Mr. Gonneville’s wisdom is born from thirty-plus years of experience in the distribution business. He learned the ropes working for Nashua Corporation, a Fortune 500 computer memory manufacturer, where he rose to the position of national sales manager. Following that, Mr. Gonneville headed west to start his own computer hardware distribution business. After ten years of success, obsolete technology and shrinking margins caused him to set his sights on Europe, where he began consulting and exporting computer peripherals to France and Italy. Another decade later, new legislation stateside prompted Mr. Gonneville to shift his focus into industrial equipment distribution.
“The state of California in 1989 mandated by legislature that three percent of all purchases made by the state of California would go to disabled veteran businesses,” says Mr. Gonneville. “Being a disabled veteran, I looked into it and realized that it would be a good market niche for us. I did some research and realized that one of the best areas to get involved in selling to the state would be industrial equipment, so we started doing that and it just mushroomed.“
“The state of California was my primary customer for a couple of years, then we branched out into federal and local governments as well. From there we started getting GSA schedules, which are pre-negotiated contracts with the federal government which set out the terms and conditions under which we will provide specific products to the federal government.”
Competing for government contracts requires a great deal of diligence. Competition is high, and there is no room for error. “Before the federal government will issue a GSA schedule to a company, they vet that company very thoroughly. They check us out financially, and in every way possible. They make sure that when their buyers buy something from us that it will work all the way around. They do a lot of prep work checking us out, as well as the products we represent.”
Today, about half of Mr. Gonneville’s business comes from government contracts, and half from the private sector. In addition to being a distributor extraordinaire, Mr. Gonneville was a pioneering distributor of Ecoquip vapor abrasive blasting equipment.
“Bill Eliason and his brother Keith started the company back in Virginia Beach. Bill and Keith seemed to have a vision to manufacture a product that would incorporate technologies that would continue to advance the viability of the product. In other words, rather than be satisfied with a product that existed, they were committed to improving the product any way they could using any technology that was available and becoming available.”
In short order, Mr. Gonneville determined that vapor abrasive blasting would be a good market niche to get into. “Wet abrasive blasting was just starting to become viable. It was an emerging technology that showed a lot of promise. That was appealing to us because we try not to get involved with products that are saturated in the marketplace. We like the opportunity to develop new markets and new products, so the Ecoquip product fit very, very well into our company philosophy.”
In 2013, Ecoquip was acquired by Graco Inc, a global leader in equipment for moving, measuring, controlling, dispensing and spraying fluids. Given Graco’s commitment to design and manufacturing excellence, the Ecoquip line is poised for major innovation, which should accelerate penetration of vapor abrasive blasting in the abrasive blasting equipment market.
“Customer feedback is generally very, very good,” says Mr. Gonneville. “The advantage with wet abrasive blasting is that it reduces the particle emissions considerably, almost eliminating it completely, so it’s much cleaner. The system uses a lot less abrasive to do the same job, and so there’s a big cost savings there as well. But it’s not until people have used it for a while that they realize the advantages, except for those folks who have vision and can see right away.”