Brett Walton has taken to wearing his name on his shirt.
Walton is about to change the name of his company, Mid-Western Research & Supply, a supplier of meat-processing equipment and supplies nationwide, to Walton’s Inc.
The company was founded by his father, Don Walton, in 1986. His sister, Stephanie Jennings, is the office manager; his wife, Sandy, designs the catalogs; and their son Austin runs the website. It’s been a family business without a family name.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal except that he’s got big plans for the future.
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The company has seen double-digit growth almost every year over the past decade. It has outgrown its warehouse/office in Old Town, and he expects to start construction on a new building soon, perhaps within a few months.
The company, at 430 N. Mosley, has 23 employees, and Walton expects $9 million in sales this year.
About 85 percent of the company’s sales come from 4,000 small meat processors, called meat lockers. The rest of the sales are to individuals, typically hunters, who want to make their own sausage or ground meat.
The old 25,000-square-foot brick warehouse, which is broken into a maze of rooms, reaches its peak of activity in the fall, with the arrival of hunting season and the holidays. It starts slowing in late winter and hits its low spot in May.
This time of year allows him to think ahead.
“I’m really excited looking forward,” he said.
Don Walton – who for decades was DJ “Little Donnie Doodad” on KFDI-AM – started the company after working at Ohse Foods. He saw an opportunity to supply grinder plates and knife blades for the company’s commercial meat machines.
Brett Walton came over to the company from a floor supervising job at Love Box in 1996. Growth accelerated in 2001 when the company sent out its first catalogs.
It’s been averaging more than 10 percent annual growth ever since. The recession and tough recovery haven’t dented his sales growth at all, he said.
Brett Walton attributes that mainly to the fact that he’s a relatively small player in a big market, even though he’s probably the second-largest distributor of meat-processing supplies to commercial butchers. Plus, he said, food is largely recession proof.
“Meat processors haven’t slowed down because people keep eating,” he said.
His competitive edge against a larger competitor, he said, is customer service.
“We’re not going to be any cheaper,” he said. “The only difference is when they dial us up, they get a live person who will say ‘hello,’ engage in conversation, ask how the weather is.”
That’s the real reason behind the name change, he said.
The old name, Mid-Western Research and Supply, caused confusion. There’s no laboratory or research scientists.
“That’s been a pain for years,” Walton said. “Our customers are family-owned businesses, and we want them to feel that this is one, too.”
Jeff Krehbiel, manager of Krehbiels Specialty Meats in McPherson, loves that customer service. He buys a wide range of supplies, from rubber boots to sausage seasoning, from Mid-West.
“Brett is a great guy and would do anything for you,” he said. “They always act as if they really want your business.”
Walton sees a bright future.
To start with, the new warehouse/office will include a retail store three times as large as the one at the present site. And it won’t be only for hunters, he said.
“I bet there are tens of thousands of people in Wichita who would be interested in coming if they knew we had everything for everyday grilling.”
His biggest retail competitor, he said, will be Cabela’s.
But the company’s future really depends on additional sales to the nation’s commercial meat processors.
There are 15,000 meat lockers across the country. That number continues to slowly decline, said Jay Wenther of the American Association of Meat Processors. The main reason, he said, is that many small mom-and-pop meat lockers have trouble meeting stringent government standards.
But, he said, the trend toward local eating has helped boost those that remain.
“People really like that the quality is better and the raw materials are locally sourced,” Wenther said.
Walton isn’t worried. As the numbers drift down, the meat lockers that stay have gotten bigger and more sophisticated. Walton sees a chance to sell them more.
“We’re always adding stuff,” he said.