Growing Up Metric

By Greg Trauthwein

The story of World Wide Metric’s steady growth and promising future.

 
Words are powerful, and “Growing up Metric,” the title of the recently released book by George Contos, the energetic CEO and second-generation ‘Contos’ leader of World Wide Metric, is a fitting title. Contos recently sat with Maritime Reporter & Engineering News in his Branchburg, N.J. headquarters to discuss how his company has grown from roughly $3 million per year when he took over in 2000, to over $20 million per year today, with its course set for $50 million by 2026.
 
“World Wide Metric is a worldwide distributor of pipes, valves and fittings, specializing in metric components,” said George Contos, CEO. “We have bridged the gap between the East and the West when my dad brought metric here.”
 
The company was founded by Constantinos Contos, a man who saw a need for metric-standard products and wanted to create a business he could pass along to his family. The WWM story is one of innovation and re-birth, of family ties and family values that extends far and beyond the Contos clan.
 
A Brief WWM History
Founded in 1970 as World Wide Ship Repair in Brooklyn, NY, today World Wide Metric (WWM) is a leader in the international distribution of valves, fittings, tubing and flanges serving the maritime, energy, industrial flow control and fluid power markets. As George Contos likes to repeat “WWM links the East and West” by consolidating the supply of products and technologies of the European, Far Eastern and American marine and industrial markets. 
 
The creation of today’s World Wide Metric is not unlike the creation of other businesses in other industries, the child of an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. In this case, in 1970, former ship captain Constantinos Contos, who immigrated to the U.S. from Greece in 1969, founded the company. Soon after, he began receiving an abundance of requests for metric valves and flanges from foreign vessels, but despite the demand, metric replacement parts weren’t easy to find in the U.S. World Wide Metric was born, as Constantinos Contos improvized and started to fulfill the need. At first he took an American valve, cut off its flanges, welded on a piece of plate, then drilled holes to match the existing pipeline, and put the valve back in service. Realizing this was not an optimal solution, he saw an opportunity to address the shortage of metric parts in the U.S.
 
Eventually Contos gave up the ship repair segment and moved the company from Brooklyn to New Jersey, focused solely on delivering an increasingly diverse array of metric products to the U.S. market. Today, the company that a father started has grown considerably under the tutelage of his three children, George, Theo and Anthee. To further expand the company’s presence in the U.S. coastal regions, the company opened a fourth distribution center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2004, and by 2008, World Wide Metric was stocking more than 50,000 products and relocated their corporate headquarters to a larger office and warehouse in Branchburg, New Jersey. In October 2015, World Wide Metric opened its fifth distribution center in Livonia, Michigan to serve the Midwest and central Canadian markets. With operations now in five U.S. locations, the company plans to open additional distribution centers both nationally and internationally. When the second generation took command in 2000, it started a new era that would effectively grow annual sales from $3 million to more than $20 million, its number of employees from the low 20s to 58, with its number of individual products sold approaching 60,000.
 
A New Era
George Contos is CEO of World Wide Metric (WWM) since 2000, but just two years prior it appeared that his time with the company was done, as he left in 1998. “Dad and I didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye in terms of the business and how we felt things should be done. I was coming into my own, and my dad was in his prime of running the company … so we were butting heads more often than not and the family dynamic was difficult.” After a two-year stint at Dale Carnegie, George was approached by his father and brother to return to WWM, and rejoined the company as its CEO at the age of 32. 
 
The rest, as they say, is history. George Contos has a clear vision of WWM’s future, and under his tutelage it has enjoyed steady growth over the past 16 years, in times good and bad. While there are many descriptors of the Contos business style, but perhaps ‘slow and steady ahead’ is most apt. Always ahead, carefully eyeing cash flow and eschewing debt along the way.
 
“Could we have grown faster” by accumulating debt?, Contos asks rhetorically. “No doubt. It was hard enough to keep up with the demands of growth, let alone make it happen faster than it naturally could or should. Too many mistakes happen when you try to go too fast.”
 
Contos is first and foremost a people person, and from the start his company beefed up on outside sales and customer support in its effort to build revenue. “Yes, we are a distribution company selling metric products, but it is our people that do the selling. It is our people that are our culture. It is people who are our customers, our vendors, our families. People are everything in business,” he said.
 
To Contos people and pace are important, as is focus. He has seen first-hand the perils of growing too fast in too many directions. “My dad always said, if a fox is hunting one rabbit, it will come home with one rabbit. If it is hunting two rabbits, it will come home with none.”
 
“Choosing where to focus is the most important, and sometimes it’s not about what you need to add, but what you need to subtract,” said Contos. “Sometimes letting go of a certain marketplace is going to give you an opportunity to grow in another marketplace. So if one’s not doing well … such as the offshore market over the past year … we can re-channel our attention to a part of the marketplace that is doing well.”
 
