President, Westway Electric Supply
By Joe Nowlan
When Tony Buonocore was an equity trader at Vanguard, he invested in a couple of laundromats.
That experience of owning a small business led to his leaving Vanguard in 2006 in hopes of acquiring a more ambitious small business. In his research he came across Westway Electric Supply in Upper Darby, Pa., not far from where he lived.
The Westway business looked promising. Both financially and otherwise.
“The seller was leaving behind a staff that was very experienced and knowledgeable,” Buonocore said. “I thought they would at least help me through the transition period as I learned the business myself.”
Upon acquiring Westway, Buonocore was wise enough to do two things: rely on the knowledge of his staff. And hold on to those laundromats.
“I consider myself to be a businessman,” he explained. “But my technical knowledge of electrical supplies and things of that nature is still not very strong. So when we get technical questions it is critical that I have my staff here to fall back on.”
While thorough in his research, Buonocore could not anticipate everything. He had anticipated a 10 percent sales slump due to the recession, he explained.
“[But] when I bought Westway things got real tough, real quick. In 2009 the actual [sales] decrease was more like 35%,” Buonocore said.
He did not pay himself a salary for the first 18 months and lived entirely off the laundromat earnings.
“We found places to cut costs wherever we could and we got through it without having to lay off a single employee. It was a really tough time,” he said.
Buonocore knew he needed to explore other revenue sources. Westway already had a basic website which was making some money. So Buonocore redesigned the site and devoted more time to online sales.
“I thought there’d be broader markets available if we just had a really good website,” he said. “It forced me to take a risk that, if I was comfortable, I might not have taken.”
Online sales have risen steadily for Westway Electric. This has proven to be crucial as the Upper Darby economy has yet to recover fully, Buonocore said. He estimates now that about 75% of Westway’s total sales are conducted online.
Buonocore also started writing a blog for the company website. Later Westway tapped into Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
“[Using social media] started with our blog. Google kind of likes blogs,” the 33 year-old Buonocore explained. “They tend to place blog postings higher than a normal listing.”
Westway is still a small business with four employees working the counter and warehouse in addition to Buonocore’s mother who runs the company’s QuickBooks and finances.
Yes, that’s right. Bonnie Buonocore—a retired medical doctor—is the company accountant.
“She came over part-time originally, to help me manage my books…. Now she is pretty much a full-time employee,” Buonocore said.
So the accounting end of things is in good hands?
“For me it’s perfect because I trust my mother more than I trust anyone on earth,” Buonocore laughed. “With my financials, I couldn’t ask for a better person to do it.”
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. “[Use] anything you can bring in from your personal life that you might be able to use as additional channels for sales; like social media and things of that nature. A lot of times the younger guys may know about some of those channels and the older guys might not know of them—just because of what they’re doing in their social lives. There may be some social networking website that they may know of from their personal lives that could be applied professionally.
“So that would be my advice to the younger people in the industry—try to look at what’s going on outside of work and maybe come up with some ideas that some of the older guys may not know about.”
Q. Why are you so passionate about the electrical industry?
A. “I work at ton of hours. I work really hard while I’m here. I’m fighting for the survival of the business. I’m fighting for the jobs of my employees. We are a young and scrappy company. We don’t have a lot of cushion. We don’t have pillows to fall back on. It seems like there is always another disaster around the corner whether it be the Lowe’s opening across the street or Google changing their algorithms and why we’re no longer tracing as well as we used to on the searches.
“We’re constantly fighting for a new foothold just to ensure we survive. Because we are so small and scrappy we have to be extremely aggressive and passionate every day or we may not survive. And I think it made us a better company because we are taking chances and fighting harder than are some of the bigger companies in a lot of different ways.”
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tagged with tED