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Jon Guy is President and CEO of Waltron Bull & Roberts, a company that specializes in steam and water chemistry management. Keith Buscio, Vice President, Director of Public Relations, Provident Bank, spoke with Jon to learn more about the company’s success and to discuss how Provident helped Waltron during one of the toughest years the company has ever faced.
KB: Tell us about your business
JG: Founded in 1903 by chemists Irving Bull and Alfred Roberts, Waltron has a long history of expertise in water chemistry management. The company started as an analytical and consulting laboratory in lower Manhattan in New York City – a perfect location to sample, analyze, and make recommendations for the boiler water of the many steamships that are called in to the major seaport there. In fact, our company pioneered the first modern boiler water treatment program, including the first nuclear water chemistry program on a commercial ship, and at one point had nearly half of the US merchant fleet under contract.
The company was sold in 1984. At that point, the company focused on analytical instruments rebranded as Waltron. These instruments would help analyze the balance between water and steam for companies and businesses that needed water to be pure. For example, power generations, industrial processes, and semi-conductors. To put it into perspective, Waltron’s sodium analyzer can measure a grain of salt in an Olympic sized pool. In 2014, I assumed ownership of the business and realized the original name was still available, so I merged it with its current name and lo and behold, Waltron Bull & Roberts was born.
KB: How has your business been affected by the pandemic?
JG: We have been monitoring the pandemic since the very early stages. In 2016, we opened a sales office in China. When the pandemic hit, our Chinese sales director was on lockdown since the Chinese New Year, which took place mid-January 2020. While we kept in touch with our Chinese market, we anticipated our sales in China would take a hit, and they did. We had major deals that were set to take place in the months of February and March of 2020. These deal were pushed into April and May. While China began to climb out of the worst part of the pandemic, we saw the European markets begin to be impacted. We have partners in Europe who were just beginning to see the worst of their Coronavirus numbers at this time. We now had a high demand for supplies coming from customers and no way to produce the products fast enough to meet demand. At this time, we began to feel the animosity and anxiety about whether or not we would be put into the same restrictions as our foreign business partners.
Shortly after, as the worry began to set in, we received a letter from the NAVY that stated we will operate and remain open, under no circumstances should we close. We never skipped a beat. Our employees kept working and we were able to keep our doors open for business throughout the pandemic.
KB: What are some of the changes you’ve had to make to your business that you never would have anticipated this time last year?
JG: The sales that we coordinate typically require employees to go off-site. We have distributors around the world. While services dried up for a short period of time during all of this, we learned that we needed to become more creative when it came to keeping our customers engaged. Our customers are essential businesses, for example, power plants. While power plants need to remain open to operate, it does not mean they always need to buy new instruments to operate. This is when we started doing more video conferencing, videos for sales training, and “how to’s” for customers.
KB: How have you helped some of your customers during the pandemic?
JG: From the beginning, we wanted to make sure that if there were challenges getting supplies to our customers, we had solutions to overcome them. The goal was to ensure we had a plan before disaster hit. We were able to help our customers by keeping our employees working, our doors open, and providing virtual ways to help our customers.
KB: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during the pandemic?
JG: When you’re a small business owner, there isn’t a lot of room for error. During the pandemic, we had to make our moves carefully and accurately, or risk losing it all. Personally, my risk tolerance is different than the average person. That comes with being a business owner. I had to learn that not everyone has that same risk tolerance as me. I needed to make sure my employees felt safe while working, as well as addressing their concerns for safety and health. When possible, employees were able to work remotely. Then again, everyone in the manufacturing industry has the capability to work remotely. So, it was important to me to communicate to my employees that while working remotely, staying focus and remaining productive was key.
KB: How has the pandemic changed how you will do business moving forward?
JG: We prepared ourselves to seek additional funding and resources once we knew how bad this was going to be. My main concern was keeping our employees working. The SBA team at Provident Bank was extraordinary. Without a doubt, Provident’s attention to detail and commitment to its customers proved to be successful for my business. The help I received from the SBA team with the Paycheck Protection Program was flawless. Because of Provident’s superior organization, attentiveness to clients, and my early document preparation, in just a few days we received the funding we needed from the Paycheck Protection Program. Moving forward, I will always take those extra steps with regard to preparation. Preparedness has helped my business push through the hardest of days successfully. The working capital has helped me bring operations back to the United States, so we are less dependent on foreign business, which proved to be a threat when the global pandemic hit China and Europe. The Paycheck Protection Program saved my business.
KB: How has Provident Bank helped your business through the pandemic? How have they demonstrated their commitment?
JG: The communication from the SBA team at Provident Bank was outstanding. Matt Flannery and his team were incredibly responsive and helped to share information. He and his team were always able to explain new information regarding the Paycheck Protection Program thoroughly and clearly. It was the confidence of knowing that Provident Bank had my back and knew how to accurately handle the situation. This is what separates Provident Bank from other banks. I made sure to share my experience with Chris Martin, Provident’s Chairman and CEO, and explain how much Matt Flannery’s team helped my business. I wanted him to know how proud he should be of his team. Even when the world is tumbling down on you and on your business, Provident Bank has the resources and strategies to handle it, and they do it effortlessly. That’s Commitment you can count on!