Q&A With Joe Street & JB Roulett — Owners of WRC!

When did you start the company and business?

JB: 1981

Joe: This is the story I always tell – there was an auction at this little conveyor company on the Levisa River at Oakwood. JB and I went to the auction and purchased everything for $118,000 in 1981. Then JB and I looked at each other and said, “How in the world are we going to be able to pay for this?” So, we went to the bank and the banker said “y’all are good guys. You can pay this back” so we borrowed the money and bought the buildings and the business.

Give readers a brief history of the business.

JB: We bought our first property how Joe just explained. We bought the property on both sides at the old location and built onto it. West River was established from the get-go to be a conveyor company. WRC was started because there was no conveyor manufacturer in the area and we are in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields. While we did do some other types of work, it was started specifically to do conveyors. It worked out well but we simply ran out of business.

Joe: Another good story is that one day, because of the lack of space, a yard crane dumped some equipment right in the middle of the road on US 460 East by accident.

JB: I was screaming at the driver “move the truck! Move the truck!” and he was still crawling.

Joe: Then, here I go, directing traffic in the middle of US 460!

How many employees did you start with?

JB: 3 or 4

Joe: We mostly started adding resources when we moved to our new location in 2002.

Over the last 30 years, is there something specific that you would’ve done differently?

Joe: I would’ve retired at 62! (we all laughed, yeah right!!!!)

JB: I’ll give you one thing. When we came to our current location in 2002 and positioned everything. I underestimated the volume that we would do so we’ve had to add the warehouse, machine shop, paint shop and more but if we would’ve had a vision then, we would’ve definitely done the shop much differently instead of an add-on, add-on, add-on. What we have is functional but I do think we could’ve made the shop much better if we’d known then what we know now! It probably would’ve served us better to hire more designers and engineers long before we did.

To what do you attribute your success?

Joe: We are 24/7 people. If a customer calls us on a Sunday, we will be there to take care of the customer. The success of this company has been the service 24/7 because the mining industry demands that.

JB: Another thing we done that has contributed to success is very little to no debt throughout the years. Always been easy to gain capital to expand our business.

Joe: We’ve monitored our Accounts Receivable heavily throughout the years to make sure no one ever gets too far behind with payment. We’ve been lucky to not get nailed with large amounts of outstanding payments.

JB: We’ve never had to make up big losses with future earnings.

What made you choose your current location?

Joe: Both of us were born and raised in this small community in Virginia. Flat land is hard to find so that was a big deciding factor.

JB: We had access immediately to water, power, buildings, and flat land. No additional need to have to run all of those lines.

Joe: We had five locations before we were able to consolidate all of our property into one large property. We brought 112 tractor loads from all of our locations to the new location.

What are West River’s long-term goals?

Joe: We’ve recently put together five and ten year goals. One of our goals is to expand our markets into more above ground conveyors and expanding more into international markets. We’re selling into Canada now but have plans to sell into Chile and Mexico.

Moving into industries outside of mining is a goal that we have and we are currently working on a large project outside of mining.

What’s unique about West River?

JB: Our ability to make the attempt to solve any problem or situations that customers have even if they are unique or special. We’re willing to always look at what our customers require and give them an exact design that they would like.

Joe: We solve problems. That’s the biggest thing you’ve got to do in our business is solve problems. If you can solve their problems, you will get and keep their business.

JB: We will go and look at situations customers have, no matter how big or small. We will spec and design a solution for you and build and get it to you as soon as possible. He was thrilled because he hadn’t had anyone do that.

If you had one piece of advice to give to someone starting a business, what would it be?

Joe: Make sure you have the proper company structure in place from the start. Make an organizational chart with management and responsibilities. Create a policy manual. Make job descriptions, make sure everyone knows what their primary responsibilities are. It is so important to do this from the start so that you begin with that strong foundation and you don’t have to back up and do it later.