Fueled by Amazon, eBay success, distributor experiences rapid growth

April 16, 2018

This piece is presented by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Bob Weisser can’t help but laugh when asked if he even recognizes his business anymore.

For years, he ran Weisser Distributing out of his home, using catalogs and a briefcase of samples to sell auto parts, sandpaper and screwdrivers.

As for the internet?

“I never really got into that kind of stuff until my son came along and changed my mind,” he said.

Eric Weisser, who joined the business about eight years ago, was a high school business teacher in Minnesota when his parents called him and asked if he’d consider coming back to help run the family business.

“The biggest thing I needed to do was get inventory levels under control,” he said.

“So we decided one day, ‘Let’s put things online and see what happens,’ and things started to sell at a pretty good clip.”

Ebay began to deliver customers for the Weissers, who decided “maybe we could sell some more, so we hired someone part-time to list products, and after a month he was full time, and we were off to the races.”

And what a race it has been.

The business that did $1 million in revenue with three employees in 2011 has grown to almost 100 employees and $50 million in annual revenue.

“Every day is exciting. There’s nothing normal any day, anytime,” Bob Weisser said.

The business has outgrown not just the family garage but other office and warehouse space. It now has an office and distribution center in Tea.

The company sells 13,000 products in seven verticals on Amazon, eBay and other e-commerce sites such as Walmart.com and Jet. The emphasis is on auto-related items, but Weisser also distributes merchandise such as outdoor games and hunting gear. The plan is to add six more verticals this year.

“We think in the Sioux Falls location we could be around 250 employees and around $250 million in revenue, and we have a strategic plan that takes us out 10 years. But that probably involves an East Cost and West Coast warehouse,” Eric Weisser said.

Workforce strategies

The rapid growth has required an intentional approach to hiring and retention. After first hiring friends and “anybody we thought was looking for a job or we thought would be a good fit,” they started asked applicants “How long would it take you to run the whole company? How long would you have to work here to run it yourself?”

They were looking for confident people who said they could run the business in 10 to 12 months.

It helped fuel even more growth, but with a heavy “alpha” workforce population, the company had to adjust its hiring criteria.

It now hires based on cultural fit, asking questions like “Talk to me about a time in a previous job when you were a visionary” or “Talk to me about a time you showed integrity.” In 90 days, employees are reviewed against that criteria.

There’s a broad range of jobs being grown here, from IT and data science to warehouse positions.

Many people “have moved up and grown and increased their pay and increased their liking of their job,” Bob Weisser said. “It’s a very interesting job every day.”

Mike Thompson agrees.

He grew up in Huron, attended Southeast Technical Institute, and landed an entry-level job in shipping at Weisser four years ago.

Since then, the 27-year-old has been promoted multiple times, moving from roles in sales to closeouts and returns. He then became a receiving manager and now is warehouse operations coordinator.

The fast-paced environment is a draw, Thompson said.

“There’s always something new to do,” he said. “Just being able to witness the growth of the company is fun. I’ve been around since we were teeny tiny, and to see where it’s at now is awesome as an employee.”

He’s also a member of Weisser’s culture committee and said the company is committed to supporting its employees.

“We want everybody to have fun here, and we try to make employees feel valued. That’s a high priority.”

Here’s how else Weisser has succeeded in scaling up its staff:

  • Hire for culture fit. Employees are asked interview questions that tie to company core values.
  • Review based on culture. After 90 days, Weisser follows up to see how employees are embracing the company’s values.
  • A culture committee helps drive employee engagement. Recent projects have included a staff Olympics and other family-focused activities.
  • Paid volunteer time. If a parent wants to participate in a school field trip, Weisser pays for the time.
  • Partner. Weisser works with Augustana University to provide internships, and several have led to jobs.
  • Emphasize work ethic. Weisser often ships the same day orders come in, which is a competitive advantage.
  • Prioritize employee connections. The culture committee is tasked with making sure every employee has a friend at work and is engaged in some way, from a staff committee to a company flag football team.
  • Free food. Weisser caters in lunch at least once weekly, including some home-cooked meals from matriarch Kathy Weisser.

To see more workforce development strategies, read the latest edition of WIN: Workforce Information Now from the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

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Fueled by Amazon, eBay success, distributor experiences rapid growth

Thanks to selling on eBay and Amazon, this business outgrew the family garage and has created 100 jobs and counting.

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