Generations of Strength and Resourcefulness
Resilience Boosts New Opportunities
After 81 years in operation, the family-owned William S. Trimble Co. Inc. knows a thing or two about hard work, resilience and resourcefulness. Founder William Scott “Bill” Trimble grew up in an era of self-sufficiency, where hardiness in the business world was born from the necessity to survive. Despite having few resources at his disposal, the one thing he did have was courage as he launched what was then a one-man operation in 1936 in Knoxville, Tenn. His fortitude opened new doors of opportunity not just for himself, but also for his descendants.
William S. Trimble Co. is a materials supplier and installer best known in the industry today for swinging doors, folding partition doors, overhead and garage doors, and other specialty items.
The company has since expanded to include two subsidiary divisions. The Trimble Co., based in Johnson, Tenn., was launched in 1968 and The Trimble Co. - Star City Division opened in 2011 in Roanoke, Va.
Built on a reputation of honesty and integrity, the business that Bill formed can attribute its longevity and expansion to a balance of conservative business practices paired with progressive vision.
Continuing the Family Legacy
Today the company is led by the founder’s grandson, William S. “Bill” Trimble III, elected President in 2010. Although Bill III worked part time for the company during his college years, he didn’t plan on a lifelong career there. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1996 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he accepted a job in West Palm Beach, Fla., at Pratt & Whitney, which specializes in designing, manufacturing and servicing aircraft engines and auxiliary power units. While he enjoyed his experience at the large company, after a couple of years he realized he would be happier working somewhere smaller and more family oriented.
Bill III says, “In a large company, everything is so standardized and structured. You feel like a small fish in a huge pond, and you aren’t given the opportunity to make a lot of decisions. In my family’s company, I had experienced firsthand what it was like to work in a small business where people’s individual contributions were recognized and their input mattered.” He concluded that he would have a better chance to make a real difference—to set himself apart—by working for his family’s business.
Bill III’s father, William “Scott” Jr., worked at the company from 1966 until retirement in 2008. He was careful never to pressure Bill III’s career decisions, but gladly welcomed him into the company fold. Scott started his son out in the warehouse in 1998—determined to use this experience as a teachable moment to impart the values of patience and hard work.
“My dad, who is also my mentor, helped me become a better leader by starting me out at the bottom. He wanted me to work my way up because he felt it was the most effective way to really get to know the products,” says Bill III. “One of the most valuable lessons he instilled was that you have to know your products to become an expert in this business. Working first in the warehouse, then later as a salesman and a project manager, also gave me unique opportunities to learn under many experienced individuals.” The son appreciates his dad’s wisdom, but laughingly adds, “He probably advanced me a little too slow—I didn’t get into any sort of management position until he retired 10 years after I started with the company!”
Growth and Opportunity
As President, Bill III splits his time between overseeing company operations and handling project management activities. On the operations side, he most enjoys the challenge of researching and finding new product/market opportunities. And much like his dad, he’s very hands-on, especially when it comes to handling bidding and job requests, working with contractors, distributing hardware schedules, and other responsibilities.
“I really enjoy finding solutions for our customers. Day in and day out, a lot of what we do is getting customers what they need, when they need it. But when I devise solutions that help our team overcome obstacles—sometimes even saving money or getting the job done more quickly—I find that intrinsically rewarding,” says Bill III.
He adds, “I also feel good about having a business that provides great job opportunities and benefits for employees.” The staff of around 140 is comprised of shop managers, installation managers, sales representatives and installers (each specializing in different products in various markets), office personnel, and others.
The company has a great track record in retaining longstanding employees—some have worked there for 30 to 40 years, or longer. But even the most dedicated and loyal employees have t retire. Over the last 15 years many long-time employees have retired, leaving a staffing gap that is challenging to fill, notes Bill III.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have is recruiting new employees. For one, younger people graduating from college don’t usually want to work for a supplier or subcontractor—they look more toward the general contractors. Separately, it is difficult to hire people with experience in our specific field because there are so few people in the door, frames and hardware industry,” says Bill III. “We are in a specialty niche and there is a steep learning curve. We have to find people who have the right personalities and minds for the type of work that we do—then it takes years to train them up.”
He also comments, “We have found that those with detail-oriented personalities seem to fit well with our line of work and company culture.”
Keeping an open mind on prospective employees’ qualifications and backgrounds has resulted in multiple quality hires, says Bill III. Case in point, one of his company’s current project managers used to work as a copier service technician. What he lacked in experience he made up for by being hardworking and technically-minded. From management’s perspective, these are key traits found in many of their best employees.
Staying Conservative and Resilient
The company’s ability to custom-tailor packages that incorporate a group of products and installation services is unique in this niche—and convenient for customers. But for this family-oriented company, one of its greatest struggles is maintaining its core values and practices while balancing the fast-paced, constantly-evolving needs of the industry.
“Our company has always been slow, methodical and conservative in how it operates. We are focused on doing things safely, and the right way. But the industry is constantly changing and consolidating, requiring things to be done more quickly. Being conservative and methodical is not always compatible with change and working at a higher speed—but you need to do be able to do both to succeed,” says Bill III.
He adds, “You should never ignore new opportunities presented through industry growth. Thankfully, my father’s and grandfather’s conservative approach left us in a position to take full advantage of those opportunities. While we still evaluate opportunities through our conservative and methodical processes, the decision-making time frame is considerably condensed now compared to what it used to be.”
For Bill III, the path paved by his father’s and grandfather’s hard work and resourcefulness continues to be the steadiest course for his company’s growth. The father-of-three is determined to uphold the Trimble family’s standout legacy of resilience—and perhaps one day his sons will follow in his footsteps.