44 CALF News • August | September 2020 • www.calfnews.net R ecollections BY BETTY JO GIGOT PUBLISHER MR.WALCO ...WILLARDWALL, PART II A ccording to Willard Wall, in an interview published in CALF News in 1993, the development of one of the most successful companies in the animal health industry, Walco, was a happenstance. It developed one step at a time. The sundry drug store Wall had started, converted from an old gas sta- tion, had been a success.“We were living well for that time – about $250 a month. In those days, $5,000 a year was a lot of money.” The family had moved out of the store and bought a little house, and things were good for the Walls. Then one morning Wall got a call. The store was on fire and ultimately burned to the ground. Insurance helped to build a new store. Wall observed another life lesson. The new, fancy – not an old gas station – store never did as much business. He saw the same thing when they built a new store in Fresno. His point was that fancy stores don’t necessarily make for successful businesses. July was the best month for the busi- ness in those days. They went all out selling fireworks, but new developments were on the horizon. Wall went into partnership with a man who had a one- ton van with wooden panels on the side. He called it the “brand wagon” because local ranchers could put their brands on the side. That was the first of their ped- dler trucks. Meanwhile, the Walls had one shelf of animal health supplies at the pharmacy. They sold 10-cc vials of crystalline peni- cillin for $15 a bottle to local ranchers. That was the start. Other companies began using them as dealers, so Wall and brother, Kermit, formed a family busi- ness with their parents. They were in the animal health business. They soon changed to panel trucks in the Porterville area and Kermit started calling on feedlots. According to the 1993 story,“My responsibility was my little store and a little panel truck,” he said.“I would leave the house at 4:00 in the morning and drive through the countryside looking for lights. At that time of the morning, you knew it would be a dairy because ranchers didn’t get up that early. About six months later, they hit a cash flow problem. Their father had made it through the Depression and run for the last 20 years without ever relying on a bank loan, so the brothers had to figure out the system. Wall described the jour- ney from Porterville to Fresno to San Francisco, trying to convince a banker to finance their accounts receivable. “The best part of the story is, because I had been gone so long, the accounts receivable had come in and we didn’t need the money anymore.” The store in Phoenix was built and a clothing store in El Centro con- verted. The next move was to Twin Falls and then Sunnyside and eventu- ally Canada. By 1968, they had eight separate corporations and Kermit decided to leave. He went to New Zealand, bought a 57-foot yacht and sailed around the world for the next 15 years. In the early 1970s, they put the eight companies together and issued stock to everyone. They became one of the first to set up an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) program. Wall’s formula was simple. Retain capital to grow. Don’t be highly lever- aged. Never owe the bank too much. Take risks but never risk everything. Provide for the long haul. Stay with the core business. Wall had come a long way since he sold hamburgers and triple dip ice cream cones for 10 cents apiece. They were spread across 18 states and employed more than 700 people. Wall was very realistic about his role in the business. His job was to take care of the problem areas. He was completely dependent on the people in the company. He was in the same business he started in … the people business. NEXT ISSUE: NEBRASKA'S LEO TIMMERMAN “I detailed mostly for sulfa for calf scours, penicillin for pneumonia and foot rot, and Aureomycin for mastitis.” They soon took over a store in Visalia as the first branch and then a friend sug- gested they put a store in Phoenix in his new sale yard. The parents thought they were growing too fast and the partner- ship dissolved. The folks kept the drug store and the brothers started Walls Livestock Supply. By 1954, they were operating the animal health company out of an old tin shed behind the store. “We sat on 5-gallon cans and made deals,”Wall remembered.
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