By Diane M. Calabrese / Published October 2015
“Virtue, liberty, and independence” is the motto of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s an apt one for the second state to ratify the Constitution. Right thinking and excellence (virtue defined) drive the varied economic activity in the Keystone State. Coal, iron ore, steel and iron, chemicals, manufacturing, apparel, and agriculture are all in the mix.
Barens, Inc., a company well-known to readers of this magazine, is among the small businesses fueling commerce—and excellence, liberty, and independence—in Pennsylvania. Located in Seneca, PA, Barens was established in 1994 by its president, Gary Barnes.
A supplier of pressure washer parts and accessories, Barens meets the needs of retailers and related entities. “We sell to retailers—somebody who has a storefront or Internet presence,” says Dave Hildebrand, vice president at Barens. “We also sell to car washes and pressure washer repair centers.”
With each order response, Barens demonstrates that speed and accuracy are wholly compatible. The company sets the goal of 100 percent accuracy, and it tracks itself at greater than 99 percent (and climbing).
Bound up with accuracy is delivery of a quality product. The team at Barens gives significant attention to optimizing packaging. Packaging protects the integrity of items shipped and does so in a way that does not add unnecessary weight or dimensions to a box or container.
Barnes saw a geographical need for a supplier of pressure washer parts and machines in the Eastern part of the United States. From its location in Venango County in northwest Pennsylvania, Barens would be able to cut the delivery time to customers in the Northeast. That in a nugget describes the inception of the company.
Today, Barens serves customers in Canada and Mexico and across the United States. In addition to its main facility in Seneca, the company has a warehouse in Fort Mohave, AZ. Fort Mohave is just across the Colorado River from Laughlin, NV.
Barnes chose Barens for the name of the company because it was the family name of his grandfather before it somehow got changed. In founding Barens, Barnes worked closely with two colleagues, Frank Shaderline and Mike Baker.
Shaderline and Baker owned an Alkota distributorship, which they left to join Barens. Shaderline served as vice president of Barens until his passing in 2008. Baker, who was corporate secretary and warehouse manager in the early days of the firm, left to pursue other interests in 1996.
Barnes brought a wealth of experience to his company, including training as a helicopter pilot, military service, college studies in chemistry, and a college degree in business and economics. Members of his team also bring diverse expertise to the company. For instance, Hildebrand earned a degree in journalism and as an avocation, he is a local broadcaster on sports-talk radio.
A proprietary barcoding and carousel system has been in place at Barens since 1995. The Seneca facility and the Fort Mohave warehouse now each have two such ever-more sophisticated systems operating.
Automated item picking means that from the time an order is received to the time it departs the facility, it is handled only three times. Barcoding not only enhances fulfillment of orders, but it also ties to an order-management system that ties together inventory, billing, finance, and so on.
“Products that leave here, leave here quickly—and unbroken,” says Hildebrand. “The one thing customers always talk about is that we have the best packaging in the industry.”
Barens has 25 employees at its Seneca facility and four full-time and one part-time employee at its Fort Mohave warehouse. Betty Claunch manages the warehouse in the West.
Seneca, PA and Fort Mohave, AZ are 1,900 miles apart as the crow flies. The geographic reach afforded by the two facilities boosts the response time to customers—both by shortening travel for products and by increasing availability by phone of service representatives.
“We just concentrate on our business and do our job,” explains Hilde-brand. That concentration includes identifying and implementing im-provements in serving customers. “Most of our people have been here 10 years or more,” says Hildebrand. “They work hard when they are here. When we add personnel, it’s on a need basis.”
Generally, when a position opens, it is because someone has left, explains Hildebrand. And employees do not leave often. Good business planning reserves certain maintenance activities for winter, so that should the volume of sales ebb with the season, employees of Barens continue in their employment.
Dennis Fry, the warehouse manager for the Seneca facility and the OSHA compliance officer at Barens, has been with the company for almost 21 years. Across those years, the customer has been front and center in his mind. [See the “Barens, Inc… A Good Place to Work” for a few reflections from Fry and three of his colleagues.]
“We’re constantly trying to save our customers money,” says Fry. “We’re constantly trimming boxes.” Load optimization concerns everyone at Barens, explains Fry. “Everybody works together. Shipping is expensive.” Anything the team can do to trim a box or lighten a package ultimately feeds into cutting something from the cost of a shipment.
“A lot of it is like putting a puzzle together,” says Fry. It’s engaging—and the entire team at Barens helps by finding pieces that fit and bringing them forward. Fry cites the challenge of higher-pressure hoses that are heavier. “We try to keep our boxes under 70 pounds,” he explains, striving for the best shipping rates. The question thus becomes “two boxes or one box” and that sort of decision-making
process makes the day-to-day as interesting as it is challenging.
