Group of One
Driven by a team-oriented family of employees, Josam Company carries a century of customer-centered innovation forward to new generation
If there is one thing that defines Americans and American business, it’s resiliency. Even when we’re knocked down, we come back stronger and more determined. This profile applies very well to Josam Company. The company has had its ups and downs over the years. But, strong core values, a spirit of relentless innovation, and customer-focused quality have kept Josam on the scene for 100 years.
Founded in St. Louis by Joe Hirshtein and Sam Goldman as Josam Manufacturing Company back in 1914, the company made its mark with the double drainage flange drain. Hirshtein was a master plumber, and developed the product that is still a benchmark in the drainage industry to this day.
Over the years, Josam Manufacturing Company continued to develop new products, changed hands a couple of times, and experienced highs and lows before hitting some hard times in the 1980s. It filed for bankruptcy in 1985, and that is when a new set of owners stepped into the picture.
“My grandfather started with Josam in 1940, and was one of the original reps. My father, Caswell F. Holloway Jr., was second generation. He came out of the war in 1945 and came to work for my grandfather,” explained Scott Holloway Sr., president and CEO of Josam Company. “They represented Josam continuously until 1987 when my father and mother took the company out of bankruptcy.”
The Holloway family brought Josam back to life by remaining true to its central philosophy and values focused on innovation and family.
“Our philosophy goes back to the original founder, Joe Hirshtein. He always tried to be innovative and cutting-edge, and delivered products that were needed for the industry,” Holloway said. “He had a relationship with contractors, mechanical contractors and specifying engineers. We have followed that philosophy.”
Holloway is a former union contractor on the fire detection side. Josam takes great pride in knowing and understanding its customers, whether they are wholesalers, contractors or engineers. Knowing the mind of the end user helps them provide better service from start to finish. That includes everything from the functionality of the product itself to how it is packaged.
“We wanted to make the packaging easier for the contractor and wholesaler to deal with. So, it was my father’s idea to partially assemble the product, heat shrink it, and wrap it,” Holloway said. “In the last six or seven years, we’ve introduced bar coding that allows us to get the product into the field more quickly. We put equipment into our reps’ warehouses so they can pull the product, do a pick cart on it, scan it, and it automatically sends the billing to our system and simultaneously replenishes their inventory. They know every two weeks their stock truck is coming and what is on the truck.”
The culture of understanding and addressing customer needs starts at the top and trickles down to the entire company. Everyone is willing to jump in and get their hands dirty to ensure a good customer experience.
“If I have a business matter to discuss, I’ll go to Scott and he’ll understand it because he’s so active in the business,” said Paula Bowe, vice president of sales and marketing at Josam Company and a 27-year veteran of the company. “Sometimes I’ll see him on the phone and he has the parts book open identifying parts for a customer that called. I ask him what he’s doing and he says, ‘That guy needs a part and I have to help him get it.’ A lot of people won’t do that when they get to his level of management.”
Part of Josam’s approach to knowing and staying active in the industry comes from participating in the same circles as its customers.
“We’re members of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). I’m a lifetime director on the national board of the AGC and current director of the Philadelphia chapter,” Holloway explained. “We’re members of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE). My father would agree that this company wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the engineering community. The name Josam is so strong in specifications, that is what enabled us to take the company out of bankruptcy.”
Even the way the company dealt with the difficult process of changing owners and emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy says something about the integrity of the firm and its ownership.
“When Scott’s parents bought Josam, they bought the assets, not the liabilities,” Bowe explained. “Therefore, they did not have to pay the debt to the vendors that had not been paid through the bankruptcy. But, Scott’s father made every vendor whole when he bought this company and paid bonuses to the employees.”
Investment in the workforce and treating employees like family is part of the Josam way, as well. When Holloway walks around the warehouse or assembly floor, he greets each employee and knows each one’s story.
“Our employees are the lifeblood of the company,” Holloway said. “It’s a team effort and I guess I am the current captain of the team. Our philosophy is that we work as a group of one. I credit my father and grandfather for giving us those values.”
“When you come to Josam Company, you don’t come as an employee. It’s a family-owned business, and you become part of the family. It really is a family team,” Bowe said. “We work for people who truly value what their employees do for them. They realize they wouldn’t be where they are without the employees. Even with Scott, I never feel like I’m working for Scott. I feel like I work with Scott.”
Since he treats his team like family, looking after them is clearly very important to Holloway in the way he runs the operation. Even during the recent recession, when the construction industry was hit particularly hard, he took pains to avoid the workforce cuts that were such a common marker of the time.
“We were very fortunate that we didn’t have to downsize,” Holloway said. “We actually went through 2009 fine. But, with the construction industry there is always a six-month lag. So, 2010 is when we saw the recession. But with things like the Buy American Act, we were able to bring our people back to work pretty quickly.”
Keeping work in the U.S. is also important to Josam, which has the ability to supply all American made products upon request.