Founded in 1976, Alpine Supply started out as a one-man operation with very little inventory that Mike Ellsworth maintained in his garage. Ellsworth is from Salt Lake City, Utah, and a graduate from LDS Business College with a degree in marketing. After graduating from college, Ellsworth worked as a freight salesman and subsequently, a salesman for electronic equipment. Upon understanding the needs of his customers, he recognized his customers needed more products than the electronic devices he could provide with his employer. Ellsworth then went on to establish Alpine Supply in an effort to satisfy those needs.
Alpine Supply started out supplying nuts & bolts to anyone who had a need for their products. In the early stages, Ellsworth found himself going door-to-door selling to businesses. Since incorporation and technological changes, Alpine Supply has shifted to a broader product offering of wires, brace fittings, cables, hardware, etc. Since 2003, Alpine Supply has aggressively averaged an increase in sales of over 21% and has increased its employee base by 40%. Alpine successfully navigated the 2008 recession, experiencing growing revenues and not laying off any employee.
As seen with numerous suppliers for nuts, bolts, wires, cables, and other hardware during the 2008 recession, it was not easy to survive. But, for Ellsworth, he was able to pull it off. This morning, I had a chance to talk with him. Here is what he had to say:
What are the top lessons you have learned in business?
First, it all starts with having a goal. How you formulate your goal determines whether your company will ultimately succeed or fail in the end. You must ask yourself: “What do I want from my business?” “What do I have to offer the market?” “How will I achieve my goals?”
Second, it is having the tenacity to set your sights on what you want and then going out and making it happen. You must be resilient and be in a position to take rejection well, you must have the ability to handle failure; otherwise, you will not succeed. The only way you are going to succeed with your business is for you to decide that you are going to make it happen and going out to make it happen. There are too many people who do not make it because they are unwilling to give their full potential. Having your own business requires that you give your full effort.
Third, is having a financial plan. The only way that I was able to make my business work was because I had some money that I invested into the business and did not take an income for the next three months. Without a financial plan, people end up killing their own business, their business starts selling, and they start taking this money as personal income. They go out of business because there is no financial footing for the business to grow. Until the business has a good, solid cash flow, you cannot take any money out of your business.
What are you most pleased about with your team?
I am most pleased about the growth my team has experienced. One of the most gratifying things about having my own business is seeing all the lives I have touched. I see 19-year-old kids come on the job and grow to managing positions within my company. I see them implementing the skills they have learned from my business into their daily lives and future jobs.
What do you see as the next level of improvement for Alpine Supply?
Our next level is training and taking on additional sales professionals. It is very difficult to experience growth when you do not give your employees adequate training. I would like to bring on a couple of new sales professionals to get things moving for us.
During the 2008 economic downturn, we did not lay anyone off and our profit margins were huge. We began buying out businesses and inventory that gave us exceptional margins. Today, our sales have leveled off a bit for the first time in years. With all the cheap inventory from the 2008 recession sold, our focus is on retaining and training sales professionals to keep up our sales growth.
What would you do differently with what you know now?
With the limited resources I had at the time, I feel that I made good decisions. Looking back, however, there were instances that I wish I had been more eager to borrow a large sum of money and expand my company at a bigger rate. This company could have been a bit bigger if I had focused more on leveraging my available capital resources and growth. My framework has always been to work within the dollars I have, so I think this conservative approach has really limited my ability to take risks.
What were your top motivators for going into business in 1976?
The motivating factor for me was that the company I was originally working for was really struggling. I realized that my main source of income was going to be cut off. I then realized that I could do what this company was doing, but I could do it profitably. I then started Alpine Supply.
Today, as I am looking to retire, my motivating factor is to simply create an environment where my employees can continue working and have a job. I am not interested in the money I could receive from selling the company. I am interested in leaving a company with an environment where people work together for a common goal. I value the synergy my team has developed with each other.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
The most exciting part of this business has been that I have helped hundreds of customers and companies. We have hired hundreds of people over the years. We have helped them grow and develop skills that they then use in their future employment. I have enjoyed seeing my employees’ progress during their time with us. I want a legacy where people recognize me as having provided this environment of people working together as a team with great synergy. I have worked with my employees and have spent more time with them during the course of a workday than I have with my own family. I hope they have had a great experience working for me. I strive to provide my employees with the resources they need to succeed on the job, in life, and in their families.