of not having the big boss come in and destroy everybody, and we wanted the same deal,” said Shawn Gregory, director of operations and Clyde’s son.
Along with Fort Worth and Dallas, Cohn & Gregory has three other Texas locations in Cleburne, Paris and Sherman.
It’s this building along with a sort of exploratory, risk-taking behavior has led to a collective mesh of skills from all ends of the spectrum.
“We have people who are knowledgeable in some of the strangest applications,” Chris said.
Shawn added, “We’ve got one guy, [for example], who sells into South America. This is what he does for us on a computer all day. He does pretty well at it. We’ve encountered a lot of things like this, where we say: ‘We'll try it.’”
Though Cohn & Gregory is known for its specialty business, the company was able to pick up and grow along with larger clients along the way.
“We just changed our marketing philosophy. We started going after, I guess, more higher profile customers, but we kept our base business the same. Through aggressive and sales marketing, we were able to achieve double digit growth,” Scott said.
This mode of thinking has served as Cohn & Gregory’s cultural base and has carried over to staff.
“We try to empower and train people to learn in their own way. That way we can develop the younger guys, especially the new younger guys, including myself. This encourages them to become more involved in the industry,” Chris said. “You can have somebody who just fills orders all day, but we try to teach everyone as much as we can about the products. If there’s a training class, we send them to it. We’re a nurturing environment.”
Cohn & Gregory is interested in developing long-term employees, and they’ve been able to maintain several over the years. Many of these employees have developed as organically as the business itself. Shawn, for example, has been with the company since 1999, moving his way up from custodial work to clerical and inside sales.
Shawn recently has been working on an internal website called CG Net, a locator that allows employees to look up cut-sheets for a particular product, vendor’s phone number or freight code.
“At the end of the day, we’re a logistics company, and we have to be able to look up information quickly and move material in and out effectively,” Shawn said. “The quicker we can do that, the better we’re going to be, especially considering we sell 25 to 30 percent what we consider non-stock items.”
The inside sales folks, also known as account specialists, cover a lot of ground with the customers and are responsible for quoting a product to making sure it’s delivered. Cohn & Gregory has close to 25 account specialists in total. But really everyone is responsible for sales, said Shawn, because everyone has his or her own unique specialty.
As with many supply companies, staying abreast on current technology to allow for more efficiency is crucial to its long-term success. This is why the company has recently invested in a new ERP system.
“A couple of years ago, we made a commitment that we wanted to grow the business, and we knew the only way that we could do it was to get more technology-oriented. We went out, surveyed and ended up buying around half a million dollars on inventory management, a full-blown ERP system that gave us the platform that would allow us to really develop and start managing our inventory, because inventory is the biggest asset we have,” Scott said.
Profit-21 will be running at all Cohn & Gregory locations, which brings a lot of training and obstacles, but a whole lot of efficiency.
“There’s information beyond our wildest dreams that we have now. Whenever we need information, it’s right there at our fingertips,” Chris said.
Part of the reasoning for the new system is to make locating customer information easier for the staff, but also for the customers.
Chris explained, “It takes a lot of the guesswork of making sure that the customers are getting what they want. With the new system, we’ve confirmed what they want upfront one time, and now we can use their part number and information again. We can print out custom labels for them to go on their material. If they want it barcoded, we can barcode it for them. If they want electronic proof of delivery, we can give them electronic proof of delivery.”
He continued, “Those are all minor things that really any ERP can give you, but the way that we’ve customized our system, which is really almost our secret sauce, the way that we’ve customized the internal part of our system, and the things that we've added behind the scenes that are part of the management tools, not the end user tools, are things that make us completely different than others like them.”
Chris, who has a background in engineering, is all about coming up with solutions that make the company more efficient and overall more profitable. One of these solutions, he even wrote.
“Right now, we’re actively working on a standalone piece of software that I wrote, which implements with Profit-21. When I'm done with it, it will be the back wheel for what we need to do as far as pricing and costing and ranking customers and setting the market where we want it to be,” Chris said.
Cohn & Gregory has much built-up anticipation and high hopes for its future. As always, they hope to pick up unique skill sets along the way. Valve automation is among the many lines of business they’re hoping to continue to learn more about.
“We’re looking at maybe getting more into some of the machining stuff that we can do ourselves. A lot of the old time machinists are old World War II guys, or were, and they’re getting pretty old. What’s going to happen when you can’t go to these guys, throw some stuff down and say, ‘Hey, make me a part to fit this and this together,’” Clyde said.
Though they plan on more acquisitions in the future, right now, Cohn & Gregory is focusing on integrating the newest one to the best of their ability.
“We anticipate to double our business in the next five years. We’re looking for opportunities, but the best thing we have is strong, dedicated employees and a growth plan for the future. We’re very content where we are right now,” Scott said. “We know the next few months bringing the new acquisition under our systems and working together is going to be a challenge, but so far it has going easier in the first few months than we had anticipated.”