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WDI-Durable Goods

W.C. DuComb Co.

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During its 100-year history, W.C. DuComb Co. has overcome a number of challenges to become a premier distributor within its region. Within the past 10 years, this has included dealing directly with the impact of the 2008-09 recession, which hit its hometown and target industries particularly hard.

“We’ve been through ups and downs as much as anyone, especially during the recession, when auto companies were struggling,” says Steven DuComb, operations manager of the Detroit-based company. “I’m proud of our people and our ability to adapt and endure whatever is thrown at us. We always tend to come out better as a company every time we face adversity.”

 The company distributes bearings, power transmission products and electric motors to industries including conveyor and machinery OEMs, industrial processors and machine rebuilders. Many of the conveyor systems W.C. DuComb supplies are used in automotive manufacturing. The company mainly serves the southeast Michigan and northern Ohio geographic areas.

Steven DuComb represents the fourth generation of the DuComb family involved in management at the company, which was founded in 1915 by William C. DuComb, his great-grandfather.

Stepping Up

W.C. DuComb’s family oriented culture allowed it to manage through the Great Recession and other obstacles. The company made adjustments including pay reductions that it later paid back to employees, but did not lay off personnel. “We are a small company that is flexible and responsive, so every time we’ve hit a major issue or obstacle we’ve looked internally and asked what we can do to make our jobs better,” DuComb says. “Every time we’ve had obstacles, we’ve stepped up and found ways to improve.”

Within the past few years, the company has taken advantage of the recovering economy by making several capital investments including renovating its offices and installing a new phone system. 

Most recently, the company proved itself resilient following the passing of William DuComb, its president and Steven’s father, in early 2015. Jim LaHaie, the company’s longtime vice president, stepped into the main leadership role, while Steven DuComb moved into his current role. DuComb, who had previously served as an outside sales representative, worked to streamline and add automation to many of the company’s processes. This added efficiency allowed LaHaie to better focus on his new duties, DuComb says.

The company’s automation efforts include the use of web portals in purchasing. “We’re receiving more orders and requests for quotes and support through e-mail now than ever before,” he adds. “We used to have phones ringing off the hook, now you can walk through the office and barely hear a phone ring.”

Industry Challenges

Two current challenges the company is working to overcome are more industry-wide in nature. Like many of its peers, W.C. DuComb is working to address the challenge of online-based competition. “Many of the products we sell are very specialized and complex and require a great deal of support, so we don’t do online sales, but we are investigating that possibility,” DuComb says. “There is a need for it, and our customers want it; we are just looking at what mix of the products we carry can be sold that way.” 

W.C. DuComb is also looking at ways to address the wholesale distribution industry’s impending age gap. “There is 70 to 80 percent of the wholesale workforce that is close to retirement age that will take a lot of knowledge with them when they leave the industry,” he adds. “Across the industry, we’re trying to figure out how to transfer that knowledge over in a short period of time.”

The company recently hired two new employees, and hopes to replace retiring staff members over the next few years. “We want to onboard people now so they have the time to glean experience and knowledge before people retire or move on,” DuComb says. 

A Legacy of Service

The company’s new employees will enable the company to continue its legacy of service to its customers. “We have always offered a very high level of service,” DuComb says. “I know everyone says that, but because we’re a smaller company, it is much easier for us to adapt and respond to a customer’s needs. If one of our customers has an emergency, it’s not uncommon for a salesperson to drop what they’re doing and help them out.” 

Support services provided by the company include bearing reconditioning and repair, ball screw repair, custom contract manufacturing, gearbox repair and overrunning clutch repair.

W.C. DuComb has worked with many of its customers for several decades. The company also enjoys long-lived relationships with several of the manufacturers who supply the products it stocks. “Our product lines may have changed in terms of brandnames over the years, but we have a lot of major suppliers who have been with us for a long time and who we have strong relationships with,” he adds. 

The company stocks products from a number of manufacturers including:

    • Baldor Electric
    • Dodge
    • Falk
    • Gates
    • Jason Megadyne
    • Linkbelt
    • NSK
    • Rexnord
    • Schaeffler Group (Barden, FAG, INA)
    • SKF Linear & Tools
    • U.S. Tsubaki

W.C. DuComb also maintains strong ties within its industry and community. The company is highly active in the Power Transmission Manufacturers Association, the largest industry association serving its business. 

The company also sponsors an annual golf outing for the March of Dimes, which DuComb’s father once served as a local board member. The event in 2015 was renamed for William DuComb. “The March of Dimes was something he was very passionate about,” Steven DuComb says. 

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