Many in the industry watched as NW Synergy (NWS) made multiple announcements to close out 2020. The holding company, led by distribution and logistics leader FEMSA, added some big names to their growing portfolio of leaders in janitorial supply, packaging solutions and specialty distribution.

Under the NWS umbrella includes North American, WAXIE Sanitary Supply, SWPlus and Southeastern Paper Group. The additions extend the geographical reach of NWS to nearly every corner of the country.

To learn more about NWS and where the group plans to go from here, Sanitary Maintenance spoke with a few key players.  

Mark Fisher, CEO of NW Synergy
John Miller, Co-Chair of the NW Synergy Board
Charles Wax, Co-Chair of the NW Synergy Board

It’s been a busy year for NW Synergy. How is the transition process going?

John: Our vision is coming together. The companies we have acquired are integrating, which itself has gone well considering the complications of merging during a global pandemic. FEMSA, North American and WAXIE have strong, customer-first cultures and the people we employ buy into that wholeheartedly.

Charles: We knew even before our partnership in March about the type of company, the type of platform we wanted to create and we are lucky that we had a partner in FEMSA that shared in that vision. Together, we have since gone about looking for like-minded and like-valued companies and that is why we brought on SWPlus and SEPG. Outside of being leaders in their respective regions, these two entities are good cultural fits. We all have that long-term mindset. We all value long-term relationships.  

What prompted these acquisitions?

Charles: When we announced our combined entity last spring, we shared our vision with many of our friends in the businesses — some of which go back 50 years — to see if they wanted to be a part of what we’re trying to build. Our phone rang off the hook. We ultimately got to talking with Eric (SWPlus) and Lewis (SEPG) and we came to realize that their respective entities bring the same family-feel, that same commitment to customer excellence, the same level of strength in supplier relationships that North American, WAXIE and FEMSA do. After that, it was a no brainer.

And how are you settling into your new role? How has your previous experience prepared you?

Mark: So far, so good. I have been fortunate to have the help and support of FEMSA senior leadership, John and Charles. There is no one better to learn the nuances of the business from than John and Charles.

My previous lives at Univar and McKesson have served me well. Even if the particulars of the business were different, there is a lot of overlap. Jan/san, Packaging, and Foodservice Disposable distribution is very similar and has the same challenges as I experienced in drug, medical-surgical supply and chemical distribution. It is a very relationship and solutions orientated business that requires you to have customer intimacy, operational excellence, and outstanding supplier partnerships and all that takes great people.

What’s next for your company?

Mark: We are very focused on building out our national platform with, as Charles said, like-minded partners. We want to be the most valued solutions provider in our chosen markets where the best people want to work. We plan to stay true to our roots and stay focused on providing customer solutions that make their lives healthier, cleaner, safer, stronger and better. And for our suppliers, our growth will enable us to be the distributor of choice. Our supplier relationships are paramount to our business, because those linkages are what enable us to provide such great customer service.

How has COVID-19 impacted the industry?

John: This has been a challenging time, not only for our business and industry, but also on an individual level.  

On the individual side, I could not be prouder of our staff. It was a 24/7 operation. We were essential. We were on the phone with seemingly every leader of every state and municipality to address their needs, all in concert with what we were being told by infectious disease experts. It wasn’t easy. We worried about our people. But we knew, and they knew, that we had an important job to do in one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history. As supply chains were disrupted and our typical next-day delivery was in flux, getting product to our customers was top priority. We would have staff load their cars and deliver orders to their customers themselves.

Charles: With respect to our business, COVID has had a very significant impact on our customers and suppliers. As John said, supply chains were probably the most disrupted. We just could not get our hands on what we wanted in the quantities we wanted it at. We weren’t alone in that, of course, because when the virus first hit, everyone had very little understanding about how it spread so everyone wanted to grab every box of gloves, every box of disinfectants they could possibly grab. So we empowered our local General Managers, who would work with our customers to understand what their needs were. Quickly understanding/identifying the need for PPE, we put hospitals and schools front and center and made sure our customers had at least some of what they wanted while supplies remained tight.

John: I think COVID has shone a spotlight on our industry. Our sourcing, our products and what we do have been elevated in a meaningful way.

A lot has been made about big box and online retailers during this pandemic. How big of a role are online merchants playing in the wholesale community?   

Mark: The thing to remember is that each of our companies have been around for decades before the internet was even around — and we’re still here. Because each of our companies are zeroed in on the needs of our customers — not just delivering a box. We bring solutions to our customers, knowing not just what’s in the box but also how to use it.

John: The difference between what we’ve built and the big box and online retailers is our people and our industry expertise. We plan to continue to do business where, when and how our customers want to — be it in person, over the phone, email, web or EDI. We will continue to provide the phenomenal technical training and service that made us the leaders we are today.