‘Under the radar’ to top 5 status
By Ken Ryan
For most of its nearly six decades, the brand established by Edward James Welch to deliver “unrivaled service, excellent products and superior solutions to the flooring trade” did so with little fanfare. Or, as president Mike Welch put it, “We tried to operate under the radar.”
Anonymity is no longer an option for the Earth City, Mo.-based distributor. Through a series of recent acquisitions, E.J. Welch Company has ascended to the No. 4 spot in FCNews’ Top 20 Distributors ranking, with 2020 revenue projected to be $210 million.
Within the last year, E.J. Welch, which is owned by the private equity firm Center Rock Capital Partners, has acquired T&L Distributing, a one-time Top 20 wholesaler based in Houston. In addition, the company picked up the Midwest territories of Gilford-Johnson Flooring—a Top 20 distributor in 2019—along with the Texas distribution arm of Johnson Hardwood and a sundries supply firm in Austin, Texas.
“Our rapid growth has certainly brought new opportunities along with additional challenges,” Welch told FCNews. “For example, we’d like to offer all product lines to our customers throughout our service footprint, but that is not possible for a number of reasons. Prioritizing such opportunities is quite the undertaking requiring much communication, consent and work with our supplier partners.”
Beyond the capital used for the acquisitions, private equity ownership has brought strong guidance and greater focus to the management team, Welch said. “We move with purpose and are provided with the necessary resources to accomplish our objectives. Our associates experience the excitement that comes with this growth and the expanded opportunities it provides with- in the organization.”
Twice during September, E.J. Welch made big moves. First it acquired Houston-based T&L Distributing. Even before the ink dried on that deal, E.J. Welch sealed a deal with Gilford- Johnson Flooring to purchase its Indiana, Western Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio territories, which also includes facilities. Both transactions were finalized by the end of September.
While Welch couldn’t say that additional acquisition targets are not necessarily “in play,” he revealed the objective is to “seize opportunities that mesh with both our vision and the needs of our key supplier partners. We have been humbled by the number of potential new suppliers that have approached us to represent their product lines. And while we have voids and needs for additional products in various markets, we’re currently focused on delivering additional business and increased market share to our existing supplier partners.”
E.J. Welch’s footprint covers 14 states and 25 locations across the Midwest and Mountain States. The goal is to provide one- stop shopping, with a balanced product mix led by installation supplies, including tile setting products at 28%; LVT at 20%; hardwood, predominantly engineered, at 17%; base, treads and accessories at 16%; other resilient flooring and sheet at 11%; and carpet cushion and underlayment at 8%.
The distributor’s rapid ascent has not gone unnoticed by its supply partners. “E.J. Welch is becoming a force,” said Michael Raskin, president of Raskin Industries, which has named Welch its Distributor of the Year on multiple occasions. “We have built a strong brand presence with E.J. Welch. For 2021, we have big plans, which include Acrylx and FloorNation, which were distributed by T&L and Gilford. We look forward to strengthening our position with E.J. Welch as a powerhouse distributor.”