Hal Herweck, director of government programs for Phoenix Textile Corporation, knew he'd made it.
His firm's was one of only four booths at a recent U.S. Department of Commerce-sponsored trade event in Istanbul, Turkey. The other three? Aerospace titans Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrup-Grumman.
"I thought, 'We are with the big boys now!' " he recalls. "It was a great feeling."
Gratifying as this recognition was, it wasn't an unusual occurrence for either Herweck or Phoenix, founded in 1983 by CEO Palmer A. (Pam) Reynolds. Herweck's Government Services Program was added in 1999. With the advice and assistance of Millie Miller-Hoover, procurement specialist with the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) in St. Louis, the firm has risen to become one of the premier distributors of textiles to the long-term care industry and a fierce competitor in the acute care marketplace with more than 100 employees headquartered in O'Fallon, a distribution center in Sparks, Nev., sales personnel across the country and sales of about $50 million.Phoenix's meteoric rise hasn't gone unnoticed. Among local honors the company has received are being named a top 100 workplace and recognized with the St. Louis Small Business Award. The firm was also nationally recognized as an Inc. Magazine 500 fastest growing company and also received recognition as a top woman-owned business, best employer and Entrepreneur of the Year.
Herweck hadn't meant to helm Phoenix's contracting efforts. He had just retired after 20 years with the federal government division of now-defunct computer maker DEC when Reynolds, whom he had known for nearly three decades, approached him with the idea of taking Phoenix into the world of contracting.
He thought it was a great idea. The federal government is the nation's and probably the world's largest consumer of scrubs, laboratory coats, pediatric and protective apparel and uniforms; linens such as sheets, terry, blankets and spreads; incontinence products, clothing protectors and pillows; beds and mattresses, slippers, socks and shower curtains; and bedspreads, cubicle curtains, flooring, window treatments and furniture through the VA, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, Department of Health and Human Services and other departments.
"I said, 'Well, I'll be glad to come up with a General Services Administration (GSA) proposal and contract," Herweck recalls saying to Reynolds. The GSA is an independent agency that manages and supports the basic functions of many federal agencies. But if he secured the contract, he said, Reynolds would need a manager.
That turned out to be him.
Herweck admits that moving from a 150,000-employee firm to a 100-employee firm was a major cultural shift. But Phoenix's smaller scale allows the firm's executives to focus more on employee development and retention. On its website and in its publications, Phoenix says a dedication to employees translates to employees dedicated to customers.
Admittedly, many Phoenix government division prime contracts are small, at just a few thousand dollars. But Phoenix also garners headlines for such contracts as a recent $81 million indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract — the mother of all contracts — from Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Troop Support for medical and surgical products for the military and for federal civilian agencies. Herweck says that because of their successful experience with the military, his division is now in the process of adding a line of products for police and fire departments and first responders. "This is happening very quickly," he says, and he expects gratifying results.
Reynolds took courses on government contracting in the 1990s, but with Miller-Hoover and MO PTAC's assistance, the firm has identified applicable federal supply groups, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Codes and even keywords, classifications that may be tedious to assemble but are essential to doing business with the government. These identifiers were instrumental in setting up a Phoenix bid matching profile in FedBizOpps, a service that gives daily notification of bidding opportunities solicited by federal, state and local government agencies.
Herweck says PTAC has also proved useful in securing state contracts. State governments normally try to fulfill most contracts within a state to spur prosperity and development; finding these contracts can be as challenging as identifying the federal ones and may not be as lucrative, but still boost Phoenix's bottom line, he says. In fact, the firm has done so well that it's likely the second-largest woman-owned company in Missouri, but still largely flies under the radar.
"And that's OK with us," Herweck says. "We want people to remember not that we are woman-owned and a small business but a good company that carries and stands behind quality products. Our major theme, and this is vital to our success, is that we work very hard to make our customer know we are a company of integrity. It's all about being honest and forthright with the customer," he says — whether it's a small, cash-strapped inner-city clinic or the mammoth GSA or DLA.
This story was featured in the September 2013 newsletter
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