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Watts Equipment headed for another 40 years

In 1967, Virgil Watts was a young entrepreneur with America-sized dreams, a sound business plan and a passionate vision: supply the Golden State’s Central Valley with the best brands and service in the lift truck industry. That ambitious idea became Watts Equipment. Forty-six years later, Virgil Watts would still recognize the company thriving and building on his dream, but might be stunned by its growth into the Central Valley’s largest lift truck provider, and the dazzling new complex the provider of Crown and Toyota forklifts calls home.

In May, Watts Equipment moved into a 24,000-square-foot business center that serves as the centerpiece of its new 3.2-acre headquarters in Manteca, Calif. Watts Equipment‘s new home is double the size of its old building. Customers will find a larger parts department, a larger tire selection, a special parts department entry, increased parking, a larger service and a maintenance area. “Everything is new,” Watts Equipment general manager/vice president Shirley Perreira said. “It’s a big change. It’s a lot of room, but it’s amazing. We fill it.” The highlight of the company’s new digs is a dazzling new demo showroom, a rarity in the lift truck industry. “You never see that,” Perreira said. “The building is designed to deliver the whole customer experience.”

The most compelling reason for the move is outlined on the company’s history page at its website: “We plan on being around another 40 years.” “The next generation of the company starts here,” Perreira said. For Watts Equipment, it’s been a long, patient, profitable and rewarding journey to the business’ latest chapter. Perreira said the company’s growth has followed Virgil Watts’ blueprint for success.

Toyota Industrial itself wasn’t built in a day, and Watts knew his company wouldn’t net a large regional market share in a competitive, volatile industry overnight. Watts built his startup frugally and wisely.

Watts Equipment opened its doors with just a few technicians working with a tight-as-a-corkscrew operations budget. Methodically and slowly growing to plan in an unsteady industry that saw numerous competitors close up shop over the years, Watts knew how to keep the doors open, the customers returning, the trucks – like its popular TSP 7000 turret truck series -- running and the business solvent. “He had a vision of what the company could be,” Perreira said. “It’s been a slow, steady growth process. We don’t do anything we can’t afford. Five years ago, this building wouldn’t have been in our price range.” But today, Watts Equipment’s new home is a reality because of its adherence to the principals of the company’s mission statement:  To impress customers and employees with top quality products and service at a reasonable expense and enhance bottom line integrity.

Through numerous economic downturns and recessions, gas price and parts price spikes, Watts has endured. The company refuses to cut back on its service to customers, even in hard times. “When the market turned upside down in 2009, the first thing we saw people doing was cutting customer service representatives,” Perreira said. “We added a customer service rep.” You don’t hang around in this industry for nearly three generations with one-and-done customers. “You can sell to somebody, but if you screw it up you’re only going to sell it once,” Perreira said. “Our customers know they can trust us and that we’ll be here tomorrow.”

Today, Virgil Watts’ dream is now a vibrant company of 50 employees with 23 service vans on the road. The team produced $15 million in revenue in 2012. Watts Equipment is headed to a bright tomorrow in a wowing new home with its customers and communities as its core focus. “It’s not about ‘me’ for our employees,” Perreira said. “It’s about our customers.

“We believe in the same thing. We believe in what Virgil believed in.”

Clete Campbell is a freelance journalist with 16 years of daily newspaper experience.   E-mail to contact Clete.