Getting to know Potter Webster Company
Rich Calcagno, vice president and general manager
Please briefly describe the history of your business (a quick summary is fine).
Potter Webster Company was started in 1918. The Websters bought out the Potters in 1940 and we have been family owned since.
Please briefly describe your company’s distribution structure: What do you sell, who are your vendors, who are your customers, etc.?
Our venders involve many areas; we are looked at as the one-stop shopping source. We have so many venders it is hard to name them all. The big ones are Meritor, Philips, Grote, Truck-Lite, Bendix, Dana, Neapco, Parker, Hutch, Dexter, Ecco and many others. We sell into many markets, including over-the-road, mining, off-highway, logging and construction. We also have divisions of the company that supply original manufacturers.
What separates your business from competitors in its marketplace?
Service. We believe service is the difference. We really try to make this the most important part of the equation.
How do you believe customers perceive your business?
I think most customers view our company as a solution-based company. We value that we are not going to be the cheapest but we have the experience and knowledge to solve their problems. Dennis Webster always preached we are “Nationally known and locally owned.” This really hits it home. We also like to say, “We are big enough to supply you but we are small enough to care about your needs.”
How and why have your customers stayed loyal to your business?
Customers stay loyal for many reasons — a few are we treat everyone as friends. It comes down to people sell people. We have a very long tenure here. We have teammates that have only worked here their entire life. Some more than 40 years. When our customers come in to our stores and see the same people year-in and year-out it really makes a difference to their trust. They know they can rely on great service with a fair price.
What is one thing most customers/suppliers don’t know about your company that would surprise/impress them? (i.e., tell us something about your company we don’t know)
What people don’t know is we are a family-owned third-generation business. Most of the leaders in our company started at the bottom and worked their way to the top. I started with the company cleaning toilets and sweeping the floors. We started in the industry selling fenders and generators, not in the trucking industry at all. We got into it by filling a need and seeing opportunities.
What makes your business a great place to work?
What makes our company a wonderful place to work? We have fun every day. We are very team-based organization. We also take our work very seriously. We are a family. Dennis has made it a point to support everyone in so many ways. We offer the best benefits we can along with profit sharing and a 401K.
How vital is it to have quality employees entering your business from younger generations, and how are you trying to recruit these younger professionals?
It’s very important to have the best people possible. Most of the time we don’t hire because of what people know, we hire based off attitude and their ability to communicate and learn. We can teach this industry very well. It’s not rocket science. We usually try to promote from within our organization. We look to our warehouse as an area where, if those employees can do what is needed with a great attitude and good attendance, they have what it takes to move up.
Do you feel your business is in the position to change with the times? If so how?
I feel the business is going to change in so many ways. On one hand, the sales staff will have to be more computer savvy as time changes. We also are going to have to understand more about advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and other onboard computer systems. The trucks are changing so fast and have to keep up.
Do you have any advice for the next generation, as they work in this industry?
Learn as much as you can about the equipment as possible, but most importantly, listen and observe the old times. Do not discount their knowledge. They have seen so many changes to our industry and have adapted quite well.
What are your goals for the long-term future of your company?
We are in a growth mode here at Potter Webster. We are looking at opening several new opportunities in the next five years. We are hoping the economy will hold and that we may have a long stretch of growth. I can see in the next 10 years the industry will change dramatically. We will have to change with times and expand with new product lines and new locations. We are a third-generation company and we hope there is a forth to come.
Why did your company join GenNext? How can GenNext help your employees?
We joined GenNext so we could be prepared for the future. To help us understand what we need to be prepared for in the coming years. We also joined to hopefully find channels to be able to find new talent.
What are the three most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are?
I’ve learned to not be scared to take a risk. I look at risk as an opportunity to learn; either it is going to be good or bad. Either way you learn from it. Additionally, take time to make decisions but not too much time respond not react. Listen to your team. It’s really awesome to hear what their take on the business is — even the lowest guy on the totem pole has great ideas. I’ve always listened, watched and learned from the people I’ve worked for and I’ve learned from many of my managers as well. What to do, but most importantly, what not to do.
Are there any industry leaders that have influenced you/mentored you? Who were they and how has their knowledge assisted you?
Dennis Webster is by far the one man I’ve learned the most from. He’s been in this industry for 59 years and has a wealth of knowledge. Randy Luthe used to hold classes here at Potter Webster once a month. In the beginning I thought they were silly. But as time went on I started to use the classes he taught and continue to do so now. Finally, Andy Schmitz. He has not worked for us for very long but he has had so much to do with the growth and our new perspective here at Potter Webster.