Volume 33, Number 12, December 1998


Southern Hospitality Reigns 
at Salem Distributing Company

by Debra Levy

Hospitality—the Southern kind of course—is in great abundance in Winston-Salem. The city itself is a vibrant blend of traditional style and the latest in urbane fashion. Discovering a four-star gourmet restaurant hidden away in a conventional shopping mall is not unusual, as Salem mixes old and new into a model of success.

That same model of success holds true for the city’s namesake, Salem Distributing Company of Winston-Salem, NC. Founded 65 years ago, the company is a successful mix of traditional values in service and quality with new technology and innovation. It is an international corporation with extensive sales overseas. In 1997, the company’s total sales were $28 million, $20.3 million of which was from sales of supplies and parts and $7.7 million from machinery.

Salem established direct marketing and foreign sales departments in 1992. It maintains warehouses in Los Angeles, CA, Dallas, TX, St. Cloud, MN and Toronto, Canada.

Then called Siewers Sales Agency, Salem began in 1934 as a supplier to the furniture industry. Salem general manager Bob Long purchased the company in 1977. "Siewers supplied a lot of the things furniture companies used, but didn’t even have a name for," said Long.

Eventually, the Siewers group decided to specialize in providing materials for the protection of glass. "It was a profitable and growing area of the company," says Long. In addition to providing materials to protect glass furniture, the company also provided services to ophthalmic lens manufacturers and continued its focus on cutting and polishing hard materials. "In just two words, our specialty has always been "surface preparation."

After working as the United States agent for a few European manufacturers, Long struck a deal with Elettromeccanica Luigi Bovone to become the exclusive sales agency in the United States and Canada for all Bovone beveling machines, mirror fabrication lines, washing machines and insulating and laminated glass lines. "We’ve been proud to represent these products," says Long, " and we do try and provide exceptional customer service."

At about the same time, the company also became the U.S. agent for Zanetti which produced straight line edgers, shape bevelers and edging machines. It also serves as the exclusive agency for all the equipment of the Italian firms of Deltaprogetti, which makes double edgers and robots and for Pezza sandblasting equipment.

The popularity of Salem’s products was in evidence at glasstec ‘98 in Dussseldorf (see related story page 81) where Long was one of the busiest people there working at the Zanetti/ Salem and Bovone stand at a non-stop pace.

The bankruptcy of Zanetti in 1996 could have been a major blow to Salem, but Long was able to turn it into an opportunity instead. Salem purchased the assets of Zanetti and changed its name to Zanetti Macchine, the name under which it still operates today. "I’d been through so much over the years with a whole variety of manufacturers," says Long, "that I always keep a contingency plan in place. We also had a strong obligation to customers who had bought those machines, so we made it work."

Long has a penchant for making it work. When the company moved into its new 50,000 square foot home office and warehouse in 1995, it was Long who conceived and designed most of it. The building is completely balanced in two planes and the center portion can be subdivided according to space needs. "We needed a place where we could meet with all employees at once," says Long. "This happens at least once a month, so when it does we have the space for it."

The interior office cubicles are all designed with the electrical, telephone and computer cables inside so one never has the opportunity to see—or trip over—them. The first row of offices have symmetrical windows into the adjacent offices, making it possible for anyone (including Long) to look out from their office and see what others are doing.

The warehouse is designed as efficiently as any in the country and includes a built-in crane for moving machinery. It includes a complete line of spare parts for all the machines as well as a staff of trained technicians capable of servicing all the machines it sells. "We maintain the largest stock of spare parts of any American distributing company," says Maurice Fox, controller and head of purchasing.

Long is proud of the number of employees who have been with the company for decades. The employees themselves get to take advantage of a bit of Southern hospitality, as the kitchen is full of sodas and coffee available to them at no charge.

When asked what’s next for Salem, the company cites plans for future growth. ‘We’re not done growing yet," said Richard Broughton, sales manager.

"In 1972 our revenues were under $1 million; in 1990 they reached $13 million and last year $28 million, we are still growing and still working on new things," says Long, "I’m not near finished yet," he says with a smile.

Debra Levy is the publisher of USGlass magazine.


Copyright 1998 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.