Our History (The Short Version)
Sam’s Safety Equipment is a second generation family and veteran owned work wear and personal protective equipment (PPE) outfitting business. We have served the oil and gas as well as the construction industries in Houston, Texas for over 50 years. We focus on satisfying our customer’s needs for safety equipment with highly knowledgeable staff, readily accessible inventory, and focus on employee safety. We are dedicated to solving our customers safety problems with timely and convenient solutions. We offer a range of sources to solve these problems from our fully stocked showroom to our website, our outside sales force, and our free same-day delivery service.
Our company has expanded in the past few years as we enter our second generation of family ownership and leadership with Kevin Doffing. Our products and services continue to evolve based on the needs of our customers and the changes within their industries. Expansion of services include corporate apparel, garment customization, fire extinguisher services, and coming soon, safety training. The success of the business these past few years can be attributed to getting our customers out of the safety business and back to work making money in their own businesses. We constantly strive to make our customers lives easier, our philosophy is that if your company is more efficient and grows, then we will have the opportunity to grow with them.
Timeline of Milestones:
1956: Sam Wolfe opens Sam’s Safety Equipment as a mobile truck supply company, visiting and serving industrial job sites across Houston and the Gulf Coast.
1972: James Wolfe joins his brother Sam to build the company a showroom on Hempstead Highway in Northwest Houston.
1978: Larry Doffing joins Sam’s Safety Equipment as General Manager.
1979-1981: Sam’s Safety Equipment is recognized as the largest Red Wing Shoe dealer in America three years running.
1981: Sam leaves the company, claiming the company will never survive the oil bust. Larry buys out Sam’s shares of the company.
1991: James steps down so Larry can become the company President.
2009: Kevin Doffing, Larry’s youngest son, enters in the business full-time. Kevin promises to double the business’s sales in five years.
2010: Fire Extinguisher route services begin.
2011: Selected to participate in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. Launch Red Wing Shoe Store in Cypress, Texas. Kevin doubles the business’s sales in two years.
2012: Won the HCC/Newspring Business Plan Competition for its expansion plans.
2013: Won the Governor’s Forum Award for Veteran Small Business of the Year.
2014: Recognized by Texas A&M for its prestigious Aggie 100 list. Sam’s Safety Equipment was found to be the 85th fastest growing Aggie owned/operated company in America.
2015: Relocated our showroom to the Energy Corridor of Houston, retaining the Sowden warehouse for expanded office and warehouse functions.
The Long Version
If the above value statement wasn’t in depth enough feel free to keep reading for the long story that started in 1956 and led to where the company is today…
Sam’s Safety Equipment had modest beginnings in 1956 when Sam Wolfe, one of our founder’s and our namesake, was buying and selling scrap metal. This followed Sam’s time in the Army as a supply sergeant in the pacific theater during World War II. Sam began to realize that there was a market for safety supplies in the area and felt that with his contacts he could make sales at a lower cost than existing distributors. So Sam began working out of an office at Southwestern Plating, owned by his friends the Fergusons. There Sam would take phone calls, do office work, make deliveries, and run his shoe truck to industrial job sites around Houston and the Gulf Coast. While he did his office work out of Southwestern Plating Sam needed a place to store inventory, especially when he found a deal he couldn’t pass up. In order to save money, Sam’s original warehouse was actually owned by his brother James Wolfe, our other founder and a Navy veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. The original warehouse was on the top floor of an apartment building in downtown Houston off La Branch in what today is Midtown. Sam and James had to hide the fact that they were running a warehouse out of the apartment complex and were very careful about when they brought stock in and out of the building.
In 1965 Sam was approved as the third Red Wing Shoe dealer in Houston, and became the first Red Wing Shoe Truck in the city’s history. Things were not as automated and structured back then as they are today with online orders and emailed order confirmations. All of Sam’s Red Wing Shoe orders were made once a month at a hotel room with the Red Wing Shoe regional sales manager. They would use the room’s bed as a desk to organize and finalize orders to save the money on renting an office space.
In 1972, Ernie Ferguson, owner and president of Southwestern Plating, gave Sam the overdue push he needed to move out on his own, and Ernie informed Sam he needed to find his own office. But there are no hard feelings; Southwestern Plating is still a customer to this day and one of our favorite accounts. At the same time, Sam’s brother, who was still working in the scrap iron business, was strongly encouraged not to renew his office lease from Paul Beosch, the promoter who made Houston Wrestling famous. James began looking for land to buy on the outskirts of Houston, and at the time this meant anywhere outside the 610 Loop. The two brothers decided to form a new company in Sam’s name on land that James soon owned. This was the birth of Sam’s Safety Equipment as we know it today. In the beginning, Sam’s Safety Equipment only stocked 10 items in its showroom. They had only 8 company accounts, but they were large drilling companies like Brown & Root and National Oilwell.
