www.inddist.com March/April 2016 / INDUSTRIAL DISTRIBUTION 13
and succeed,” Powell
says of the honor. “It
gets us attention from
the people who are
top performers who
are seeking to work
for a top-performing
company. It’s allowed
us to attract an even
higher degree of talent year-after-year.
Van Meter’s background dates back
to 1928 when R.L.
Van Meter and R.W.
Lemley founded the
company just before the Great Depression. The duo became well-known for installing fluorescent lighting at its
Cedar Rapids headquarters – the first building west of the
Mississippi River to have such a feature.
The company distributed primarily industrial products for most of the next 75 years until it diversified into
the electrical contractor space. From there, it enhanced
its electrical offering over the years with products and
services in automation, datacomm, lighting, renewable
energy, and power transmission.
Van Meter’s employee-ownership is emphasized
through education. The company takes great strides to
make sure new hires understand what the concept really
means – what it means to think and act like an owner.
Van Meter has a three-level course for staff to learn about
employee-ownership, the specific traits of Van Meter’s
ESOP, and business in general.
Van Meter recently rolled out its current vacation policy, called TOTAL™ – Time Off To Appreciate Life. It goes
untracked, putting more emphasis on why staff should
take time off when needed. Before that the company
rolled out its 6-week paid paternity leave policy.
“They tie really close with the ownership piece,” says
company COO Lura McBride. “We’re adults. We take
responsibility for understanding when we need time off
to recharge and be away from the workplace. We’re ac-
countable to each other.”
Once employees reach 20 years of service, the company
gives them a 1-month sabbatical. During that time, the
employee is disconnected from company email use to en-
sure their thoughts aren’t on work. Ettleman – a 22-year
Van Meter Veteran – took his sabbatical in 2015.
“It was an absolute gift from our company and I en-
joyed every minute of it,” he says. “I came back recharged
and ready to tackle the next phase. It also allows you to
test drive what retirement might look like.”
Speaking of which, Van Meter’s ESOP has led to many
employee-owners being able to retire in their 50’s. The
company’s headcount stands at 457 as of late January,
with an average employee age of 42.6. The average
tenure is 7. 5 years – a figure that has decreased with the
company’s recent expansion.
Growth & Expansion
Powell says Van Meter’s revenue growth expectation
is to always double what the market does so that the
company takes significant market share each year, noting,
“we’ve done a good job of hitting that goal over the past
10 years.” Powell says that during the 2008-2009 recession when the industry was down 30 percent, Van Meter
was down by less than half that. For 2015, the company’s
growth rate was in the mid-single digits.
The past 18 months have included rapid geographic
expansion for Van Meter. Already with 12 Iowa locations
through the end of 2014, the company opened 2015
with the acquisition of Miller Electrical Supply, gaining
its locations in Dubuque and Clinton, IA, right along the
Mississippi. This past December, Van Meter expanded out
of Iowa east and west with the acquisition of Chicago-based Bright Electric Supply, and announced it will open a
new facility in Omaha, NE during its fiscal second quarter.
Those moves gain Van Meter two new metro areas and
extend its service capabilities across Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and into Nebraska.