While Contos and his father may have differed on business vision and method, the fingerprints of Constantinos are still strong on the company. “This was always a family business and family values,” said Contos, in explaining the ways in which the company is different yet the same across its four and a half decades of operation. “It was a business created for people. It was a small, intimate company with 20 people. We are still very family orientated. From the very beginning, we have upheld the ideals that my father set forth when he started the company. He believed that ‘serving the customer was the only thing that truly mattered, and that what can be done today, will be done today.’ That is the philosophy that still drives us today.” 
 
New Markets to Conquer
While increasing headcount and sales department firepower were critical steps to expansion, Contos believed that expanding WWM’s business beyond the confines of maritime were similarly important in helping to grow bottom line revenue and profitability. Today the WWM business is still predominantly marine and offshore industry based (70%), or as Contos defines the maritime sector ‘anything that floats,’ yet there is a critical and growing Fluid Process market and Industrial market that brings in the additional 30%, serving as a spring board to new opportunities. Ultimately Contos has broad visions for the company, a U.S. based company providing a global reach. In summarizing his vision of the company in 10 years time, he is focused: $50 million in revenues, 80 to 100 employees, six to eight distribution center in North America and another overseas, likely in Asia; and a broader range of product and global customer support. All the while, remaining focused on the company’s primary mission and equally important, keeping the customer interaction simple and intuitive. “I think the biggest challenge to running an efficient and profitable business is running an efficient and profitable business! Our biggest challenge is as we continue to grow is to maintain that DNA core and family values principle,” said Contos. “When you call our company, a human answers the phone. Fighting complacency and maintaining focus; eliminate waste to streamline and simplify the process. The idea of simplicity is not easy. Making things simple and easy for the customer, making it a ‘user friendly’ good experience is probably the hardest thing to do.”
 
With the diversity of WWM, Contos is remiss to identify one market as more critical than the next. But when pressed he notes that the cruise shipping market is in the midst of a major boom that could have strong legs for decades, courtesy of a large population of Baby Boomers approaching retirement age with higher amounts of disposable income. Yet the cruise industry is unique from, say, a tanker owner, in its supply chain management. Traditional ship owners are accustomed to fleets of ships dispersed globally, but the concept of global fleet management is still somewhat new in the cruise sector as it has grown and diversified. This is a good opportunity for WWM to grow its international roots in tandem, as Contos simply summarizes: “Our job is to help facilitate our customer’s growth.”
 
 
George Contos, CEO, World Wide Metric, Inc. 
George Contos is CEO of World Wide Metric (WWM), a dynamic leader with an infectious optimism in business and in life. He is an owner of the company along with his brother Theo and his sister Anthee, a second generation that took over the business in 2000 from his father, Contantinos, who is no longer involved in the company. George has been in the WWM business nearly his whole life, going on board ships with his dad and meeting captains as a kid, fondly remembering them as always asking him if he wanted a “Coca Cola.” 
 
In high school and college he worked part time, as a warehouse and sales assistant. In 1991 he moved to California to open WWM’s new branch full time. George was Assistant Branch Manager for both the NJ and Texas offices and Branch Manager of the California office. He left the company briefly in 1998, and after a two-year stint at Dale Carnegie, George returned to WWM and has been CEO since the age of 32. Since taking over the business in 2000, George and his brother Theo have grown the business nearly 7x in terms of revenue and 58 employees today. WWM is entering a new phase of it’s development – looking to drive significant growth and get to the next level. Their 10-year goal is $50m. In April of 2015, George began the project of writing his first book. This year long endeavor found its way to print and “Growing Up Metric” was released in June 2016.
 
 
The Book 
Growing Up Metric by George Contos is a business guide chock full of insights, anecdotes and practical advice from a man who took over the family business at the age of 32, and in the span of 16 years grew it from $3 million per year to more than $20 million, with sites set on $50 million in the coming decade. I think anyone who works in a small to medium sized company – particularly a company with a family dynamic – will find that many of the examples given and points made ring true. Contos is somewhat of a visionary, and while he had the notion to write the book back in 2000, he realized that he simply didn’t have the experience … “I didn’t have the stories” … to provide the intended impact. Sixteen years later he delivers a solid guide to business and life, an effort that is focused on the birth and growth of World Wide Metrics and his lessons learned from the top. At the same time, it is far from self-centered, as Contos is quick to ladle out references – personally, professionally and published works – that have helped guide him along the way. – G. Trauthwein
 
Growing Up Metric by George Contos is available on Amazon for $14.99
 
 
The Product Line
Worldwide Metric can provide everything from a single product to a complete system.
 
“Worldwide Metric is a worldwide distributor of pipes, valves and fittings, specializing in metric components,” said George Contos, CEO. “We have bridged the gap between the East and the West when my dad brought metric here.” With more than 60,000 products and growing daily, WWM is situated to meet the need of its diverse client base, whether that’s a single piece or a full array of components for a complete system solution. According to Contos, the key to his company’s success is not simply pushing product, but working with clients to understand their true needs, and to supply the solution that best suits their need. For the full range of the WWM products, visit: www.worldwidemetric.com
 
 
(As published in the August 2016 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News)
Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 32,  Aug 2016

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