In 1978 Sam’s Safety Equipment had grown to almost $2 million in annual sales and a staff of 12 people. Sam was looking to get out of the day to day operations of the business and decided to hire his friend Larry Doffing away from his position with Unitog, a uniform company in downtown Houston. Larry, a Vietnam veteran, came in as the office manager initially. Larry came into the company on the prospect that he would be allowed to buy out Sam one day. Two years later Larry became a minority share holder in the company in 1981, just prior to the biggest oil downturn in recent history. In 1983, Sam retired as businesses everywhere in the oil and gas industry withered, and Larry took on a much larger ownership role within the company. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s Larry would bring his three sons, Brian, Matt and Kevin to work with him periodically. They could often be found making forts out of empty cardboard boxes in the warehouse or sweeping the showroom and warehouse for a dollar bill in compensation. The beginnings of new technology were embraced by Larry as he bought a Commodore 64 to help with keeping up with financials and accounting. Despite being an early adopter of the personal computer, Larry would not give up the typewriters though. It wasn’t until almost 30 years later in 2011 that the last typewriter would leave the offices at Sam’s Safety to make way for a computer printer to crank out checks to vendors and employees.
In 1991 James stepped down as President of the company and gave the oversight of all operations to Larry. To this day James remains a fixture at Sam’s Safety Equipment on a semi-retired basis during the week, but can be found every Saturday talking with walk-in customers in our showroom. Anyone who has been in the store over the years will know James tried and true opening line of his sales pitch: “Buddy, I’m gonna make you a deal…”
The 80’s brought a lot of trials and tests for Sam’s Safety Equipment. The company saw increasing competition from large safety supply houses like Hagermeyer and Grainger, as well as the establishment of new Red Wing Shoe Stores. This was a period in which Sam’s Safety lost its spot at the top as the largest distributor of Red Wing Shoes in America. The increased competition began to have an effect on Sam’s Safety and the company entered a period of retraction with the staff size falling from its peak of 12 down to 5. Larry’s sons helped in the summers at the store during high school and college. Two of Brian’s friends Chris White and Ryan Henson were hired after graduation from high school in 1991. Ryan still works Sam’s Safety and is the in-house licensed fire extinguisher technician. He has served in every position within the company from the showroom and the shoe truck to the warehouse and accounts receivable. Ryan currently oversees day-to-day operations of the company.
The summer of 2000 brought the first winds of change to Sam’s Safety Equipment, as Larry’s son Kevin convinced Larry to begin using QuickBooks to print invoices from a computer to save time from typing them on the company’s typewriters. Since Larry was leery of these new computers (despite using a Commodore 64 twenty years earlier without problem) the company continued to use paper ledgers and calculators for accounting purposes. Larry would explain, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” when asked why the company kept using the paper ledgers. On the other hand all of Larry’s sons aced Accounting 101 at Texas A&M years later. Maybe that was part of his grand plans all along.
In 2001 during Kevin’s last summer to work for his father, he built the first website for the company in basic HTML code. The site contained only 6 pages and pictures of current Red Wing Shoes in stock. With a black background and hard-to-read fonts, the site was not very user-friendly. After Kevin returned to college at Texas A&M the site often frustrated customers with broken links and images not showing. Larry was surprised that so many people would call to complain; he didn’t think that anyone would find his store “on the line”. It would be another eight years before the website would be updated and evolve into what is seen online today with a shopping cart and interactive map.
In 2001, Chris left Sam’s Safety for a position at Albert Sterling & Associates. As sad as it was to see Chris leave, his departure opened the door for someone new: Aldo Rodriguez. Aldo’s older brother was the best man in Brian’s wedding and had told him about the position. The interview with Larry went like this:
“I hear you just left school. And need a job,” said Larry.
“Yes, Sir,” replied Aldo.
“Great, you can start moving these boxes to the back.”
Aldo has been with Sam’s Safety ever since. Aldo currently holds the position of Store Manager, conducting operating the company’s energy corridor showroom. Aldo’s fluency in Spanish has made him a customer favorite among many of the welders that walk in daily, especially on the weekend.
