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Talking shop with Ken Enke, president of Winnelson
Ken Enke was a drummer in need of a day job when a fellow band member told him Winnelson, a wholesale plumbing supply company, was hiring for its warehouse. Fifty years later, Enke is now president and just opened the Bath and Kitchen Idea Center on North Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau to showcase plumbing products for home and commercial use.
Q: Can you tell us about what you do?
A: I am the president of Cape Girardeau Winnelson. We just opened the Bath and Kitchen Idea Center, which is an off-site showroom. We have our warehouse on Walnut and Commercial streets where customers can come and pick up merchandise.
Q: What was business like when you began?
A: I began with Win when my friend Gordon Brumley, who I played in a band with, was driving a truck and told me they needed someone in the warehouse. I graduated from Metro Business College on a Friday, started work on Monday and the rest is history. I became president in 1990. I was second in command for Ray Tibbles.
When I began, a lot of the product was similar; toilets, tubs and sinks. There was not much selection before: white and chrome. Now products have hot finishes that are stainless steel, which make up most of our sales. A lot of what we do now is similar. Now, most everything is automated. In the early days we did a lot by hand now everything is computerized.
Q: How have things changed?
A: Things are more high-tech now. When I started we didn't have forklifts and used hand-dollies to move cast-iron pipe, clay and steel pipe by hand. Now everything is palletized and shrink-wrapped. Bookkeeping and mailings were done by hand. Now there are so much more products available to consumers. We sell everything in the plumbing line.
We show the pretty stuff in the showroom, and now I'd say 80 to 90 percent of products we sell are chosen by women. That's why we have to have a nice showroom to give them colors and options. Before, this was the Kitchen and Bath Show place, we changed it to the Bath and Kitchen Idea Center. It's the same place, we want to give customers a choice.
Q: What are some of the challenges?
A: Like any business, competition is a challenge. I've been here for 50 years, and I can name eight supply companies, most of which have come and gone. Competition is good, it keeps business owners on their toes. We have to offer good product at a fair price, but most of all, you have to do what you say. You can't just blow smoke at a customer and say whatever you want, but you have to do what you say to the customers.
Q: What are some of the rewards?
A: The biggest reward is building relationships with customers, some become like family. It's always neat seeing customers around. Another reward is business mixed with travel. Our last corporate meeting was in Nashville, Tenn. We've got to go to Indianapolis, Ind., Phoenix, and I've toured factories to see how the merchandise is made. I've been fortunate to run the company. I've been well rewarded.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Music has been a big part of my life. I was in Mike Smith and the Runaways for 33 years. I started the same year I started at Win. The band still gets together to play charity events. We're playing at the Elks Club on New Year's Eve. My family is important, my wife, Janet, and two grandkids. I have a green thumb and like to piddle in the yard.
I've had a great run and I'm not done yet. I like to call this my second 50 years. I work for a company that does not have mandatory retirement. I have good health. I love my job. I get up at 4:30 a.m., go to the coffee shop at 5 a.m., go to work at 5:30 a.m. We open at 7:30 a.m. and work until 4:30 p.m. I'm always the last to leave. A lot of people can't say that.
355 N. Kingshighway. Cape Girardeau MO