Other Articles - October/November - 2020

WIT: Powered by Partnership

In preparation for this article, I met with the WIT leadership team via a multi-state conference call. As always, Melissa “Missy” Hoying, WIT’s Marketing Manager pulled all the players together without a hitch. The folks at WIT have a way of effortlessly making things happen. That ability is fitting for a company named Whatever It Takes.

In addition to Missy, the other WIT management team members on the conference call included: Rodney Peters, President and CEO; Kelly Hammock, VP of Operations; Ted Welter, VP of Corporate Operations; Scott Davis, Regional Sales Manager; and Andy Montgomery, Regional Sales Manager.

Also attending were Bud Snodgrass, the Director of Domestic Aftermarket for Raybestos Powertrain, and Blake Carter, the President of Sales and Marketing for SunCoast Performance. I’ll explain the purpose of their attendance later in this article.

A year ago, I wrote an article about WIT, What a Difference a Year Makes. Ironically, that title could apply to this article as well. Last year, when I asked WIT’s President, Rodney Peters to give us a glimpse of what WIT had in store for 2020, he said, “We have a lot of surprises in store beginning in 2020, but we don’t want to lose our competitive advantage by letting too much information out too soon.” However, Peters did share that in 2020, WIT would improve its speed of delivery by adding new Branch Stores. Today, WIT has 38 Branch Stores and 5 Regional Managers, supported by their 2 Distribution Centers in Muscle Shoals and Louisville. But there’s a great deal more to talk about.

A Culture Based on Partnership

Peters launched the conference call by stating, “We place a high value on the power of partnership and building relationships that really matter. When I refer to relationships, I’m talking about internal relationships within WIT’s team, as well as external relationships with our supplier partners and our customers. We want our suppliers and customers to feel like they’re a part of WIT because that’s how we feel about them.”

WIT is known for its innovation. They have an innovative approach to the idea of partnership – partnering with customers, suppliers, and their employees. At WIT, Powered by Partnership is not just a nice-sounding platitude; it’s how they roll.

Partnership begins with the employee team. Every employee at WIT is an owner. They are all shareholders in the company. In 2004, WIT became a 100% employee-owned company through a legal mechanism called an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or ESOP for short.

Because the idea of an ESOP forms the foundation for this article, here’s a little information on how it’s done at WIT. The employees receive shares of stock in the company through a formula that’s primarily based on their time with the company. Every year, employees receive shares of stock. Each year 20% of an employee’s shares are vested. So, after the fifth year, they are 100% vested.

Because the employees share proportionately in company profits, they naturally focus on doing whatever it takes to improve the company’s performance. As shareholders, all WIT employees are incentivized to do what’s best for the customers, trusting that profits are the natural consequence of doing things right and keeping customers happy. The ESOP provides the opportunity for added income in the short-term and a retirement plan in the long-term.

When I asked Rodney to describe the company culture, he replied, “We all wear several hats. Sure, we each have our specific areas of responsibility, but titles are meaningless. If a toilet gets stopped up, anyone can grab a plunger. The ESOP is important. We’re all owners, and everyone takes ownership in the company’s wellbeing. We all have some skin in the game – it’s not just a nine to five job. I have high expectations for our managers and their respective team members.” Everyone on the call chimed in simultaneously, “That’s the truth!”

VP of Operations, Kelly Hammock, offered this perspective, “Long story short we are a unique company. We look at management differently. We feel we have one of the best management teams in this industry at the branch and regional level, as well as the best sales and sales management teams. They know how to handle day-to-day situations, and most importantly, take care of our customers the way they would want to be taken care of themselves. We do not have to micromanage our people; if we did, we would not need them. They know their job and are very efficient at what they do. Our jobs as President, VP, CFO, and Sale Managers are to clear any roadblocks they encounter so they can perform their jobs at the highest level.”

WIT’s Industry Partnerships

Partnerships come in many flavors. Traditionally, a partnership is a legal business structure wherein two or more individuals form and operate a business and share its risks and rewards. However, partnership can also apply in an alliance where the parties agree to cooperate to advance their respective interests.

WIT is partnering with SunCoast Performance, Raybestos Powertrain, and Dynamic Torque Converters to help WIT’s customers capture a share of the high-performance market. According to Rodney Peters, “This marketing partnership has brought us into the $2-Billion high-performance and industrial market. This market segment is no longer just for the weekend, Ronny-Racer crowd. It includes all classifications of the go-fast fanatics with 1000-plus horsepower demand, as well as industrial and big rig towing.”

