MEMBER PROFILE: W. W. CANNON

Values. Innovation. Customer Service.

83-Year-Old Company Continues to Grow and Change to Meet Today’s Material Handling Needs

1938 saw a number of major news stories: a recession that caused unemployment to rise to 19%, a minimum wage raise from 25 to 40 cents per hour for a 44-hour workweek, a new round-the-world record of three days and 19 hours set by Howard Hughes and the airing of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.”

1938 also marked the beginning of W.W. Cannon, a materials handling equipment company that grew from two brothers selling shelving out of the back of their car to an innovative business that has grown and created new services to provide a full range of products and services to customers.

When Greg Brown, owner and president, purchased the company in 1996, he had a number of goals. “I had been in the flexible packaging equipment and the film industry so I first had to figure out the industry,” he says. “I wanted to own my own business and W.W. Cannon fit my educational background and experience.”

When a company changes ownership and leadership, it is not uncommon for customers to leave, but Brown says that was not the case for W.W. Cannon. “The company had a good customer base that stayed with us as we added more staff and enhanced quality standards,” he says. “We not only retained customers but grew the business – in fact, three years later, in 1999, we were named one of the 100 fastest-growing businesses in Dallas by the Dallas Business Journal.”

In 2001, the company acquired a competitor and doubled the size of business and added new locations, says Brown. Two years later, more changes included moving all of the inventory to the Dallas location, which also serves as company headquarters, and leaving sales offices in Houston and San Antonio.

“Merging two companies into one is difficult because it takes time to determine what the new company will look like,” admits Brown. “We focused on controlling costs and getting the right people into the right positions.”

W.W. Cannon has a clearly defined company vision along with core values that are woven into discussions at weekly employee meetings, which is one reason that merging two companies into one worked for his company, says Brown. “Most people want to follow positive values and work in an environment that provides a respectful, supportive environment.”

In addition to paying attention to the training, education, tools and environment that employees need to thrive, several other changes in W.W. Cannon’s service offerings have made a difference for customers as well.

“Prior to 2005, we used subcontractors to handle installations, but we saw a way to improve quality and better meet customer timelines by setting up our own in-house installation crews,” says Brown. “This gives us the opportunity to maneuver quickly, and we’ve gotten a reputation for doing things that meet a customer’s timeline.” He shares one example: “A small warehouse operator was moving into a larger facility. The owner had a relationship with the local Lowe’s, which couldn’t provide what he needed, but the Lowe’s representative told him about us. We got the job and did a quick turnaround, which we would have had to pass on if we relied on subcontractors.”

The ability to meet customer timelines has added a number of new customers throughout the years, but bringing the marketing function in-house has also improved the collaboration between marketing and sales, says Brown. “We hired our own marketing person in 2009 to better manage our online store and internet marketing efforts, but it also removed the siloes between marketing and sales,” he explains. “Marketing works closely with members of the sales team to make sure we all have the same message for the customer and understand our goals, and we work together to reach those goals.”

Because W.W. Cannon promotes a turn-key service, two other key services were added over the last seven to 10 years:

  • A safety manager who ensures safety best practices are met with each installation, including provision of all documentation to customers, field safety audits and staff training
  • A service department to maintain and repair dock and door equipment, conveyors and pallet racks sold by the company

“The ability to offer maintenance and repair services by a certified and well-trained team gives us a competitive edge,” admits Brown. “We bootstrapped a service department in 2014 by tapping an existing service manager to hire people with the skills we needed to get started, and now the department represents a significant part of our business.” Although it takes time and money to hire the right people to launch a service department, the investment pays off in new equipment sales as equipment needs replacement and greater customer retention, he adds.

Throughout the years, the scope of products offered by W.W. Cannon has grown significantly from the early days of shelving. Today the company offers more automated or electromechanical equipment including vertical lifts, conveyors, dock and door equipment, and ASRS systems. The growth mirrors the growth of the material handling industry, points out Brown. “We are moving more things faster.”

While COVID-19 slowed things a bit for his company, Brown says they got creative about holding costs to a minimum while still offering services to customers. “We had three months during which costs exceeded income, and we implemented a lot of new cleaning practices for equipment we installed and maintained, but we were fortunate and have seen an uptick in business for the past six months,” he says.

One of the challenges that his company will face as the economy recovers and grows will be finding high quality, motivated employees. “Hiring quality employees before the pandemic was difficult, but we’ve been trying to hire for several positions for six months,” says Brown. The combination of enhanced unemployment, stimulus payments and tax credits, and the lingering fear of the virus makes it difficult to get people to come back to work, he says.

Another challenge for the industry is regulations, says Brown. “MHEDA is a great advocate for our industry at the federal level, but it is also important that we all get involved in our own communities,” he says. “The greatest influence we have as business owners is at the local and state level.”

As he looks ahead to the next five years for W.W. Cannon, Brown anticipates continued change. “We will hold to our processes and values that are working for us today, but we will keep looking for areas in which we can be excellent,” he says. “That means staying in our area of expertise and making the staffing and capital decisions we need to make to remain successful,” he adds.

“I am very bullish on the future for our economy, my business and the industry,” says Brown. “There is a lot of pent-up demand, but people are selectively spending their money until pandemic restrictions are removed, and we return to a more normal life.”