A New Generation of Performance Plastics
When your customers tell you that they love your store so much that it wouldn’t really matter what you charge them, because they’d still buy, you know you’re on the right track. That’s exactly what happened at Regal Plastics, Texas, not so long ago.
When Regal Plastics’ Visionary and Chief Networking Officer, Wayne Gono, heard his son, Chad, speak about how they needed to make the wholesale plastics industry sexier, he knew they were onto a good thing. Wayne and his wife Patsy gave Chad the go-ahead and the results are phenomenal. “If you were to walk into our place today, you wouldn’t know whether you’d walked into a 1960s discotheque, a bar, or a movie theater. In fact, you wouldn’t know what you’ve walked into – and customers are loving it,” says Wayne.
Regal Plastics specializes in what is better known as performance plastics. Rather than single-use plastics like bottles and plastic bags, the company focuses on durable plastic. “We provide the types of plastics the world can’t do without – plastics necessary for office machinery, spacecraft, automotive, aircraft, medical, construction, architectural, that kind of thing,” says Wayne. While Regal Plastics is mainly a distributor of sheet, rod and tube, about 40 percent of the business is composed of fabrication, where these items are turned into useful specialty items, POP display, and custom tailored plastic solutions. The company works with a lot of Plexiglas, Lexan, HDPE, amongst other materials.
Wayne’s father-in-law started Regal Plastics at the advice of two businessmen that were friends. Don had lost his job as a salesman when the company he was working for went out of business and he found himself without a job. One of those friends was the founder of Regal KC, the other was the owner of Regal Shreveport. They encouraged Don Walker to start a Regal Plastics in Dallas; that eventually grew into having a location in San Antonio, Houston, Austin and then Ft Worth. Don and his wife took almost every bit of their life’s savings and started the business when Don was around 45 years old and had a wife and three children at home.
Regal Plastics has thrived ever since, and today the second and third generations work shoulder to shoulder. Wayne and Patsy didn’t know much about running a plastic distribution company when they took over the business from his father-in-law in 1996. But what they didn’t know, they learned fast. They surrounded themselves with excellent people who could help guide them and take the business to the next level.
“Typically, when the founder of any company hands the reins to the next generation, they give them the responsibility but they don’t relinquish the authority. That makes it very difficult for the entire company, especially when you’ve got somebody in charge who only has the responsibility, but not the authority,” says Wayne. “Dad” was alive when he turned the business over to us, but we were fortunate. He gave us both the responsibility and the authority. He never questioned anything we did, nor the decisions we made.”
While his dad gave them counsel deep into his last days, Don always supported everything they did. Wayne and Patsy attribute their success to this wisdom. Wayne and Patsy bought his father’s and siblings’ stocks after his dad’s passing about eight years ago. Four years ago, their two kids announced their interest in joining the ranks. “We were all in agreement that the time was right,” he says.
The family had an unwritten rule that their kids were welcome to join the business, but two things were required of them: they had to give college a try, and then they had to do something else for three to four years afterwards. “We didn’t want our children to just walk into this business without experience,” says Wayne. This gave their children the opportunity to gain experience in other fields and, of course, the life skills they acquired during this period proved to be invaluable. The kids’ decision was a big moment for Wayne and Patsy. “We suddenly had an exit strategy and also we knew exactly what we had in both our children. Everything worked out perfectly.” he says.
The two millennials’ contributions were an eye opener for their parents. The minute they got the go-ahead and the authority from their folks, Regal Plastics soared. To date, they’ve led the company through three major growth processes, which, as Wayne says, rocked the company’s world in a very, very good way: Culture Index, Lean Manufacturing, and EOS, Entrepreneurial Operating System. The whole experience is so exciting that Wayne and Patsy cannot help but enjoy watching what this extraordinary generation gets them into.
It makes him proud to see his children succeed. About the early days Wayne says, “We’re a very devoted Christian family, and so we probably spent as much time on our knees praying about where God was going to take this little business as we did anything.” He believes that taking wise counsel from people and from the Bible was what really propelled them until the kids joined the team. To Wayne, the family’s faith is their legacy that helped grow the business, but he warns that the biggest pitfall can be complacency. When the kids joined, they started asking spot-on questions that the couple hadn’t considered in almost a decade. Their answers culminated in a brand new, younger team of fresh minds with younger hearts and more energy. This was when everything started to shift. Wayne and Patsy feel very fortunate that their children pointed out the danger they were in, in terms of their comfort zone. “They woke us up,” he says.
It is said that a manager lights a fire under people where a leader lights a fire in people. Inspiring people is what Wayne loves doing most, while his wife and daughter Amy enjoy finances and attention to detail. Chad is the one who has helped the company understand millennials better, and keeps a fire lit under them. He helped grow his own business with three close friends from nothing to about $40 million in revenue in seven years. While Wayne likes to light fires in people, Chad lights a fires under them. The goal is for employees to feel like they want to be a part of the business – to feel excited and to be enthusiastic when they show up for work every day. “That’s the cool thing about good leadership,” says Wayne. “Our entire family – Chad, Amy, Patsy and I – just fit together very well.
In addition to valuing its employees, Regal Plastics takes its social and environmental responsibilities seriously. While the company has had many great moments, it considers its contribution to its local community and the growth in its people as its real achievements. The company has been a member of the International Association of Plastics Distribution for three decades, where Wayne is also a board member. The IAPD was established in 1956 and is a trade association that represents around 400 plastics distributors and manufacturers of engineering materials, in roughly 2000 locations internationally.
When it comes to the environmental aspect of plastic, Wayne is of the belief that we don’t have to have bags and bottles made out of it. One could use paper or any other material; but as far as performance plastic goes, it is here to stay. “It can be environmentally friendly in different ways because in our industry we recycle hundreds of millions of tons a year. I know this because I’m heavily involved in our trade association.” Wayne also tells us that Regal’s performance plastic doesn’t make it into landfills; plastic that does make it into landfill gets there, he feels, because of people who simply aren’t environmentally aware enough.
To be sure, the company has overcome a few challenges over the years. One of Wayne’s personal challenges as company visionary was retaining millennial employees. He has genuinely gone the whole nine yards to study and research what motivates them and what makes them tick. “You just can’t motivate a millennial in the same way that you motivated a baby boomer,” says Wayne. In the process, he discovered that today’s youngsters want to win and they also want to be part of something great. This makes Regal Plastics a brilliant company to work for, because the company prefers to employ people who want to make a difference.
Regal Plastics is all about giving back, being different and being the best at what it does. “We like to change things and we also like our customers to feel special,” Wayne says. The company’s secret is simple; it agrees wholeheartedly with the famous Branson quote: ‘Don’t worry about your customers, don’t worry about your shareholders. If you take care of your people, they’ll look after your customers and your shareholders.” Indeed a noble motto for a company that cares.