THOMASVILLE, GA. — Wheels down in Jacksonville, Fla., I was looking forward to meeting my contact, and ride, for a quick jaunt to Thomasville, Ga. Last month, members of the trade media were invited to Wilo USA’s grand opening of its 60,000-sq.ft. (under roof) distribution center (DC) located in the small town of Thomasville. A company on the move, Wilo USA is a provider of pumps and pump solutions for water management, building services and groundwater.

Turns out, Dereck Withey, a Wilo service rep in the Northeast, was my contact, and he couldn’t have been more gracious. Having been with the company a little more than a year, I could sense his enthusiasm working for the pump company. Later, I would sense this same enthusiasm and pride from other Wilo employees working for a company on the rise here in the states.

As we traveled the beautiful Florida/Georgia countryside to our destination, the thought had crossed my mind: Why Thomasville? I was quick to find out that the new distribution center—a former lumber yard—made perfect sense. Wilo’s manufacturing facility has been in Thomasville for many decades, and in 2007, Wilo opened its new, and current, state-of-the-art factory. The distribution center allows Wilo much better proximity to its manufacturing facility, while improving upon intra-company logistics. It also offers closer proximity to its Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., inbound ports where Wilo receives goods from its parent company’s European factories.

And, the bonds built in Thomasville have been strong. “We have a long-standing relationship in this community,” said Mark D’Agostino, president and CEO, Wilo USA. “Thomasville has always provided us with a great business environment and a top-notch labor pool. These factors, coupled with the proximity to our inbound ports — one-day inbound freight, made it a logical choice. This can improve Wilo’s overall logistics by as much as three weeks versus its previous facility.”

The new distribution center — which actually had been in operation before the visit — affords Wilo the potential for growth in the states. It is a much larger facility that our previous one, and it provides much better access and reduced order processing times. “This new facility allows for a seamless transition of shipping to customers. We now can operate at a near 100% fill rate accuracy,” said D’Agostino. It also will provide room for Wilo’s current budgeted growth through 2017. Another advantage in relation to Wilo’s growth potential is the location of the distribution center adjacent to a rail system. As Wilo grows, it can collaborate with other businesses in the Thomasville area to co-ship, bringing freight costs down.

DC Tour guide, Chris Perkins, director of operations at the distribution center, was quick to point out some of the advantages of the new facility. “One clear advantage this facility has over the previous one is the separation of its shipping bay doors, where there are dedicated inbound and outbound bays,” said Perkins. In an effort to be more sustainable, Perkins pointed out that the distribution center operated under the blanket of daylighting, where savings on lighting costs were more than measurable.

Wilo assembly plant

Later in the day, media was treated to a tour of the nearby Wilo assembly plant. The 58,000-sq.ft. facility (45,000-sq.ft. on-floor production) assembles and tests up to 110, 2-hp and larger pumps per month. The effervescent Paulina Tompea, production manager at the facility, led the tour. Tompea explained that Wilo practices “Lean” manufacturing, a technique that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, thus a target for elimination. Employing one full shift and a smaller afternoon shift, the plant utilizes non-dedicated working stations or “pods,” where each employee has four cross-manufacturing skills.

The goal of the plan is to create zero hazardous waste by next year, and part of that plan included changing out the existing, inefficient lighting last year. “If lighting goes out, you need to shut down a line, causing a delay in production. It has real tangible effects in terms of your customers and production in your facility,” said Tompea. The change-out of the old fluorescent lighting resulted in a 72% audit improvement. “When I saw Chris (Perkins) and Paulina (Tompea) fighting for every audit point, it was a very ‘proud father’ moment for me,” said D’Agostino.

Factory service center

In the near future, Wilo will be opening an in-house factory service center, housed by the Thomasville distribution center. Using a global service concept, this will present Wilo an opportunity to maintain a high level of service all over the world. The new service initiative revolves around the concept that is unique to Wilo: “Pioneering for You,” through an enhanced customer satisfaction experience.

Peter Glauner, senior vice president of group services, and Ralf Peifer, newly appointed director of service for the new factory service center, will be responsible for defining all processes and procedures within the service department; assessing and auditing third-party service centers; and managing pumps, parts and service sales through the service centers, among other responsibilities.

On my journey home I had remembered something that D’Agostino had said, and it rings true to the core concepts at Wilo: Every single employee is important to the efforts of Wilo USA as a whole. “Without them, this whole process would not work,” said D’Agostino.

Enthusiastic employees. That’s what it’s all about.