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December 2017
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W.W. Cannon’s secret to 75 years of success
Clete Campbell
Clete Campbell

W.W. Cannon began in 1938 as a one-man band with Bill Cannon selling shelving out of the back of his car under the hot Texas sun. When launching a business during the Great Depression, you had to be economical. “That’s a long way from where we are today,” W.W. Cannon president Greg Brown said.

Weathering more economic storms than 10 Texas tornado seasons and beating the odds to grow into a $6 million company today, W.W. Cannon has reached a success milestone most American companies only dream about and only a fraction realize: a 75th anniversary. The Dallas-based material handling and storage equipment business will blow out 75 candles on its diamond birthday cake and unveil a monument recognizing its longevity in September.

Today, Bill Cannon’s trunk is now a vibrant company of 16 employees with locations in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Brownsville and Austin.  “We’ve gone from a guy selling out of the back of his car to multiple locations,” Brown said. “That’s the vision W.W. Cannon had (from the start): continuing growing. It’s a huge accomplishment to have an on-going business for 75 years and be able to grow through market fluctuations and recessions.”

When you work at W.W. Cannon, your birthday is a celebration. W.W. Cannon does birthdays in grand Texas style (after all, everything is bigger in Texas), and its 75th is its grandest party yet. The company has celebrations scheduled throughout the year, and its new company logo recognizes its “75 years of excellence.”

How impressive and rare is a business keeping its doors open for 75 years? estimates the average life expectancy of a multinational Fortune 500 company at between 40-50 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the Department of Labor, reported earlier this year that less than 50 percent of small businesses successfully make it past four years of operation and 35 percent fold within their first two years.

How W.W. Cannon reached 75 is the result of a sound economic survival plan and a commitment to its vision of being, as Brown puts it, “a customer-driven company.” “When it started, we were primarily about manufacturing, industrial and automotive dealerships,” Brown said. “We’re still that today. We’re still based on customer service. We’re knocking on doors and making sure we take care of customers in a way that they will keep coming back to us and marketing to new customers and new projects. If you can find those customers and have a competent staff, you can continue to sell projects and continue to grow.”

Effectively marketing in tough markets is one of W.W. Cannon’s greatest strengths. The company has effectively transitioned from the days of the yellow pages to the ever-changing digital age, while other companies have struggled and often failed to make the switch. “People are the greatest challenge and most important part of any business enterprise,” Brown said. “You have to make sure you have a good plan and leadership. Marketing is a huge part of (survival). Marketing has changed so much in the 17 years I’ve been in the business. It used to be yellow pages.”

Pushing through the storm has been W.W. Cannon’s mantra during market lulls. Its ability to survive any economic climate is the reason it’s still growing in its golden years. “The plan is to make it through the next recession and continue to grow on the other side,” Brown said.

Surviving and thriving for 75 years, Brown said, is also a matter of faith. “I put faith in the picture, because quite frankly, none of us knows what is going to happen tomorrow,” he said. “My faith reassures me there’s quite a good future out there for W.W. Cannon.”

That’s why Greg Brown and company are already laying the groundwork for W.W. Cannon’s 150th anniversary and an even bigger birthday cake.

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