Many of these units retail for over $10,000. Due to the risk of a costly mistake or comeback, many traditional transmission shops have hesitated to get into this type of work – partly out of fear and partly due to insufficient knowledge and training. WIT has partnered with these three companies to help shops get more comfortable in this market and cash in on its huge opportunities.

Powered by this partnership alliance, the average shop can now sell remans or build these high-level units. With WIT’s Xtreme line of performance kits and converters, shops can offer three performance levels to customers who want to “Unleash Their Beast.”

  • Tier 1 Mild for up to 500HP… mild tuned, bolt-ons, light to medium towing, oversized wheels and tires.
  • Tier 2 Wild for 500-1000HP… power adders, highly tuned, street & strip, HD diesel, heavy towing.
  • Tier 3 Xtreme for 1000HP plus… extremely tuned vehicles, primarily sled pull rigs, strip and track vehicles, or plain old MONSTERS.

Blake Carter of SunCoast offered these reassuring words, “With over 30 years of experience in gas, diesel, and high-performance converters and parts, we’ve brought hands-on training to the industry through our Research Lab. This opens a new revenue stream for shops. These retail customers want performance (industrial and speed), and they’re not price sensitive. Through our supply chain partnership, WIT is now a link between you and SunCoast for access to information, education, coaching, parts, and units. WIT sponsors the Research Labs for their customers to become users and preferred installers. We’ll teach you how to do it, and you purchase the parts and units through WIT.”

Bud Snodgrass of Raybestos Powertrain stated, “Despite the common perception that the hi-performance market is only hard-core professionals like NASCAR, NHRA, and others, most of the sales volume in hi-performance is the street and strip market.”

He continued, “Through its partnership with SunCoast and Raybestos Powertrain, WIT can now provide the average shop with a performance kit for all applications to meet end user demand. Even shops that primarily build only OE replacements can now service this street/strip and diesel truck/towing market. WIT’s sales staff will help shops by recommending one of their 3 levels of extreme kits.”

Bud explained, “Raybestos Powertrain’s unique market position is that we produce friction clutches for converters and transmissions, starting with our in-house paper mill and proprietary friction paper formulas all the way to finished product. Our proprietary GPZ friction material separates us from the rest of the industry. GPZ is truly a proven performance product and a differentiator in the performance market.”

Snodgrass concluded, “With our incredible partnership, three of the best brands in the transmission performance business, WIT, Raybestos Powertrain, and SunCoast Performance continually interact to learn about each other’s business. This drives understanding and innovation, with all 3 benefiting from the partnership.”

Andy Montgomery chimed in, “It’s helpful that everyone knows SunCoast Performance and Raybestos Powertrain, and through our partnership with them, they’re teaching us how to do a better job helping our customers sell and produce more units. The more we help our customers sell, the more they buy. This is the essence of “pull-through” marketing – everyone wins.”

According to Kelly Hammock, “We look at SunCoast Performance, Raybestos Powertrain, and Dynamic as family. Blake visited many of our branches to educate our sales team on SunCoast Performance’s products. All three companies have provided tech support to our production facilities and even made in-person visits with customers when needed. That’s the spirit of true partnership.”

WIT’s 2020 Expansion

Despite the negative impact of COVID-19 on the world and our nation, by most reports, 2020 has been a good year for our industry. Rodney Peters observed, “When the economy gets soft, people start keeping their cars and fixing them instead of buying new ones.”

Likewise, 2020 has been a banner year for WIT. The WIT management team credits Regional Sales Managers Scott Davis and Andy Montgomery and their sales teams for bringing exponential sales growth to the company. The mutual admiration continues as the team acknowledged Rodney Peters for his leadership in diversifying to increase WIT’s footprint in the industry.

That diversity and growth included the addition of Roadmaster Powertrain, a second production facility in Itasca, Illinois, to complement the first one in Louisville. WIT’s Roadmaster series meets performance demands with heavy-duty components and custom engine and transmission programming that is vehicle specific.

In addition to the Dynamic and SunCoast converter lines, WIT also produces converters in Livingston, Tennessee. At this facility, they produce aftermarket converters that exceed OE specifications under the name Atlantic and performance converters under the Xtreme brand to go along with their Xtreme high performance kits. This gives WIT’s customers more choices to better suit their needs.

As if that’s not enough, the company also added six new branches to provide faster service. The new branches are in Tucson, Arizona; Miami, Florida; Texarkana, Arkansas; Warren, Rhode Island; McAllen, Texas; and opening in October, Phoenix, Arizona.

My takeaway from this meeting was that WIT is truly Powered by Partnership from its employee-owned roots to its commitment to building deep, mutually beneficial relationships with its customers and its suppliers.