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Business 2 Business: Distributor of welding supplies sees gains

When Oxygen Service Company expanded to Willmar, it was a move based on an elementary philosophy: fill a need. Two years on, Dan Kipka, operations manager at the welding supply distributor headquartered in the Midway district of St. Paul, is assu...

Finding a niche
Dan Kipka, operations manager at Oxygen Service Company in Willmar, said their customer base is extensive: from farmers, body shops and dentists, to smaller divisions of intercontinental corporations the likes of Caterpillar. B2B photo by Dan Burdett

When Oxygen Service Company expanded to Willmar, it was a move based on an elementary philosophy: fill a need.
Two years on, Dan Kipka, operations manager at the welding supply distributor headquartered in the Midway district of St. Paul, is assured the decision was an unerring one.
“The existing accounts in the area mentioned to us many, many times, ‘we think you’re a good company and we’d like to buy from you, but you’re not here. You’re not local’,” Kipka said during a recent interview. “We took that as an opportunity to show the local marketplace that we’re committed to their needs.”
The Willmar operation is based out of a 5,000-square-foot facility off U.S. Highway 12 East and partners with a division in Sauk Rapids to expand a broad clientele roster that already extends through the western strip of the Dakotas and across the eastern border of Wisconsin.
Where Willmar and the outlying area have paid dividends, Kipka said, is through the region’s agricultural and medical base, with a substantial demand for industrial gases, lubricants, cutting fluids and rust preventives, as well as nitric oxide.
The customer base is extensive: from farmers, body shops and dentists, to smaller divisions of intercontinental corporations the likes of Caterpillar.
Oxygen Service Company supplies the customer with the desired gases and the like, pre-tested in a laboratory to ensure the highest quality product.
The company also distributes an extensive line of welding and automated machinery and equipment, to include: plasma cutters, fume extraction and filtration systems, and mag drills.
It is equipped to deliver all products and will service equipment when necessary, something, Kipka said, “that allows us to provide better value to our customers.”
However, what sets the company apart from its competitors, Kipka said, is its adherence to a solution selling methodology, focusing on a buyer’s need rather than specific product features or benefits.
“Obviously, other companies offer the products we do,” Kipka said. “ … But we’ve been successful in building our base by determining and then illustrating how we bring value to the customer and how what we offer fits into their business needs.”
Since its founding in 1965, the company has maintained a strong workforce, with 300 total personnel. Those with five years or more tenure have an ownership interest in the enterprise.
The staff in Willmar is small: currently a customer service representative and two outside sales reps are based at the location.
However, Kipka said, there’s an impetus to expand the location in subsequent years.
“I would say there’s work that needs to be done before we get to that point, but that we have seen the gains where it becomes more than a talking point,” he said.
“It makes sense logistically for us to be here. We’re building customer loyalty. We know what’s been successful for us and we’re bringing that to Willmar. We’re committed and moving forward on the path we want to be on.”
The company, Kipka said, has also recognized a need for skilled workers in the region’s growing manufacturing sector, and through a partnership with Dunwoody College of Technology, helped establish a training center in Winsted, a small town of 2,000-plus a little more than an hour east of Willmar.
The college offers a fast-track, welding technician program, with an emphasis on hands-on applied learning, utilizing a customized curriculum focusing on the skills sought by area manufacturers. According to a Dunwoody release, the program is expected to be replaced in the fall by a CNC Machining program, a process involving the use of computers to control machine tools.

About the company
Oxygen Service Company is a welding gas and hard-goods distributor serving customers across the state from locations in Willmar, Sauk Rapids and St. Paul. The business offers a full line of welding equipment; supplies; industrial and specialty gases; filler metals; gas apparatus; safety supplies; and cylinders.
The company also services welding equipment through its team of in house and mobile technicians. Rental equipment is also available.
The company is located at 1500 Highway 12 E., Suite 101 in Willmar.
For more information, call 320-214-7302.

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