What did you do before Cee Kay and how were you hired?
I worked as a carpenter at Monsanto world headquarters in Creve Coeur and attended night school at University of Missouri-St. Louis to eventually get a degree in business administration. Prior to that, I worked as computer “punch cards” programmer for American National Insurance Co. in University City where I met a beautiful and fun lady, Cathy Dunn, whom I married about a year later. I was hired by Paul Dunn, Cath’s father and owner of Cee Kay Supply, when carpenters went on strike and we were thinking about buying a house and starting a family. Paul thought that I would be a good fit and Cee Kay seemed like a company where I could utilize a business degree.
What was your first day like?
First day was meeting with Paul Dunn to discuss wages. I was told I would start at $4 per hour (I was making $8 per hour as a carpenter and lived 2 miles from Monsanto. Now I would have to drive 30 miles in rush hour to Cee Kay). That night I worried that I had made a bad decision, but Paul told me that he believed I would progress quickly and also that he believed in my work ethic. So, I committed to stay.
What companies, vendors, products, and customers have helped shaped Cee Kay and its success?
We have had a long-standing relationship with all our vendors, especially those focusing on products that provided quality over cheap prices. Customer service oriented. Pretty much vendors that matched our way of doing business.
What, if any, were the challenges for Cee Kay and how has it survived and thrived?
Outgrowing the original facility, crazy low pricing from competition, alternative channels and internet made Cee Kay respond by building new facilities, selling value over price, utilizing branch locations, and offering services that internet sales can’t provide. Catering to those Customers that operate like Cee Kay operates are our “target” customers and we cater to their needs..
Any funny stories from any employees? Greatest memories? Major milestones?
Too many to count. There was the sticky floor from a huge open house that allowed everyone to gain an inch on their height, the rough mornings after employee baseball, Larry Greiner’s bonehead “Greiner” awards at company Christmas parties, company picnic gaffers, etc.
Major milestones were Tom taking over and expanding facilities and branching out, being first with Micro Bulk and delivery systems, the new building at the Central Hardware site and state-of-the-art fill plant, dry ice production, and the expansions in Joplin and KC.
You were a contributor to the 60th anniversary Welder Robot. Can you tell us a bit about that project and experience?
The company wanted something special to celebrate the 60-year anniversary, and Heath Wells and I decided a welded sculpture would be fitting. I suggested that we ask the sales force to get parts from our customers that we could utilize in our idea of a man welding. Heath was the fabricator, I was the idea man, and together at Heath’s garage we spent many hours slowly piecing together the final product (beers helped).
What jobs have you held over the years?
I started with Cee Kay working as a filler of cylinder gases and maintaining them, then also learned apparatus repair and how to wait on customers. Then I did some driving of cylinder trucks, then priced out tickets prior to invoicing, then became the first computer operator and did billing after hours. Then after moving into the first new building, I worked in counter sales with a new retail focus. Then I started a new branch in O’Fallon, Missouri. Then I expanded the new branch facility in O’Fallon, coordinated SOP procedures at all branches, and then became sales manager. Next I became a member of the management committee, then went to outside sales for the Western Territory.
How has Cee Kay changed in the last 45 years and how has it stayed the same?
It has grown in physical size both with employees and territory. However, the fact that Cee Kay is a one-stop place to handle gases, hardgoods, rental, repair, and technical expertise is the same now as when in its infancy. Fact is, Cee Kay just keeps getting better in all areas. It is ingrained in our people to not be content with staying the same but instead always looking to improve.
What made you stay at Cee Kay for your entire career?
I was fortunate to constantly be given the chance to perform different roles and asked upon for suggestions and ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed interactions with both internal customers (fellow Cee Kay employees) and external customers (new and existing accounts).
How much longer do you plan on working?
What are you going to do in retirement? I plan on retiring Jan. 1, 2020, but as I have told many close friends, as long as I wake up and look forward to going to work, I would like to continue what I have been doing for 45-plus years, only maybe a few less hours. For the past few years and future years, I will continue the quest to explore the world and spend as much time as possible with my wife and our growing family (my two sons, daughters-in-law, and four grandkids).
What do you find most rewarding about your career?
The sense of knowing that I gave everything I have attempted my best effort.
What would you consider to be your proudest moments during your time at Cee Kay?
Proudest moments are when customers (internal and external) tell me “Thanks” after accomplishing a given task.
What advice would you have for someone just starting out in sales?
Build lasting relationships with customers and always be honest and fair with them. Try to find the best solution. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you want to call upon the phenomenal resources Cee Kay has, and then get back to them ASAP with that “best” solution. Most importantly, enjoy and have fun and it really isn’t “work”.
How do you define success?
Meeting both company and personal goals and having fun doing it!