Carrying on his duties as OSHA compliance officer is made easier by the commitment of the team at Barens. Safety is something that everyone takes seriously, says Fry. “We’re constantly looking at safety,” explains Fry. And “awareness” throughout the day, every day, is key.
As the industry has changed, so has Barens. Concrete surface cleaners and wastewater vacuums are among the newest items in the catalog, which is available online (www.Barens.com).
The robust product roster at Barens includes hoses, pump parts, electrical parts, wands, pump protectors, swivels, trigger spray guns, valves of all types, hose reels, filters, and strainers. Pressure washers do not differ drastically from one another. There’s a certain synergy even among competitors. And Hildebrand comments on it.
“All of us know each other,” says Hildebrand. “We have the same product lines. We’re not antagonists toward each other. We swap back and forth when necessary. We all try to be the best.”
An oblique force, as opposed to direct competitors, requires the most adjustment for industry members. “Probably the biggest challenge is the ability of customers to price compare,” says Hildebrand, pointing to the Internet. “There are only so many customers.”
Quality products and getting the word out regarding quality products are central to addressing the concerns of prospective customers. Educate customers when they ask why product x-2 is less expensive than the seemingly similar product x, and they will more often than not choose product x.
“The industry itself is not a fast-moving system,” says Hildebrand. “The purchasing process has changed the most.” Among the factors influencing purchasing is manufacturing in China. “We are now importing a lot of accessories, but not pumps and motors,” explains Hildebrand.
Barens is a member of the Cleaning Equipment Trade Association (CETA). “We exhibit every year. This year we will be in Las Vegas.” To avoid generating confusion by exhibiting alongside its retailer customers, Barens does not exhibit at contractor tradeshows.
Seneca is a place name frequently found across the northern tier of the United States. The Seneca, however, first made their home in the woodlands just north and east of Seneca, PA. Because the Seneca guided early French explorers and then trappers, the name of the group is widely known (and tapped as a moniker). By the 1600s, the Seneca were part of the five nations aligned as the Iroquois. The knowledge Seneca members shared in building log and pole houses fortified the strong foundation on which Pennsylvania grew.
It’s poetic that an exemplar of how small business is done, Barens, makes its home in Seneca, PA. (The warehouse for Barens in the West is in a town that takes its name from the Mohave—rarely, Mojave, a group of Native Americans with a territory along the southern Colorado River.)
Seneca, PA, also has deep ties to industrial history. Fourteen miles to the north is Titusville, PA, the place where Colonel Edmund Drake drilled the first oil well in the United States. Oil City, PA, which is just three miles away from Seneca, was until the 1980s the headquarters for Quaker State, Pennzoil, and Wolf’s Head oil refineries.
Commitment is the word that encompasses the team and activities at Barens. (It’s much like the commitment of a Seneca guide in unchartered or rugged territory—or the seriousness of purpose in extracting and refining oil.)
The effort that goes into making the products that customers purchase from Barens is as important to the company as it is to the customers, explains Hildebrand. The integrity of the product that is protected by well-thought-out packaging begins in the purchasing or the assembly of that product.
“There’s a lot of internal manufacturing that goes on here,” says Hildebrand. “A lot of our customers when we say we are short of something are quite disappointed.” To be sure, Barens aims not to be short of product, but unanticipated pulses happen from time to time. The philosophy of Barnes is that the operation of Barens should be one of a dynamic but stable equilibrium. That sort of outcome results from good guidance and good teamwork, both of which are integral parts of the day-to-day at Barens, Inc.
Yes, there are unexpected turns. Yet with a team where responsibility and accountability define each employee, the turns are handled as they arise. “Our philosophy has always been that the customer comes first,” says Hildebrand. It takes sustained teamwork to make that so.
Barens Inc… A Good Place To Work
After 20 years at Barens, it’s been wonderful. Probably the most rewarding is knowing what we do [to serve the customer]. I find it challenging. I like it.
Dennis Fry, warehouse director, Seneca, PA
It’s a nice, family-owned corporation. The day-to-day, the people we have around us…we’re all long-termers here. We can get together on goals. We do make some of our own pressure washers here. Everything, before it leaves here, it’s completely tested. We’ve got a very good company here.
Rick Heckathorn, purchasing agent, Seneca, PA
It’s a good place to work. The people we work with are a great bunch of customers. We strive to take care of the customer. We try to have fun.
Steve Rowland, production and inventory management, Seneca, PA
I like dealing with people. You get to talk to new people. I’ve got a lot of great customers. I get to talk to some great people every day here at work. The [team here and the customers] are very nice people to work with. We process orders so quickly, we get a lot of compliments.
Ted Snyder, sales representative, Seneca, PA