In 2009 Kevin, now a U.S. Army Iraq War veteran, joined the company as Vice President. He joined the company with the intention of bringing Sam’s Safety Equipment to it’s full potential and create a business that wouldn’t just survive Larry, but that he could hand over to his own children one day. 2009 was also the worst year in 40 years of business for Sam’s Safety Equipment. In order to not divert needed funds from operations and investments for growth Kevin agreed to work for $10 an hour until he could turn sales around. Working 80-100 hours a week the first year meant he was being really only being paid $4-$5 a hour. While making this meager salary Kevin even had to forgo giving Larry a Christmas present his first year back in Houston. Instead, Kevin gave Larry a Christmas card that promised to double sales and get them back over $1,000,000 in five years. In turned out it only took two years to break $1,000,000. To celebrate the entire company and their families were treated to big steak dinner.
While the downturn of 2009 was a massive hit to the company, it was also an opportunity. The staff was able to invest a lot time remodeling the showroom, updating the warehouse, and establishing new standard procedures for when the work flow increased. Over the next few years several changes were made to the accounting and operations within the company which drastically changed the customer experience and level of service provided. Here are some examples:
- The website was torn down and built up from scratch. Kevin wrote all the code and CSS formatting for the new site. While sometimes erratic the new site was a complete turnaround from the original. Google Checkout was utilized to process payments online and as a shopping cart, making Sam’s Safety the proud owner of an E-Commerce website.
- Market research of customers and online keyword searches revealed the growing demand within the oil and gas industry for fire resistant clothing (FRC). While this had been an item on the shelf for over 20 years it was at this point in time that the requirement by plant and federal inspectors drove demand for FRC products through the roof. Carrying these items on the shelf and having them listed online with good search engine optimized practices carried the company through the summer of 2009.
- A location code system was implemented to make it easier to find existing items that had been moved in the warehouse and the addition of new items like the FRCs. This was a huge relief for staff in the midst of so much change and would be a vital leg up for the company’s future employees searching through over 8,000 SKUs.
- Ryan spent weeks studying for the exam to inspect and service portable fire extinguishers. While the company had sold fire extinguishers for 30 years they had always outsourced the inspections and servicing to J’s Fire Extinguishers, operated by Ed Jacobson. Ryan was able to gain informal training and pick Ed’s brain for useful tips and methods of the trade. Ryan now regularly visits company accounts as far away as El Campo, TX to inspect and service extinguishers on site. In 2011, the company was awarded a contract with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) to inspect and replace all of its portable extinguishers. Ryan and Kevin spent a month at the VAMC locating, documenting, and ultimately building a comprehensive layout map of the entire sprawling VAMC’s portable extinguishers. In 2012 the VAMC asked Sam’s Safety Equipment to return and assist in developing and implementing a new bar code system to automate the monthly inspections conducted on site by the staff of the extinguishers at the VAMC.
- In 2013 we bought a service truck and a customer list off a pest company in Richmond (southwest Houston) expanding that business line.
- A huge financial investment was made in 2012 when the company purchased a new Red Wing Shoe Truck. The new truck nearly tripled the available inventory and provides an air-conditioned showroom inside the truck for mobile sales. The generator below the box of the truck allows for credit card payments to be securely processed through a laptop with a mobile hot spot. While the staff enjoys the A/C, the increased inventory, and selection customers the first day it was out at a customer’s site couldn’t stop commenting on the hard wood floors.
- Paper ledgers remained until the end of the 2009 financial year as Kevin spent months conducting double entry of all daily activities until the kinks had been worked out and the company could smoothly transition to QuickBooks for all of its accounting needs. The deciding factor in the move came when Kevin convinced Larry that by doing so they could begin emailing invoices, and get paid faster without paying for postage. Although the typewriters remained for writing checks until one fateful day Larry’s typewriter failed and couldn’t be fixed. And the backup typewriter failed. And the backup to the backup failed. Even Larry’s secret backup typewriter hidden in the warehouse failed. Finally when Kevin couldn’t get the margins wide enough on Brian’s old word processor Larry relented and allowed the company to move onto printed checks. Meanwhile the typewriters remain in the warehouse, just in case. To know what that case might be, you’d have to ask Larry and he’s not telling.
In 2010 Kevin bought a minority ownership of Sam’s Safety Equipment, making it a family, as well as, a service-disabled veteran owned and operated small business. By the end of 2014 Larry had sold his entire share of the business to Kevin and the following year James sold his ownership of the store, but don’t think that they aren’t at work bright and early every day, six days a week. James continued to come into the store until at 88 he decided to spend more time with his wife, Doris. Larry and James’s commitment to customer service and delivering quality products ahead of time and at a reasonable price is engrained in the operations of the company.
While the company has seen over 50 years in operation and 40 years in its current location, our goal is to maintain the things that have kept us in business for so long: great customer service, strong word of mouth marketing among customers, and a family of employees that rely upon and support each other.