Community Forum : Point of View
Welcome Guest   
 Subject : Personal History of Doris and Rennie Johnson, Vancouver Bolt & Sup.. 10/27/2011 04:06:52 PM 

Vancouver Bolt & Supply Inc - 17 Years and Growing

by Jennifer D. Meacham, 1995

The inspiration to build a business from rejection, through seemingly continuing hardship, to an uphill climb even at Capital Hill is still a mystery for this family owned and operated company.

“We must have been nuts, I think…,” Doris Johnson, President of Vancouver Bolt & Supply, says with a laugh.

Despite adversity, Johnson’s fight for the growth of her business and other small businesses has endeared her to employees, the community, a nationwide business coalition, and, most importantly, her family.

“Often the growth of a family business is equated with the family growing apart. But with each new challenge, we have actually grown closer...we agree to disagree, but not be disagreeable,” says Johnson.

It was seventeen years ago that Doris and her husband Rennie headed to Vancouver from Tacoma. Rennie was working for a large industrial distributor in Tacoma at the time. When that company refused to open a Vancouver office, he started one up himself.

From scratch, they built up a business selling basic parts and tools to mills, contractors, and fabricators in the local area. Today, with the addition of their son Craig and his wife, and forty-plus employees, the Vancouver Bolt & Supply’s orders extend throughout the Northwest, even into California, Alaska, and Arizona.

But it has not always been easy for the Johnsons.

“This is a highly competitive business, with numerous fastener companies in the Portland and Seattle Area,” says Doris, as she sits in front of her computer with the steadily ringing phones. “But we have overcome a lot of hurdles in the past 17 years to get here and we are still growing fast."

In the 1980’s, with a recession and a 23% bank loan, there were few profits left to take home. So the family worked together to do as much as they could to keep the business afloat on their own, from janitorial work to repainting; anything to keep overhead down. So while many companies were going belly-up in the economic decline, Vancouver Bolt & Supply tightened its belt and was fortunate to survive. In the meantime, they were also able to accrue a bevy of new employees laid off from other area companies. These employees were more than willing to do what it took to insure that the company survived.

With everyone working together to streamline business operations and improve customer service, Vancouver Bolt and Sup­ply saw impressive growth. After Rennie Johnson went through an extended illness in 1989 and stepped down from company Presi­dent to CEO, Doris Johnson took to the helm. It was Doris who handled the company's operations as it geared up for expansion in 1990.

"We went to the Small Business Admin­istration and tried to pay off our existing loan in order to prepare for our expansion. But we were told that if we paid off the loan, we would still be charged the remaining 25 years of interest," said Johnson.

What followed is no surprise to most in the community, and garnered her national notoriety as a forerunner for small business rights. She took her case against the SBA to Congress. After four long years of Senate hearings, protests in front of the US Trea­sury Building, 8,000 hand written letters to small businesses around the nation and re­lated authorities, and with the backing of thousands around the nation, the President finally signed into action a temporary loan interest "forgiveness" bill for small busi­nesses. So, in 1995, the Johnson family paid off their loan and aligned the company to again prepare for its growth.

With the addition of their first branch in Longview (headed up by Craig Johnson) and plans for expansion of the existing build­ing in downtown Vancouver, they are well on their way. In a company-wide weekend retreat earlier this year, Doris met with the steadily growing number of employees to assure them, "We all have the same values and (its important that) the employees un­derstand ours. The customers are our num­ber one focus, but we also want this to be the best place to work in town."

"In hiring we also look at all of our ap­plicants as future leaders in the company and are really starting to focus on hiring from within," Doris continued. ''From our offices to the sales staff, everyone here is a professional."

Johnson insures that anyone who works with Vancouver Bolt & Supply has the desire and the training available to fully understand their products, answer contractors’ specific questions, and (in short) be fully qualified.

"There are no 'warehouse' jobs any more," she said. "Almost every part of running this business is completely computerized and those parts that aren't must be fully memorized and comprehended. In this industry there are no longer jobs for someone who wants to just be a forklift operator. Everything is now so highly technical, from the Warehouse to the front office.

So how does a smaller industry supply company withstand the intense competition in the area? Not only are those at Vancouver Bolt & Supply highly trained professional but their emphasis is on pleasing the customer.

"The key to keeping our customer happy is in having the best value-added service," says Doris. "We may not have the lowest price, but we will most definitely have the fairest."

It is through this example of fairness that Johnson has been recognized as an Executive Committee member for the Associate of Washington Businesses, President of the Vancouver School Foundation, and an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary. It is through this sense of responsibility that Doris, along with those who have made Vancouver Bolt & Supply withstand the test of time, has earned the reputation as an indispensable leader in, not only the fastener industry, but in the community as well.
# of Topics per Page