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Cover Story : Rescue Team

How B-to-B catalog vets Chuck Moyer and Mike Wessner applied their J&L Industrial Supply turnaround tactics to Conney Safety Products

February 2009 By Joe Keenan
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Fresh off the sale of their last turnaround project — the reinvigorated J&L Industrial Supply to MSC Industrial Direct in June 2006 — Chuck Moyer and Mike Wessner set their sights on a new opportunity. After an exhaustive search process, these two B-to-B cataloging lifers targeted 63-year-old Conney Safety Products. In a deal financed by the private equity firm CI Capital, Moyer and Wessner acquired the company from its parent firm, K+K America, in October 2007.

Conney was attractive for several reasons, says Moyer, who serves as Conney’s COO. With regard to receivables, payables and inventory, it was a very “clean” company financially. It was a well-established brand in the safety goods community. What’s more, the company had a history of strong customer service. But at the same time, “it was really underperforming, both from a profit-building and growth standpoint,” Moyer says. “We like underperforming companies that we can fix.”

Emphasizing Infrastructure
First on their agenda was to implement more robust systems and processes to spur productivity — particularly in the call center and warehouse. When Moyer and Wessner (now Conney’s CEO) acquired the company, the average day-to-day productivity of a call-center rep was 20 to 25 calls a day. The pair’s previous experience at J&L told them this was way too low. So in a little more than a year, that number has swelled to just less than 70 calls per day. Likewise, the distribution center’s productivity jumped from 10 lines processed per man-hour to nearly 16.5.

In addition to the call center and warehouse, Conney has invested in upgrading its IT and CRM systems as well to gain a better understanding of its customers. It also launched a telesales channel, something that’s worked in the past for Moyer and Wessner.

“We wanted to take [Conney’s] existing business model and refine it and define it more clearly through a series of distinct sales channels,” Wessner says. “The telesales channel was a big part of our success at J&L.”

With its beefed up infrastructure in place, Conney realized a more efficient and productive work environment, allowing it to redeploy employees into the telesales department without hiring more staff.

Shift in Catalog Strategy
The company also redefined and reduced the catalog’s role in the business. The catalog was mailed only once in 2008, down from three drops per year under prior ownership. In addition to mailing less frequently, Conney slashed catalog circulation by 85 percent to 100,000 — the result of no longer mailing to prospects. As Moyer explains, the book now serves as more of a reference guide than direct selling tool.

About Conney Safety Products
Headquarters: Madison, Wis.
Year founded:
1946
First catalog mailed: 1979
Merchandise: Safety supplies and equipment — gloves, glasses, hearing protection
Annual circulation: 100,000
Mailings per year: 1
12-month housefile: 150,000
Retail stores: 1
# of SKUs: 12,000
# of employees: 130
Annual sales: $55 million
Channel breakdown: 50 percent telesales, 25 percent direct marketing, 25 percent field sales
Average order size: $250
Printer: RR Donnelley
List manager: MeritDirect
 

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