Above Photo: Witmer Associates, Inc. Corporate Headquarters and home of The FireStore.com - located outside Coatesville, PA
Coatesville, Pa.; October 26, 2006: For the second year in a row, Jim Witmer, founder and CEO of Witmer Associates, Inc.- home of TheFireStore.com and OfficerStore.com - is pleased to announce that his company has been recognized as one the 2006 Philadelphia 100, a prestigious list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Ranked number 42 in 2005, this year Witmer Associates was honored as the region's 49th fastest-growing company at the 2006 Philadelphia 100 award ceremony held October 24th at the Sheraton Center City. Now in its 18th year, it's considered one of the City's premier business events.
Unlike the Fortune 500 and other rankings based solely on current size or revenue, the Philadelphia 100 celebrates the vitality of the area's most vibrant entrepreneurs - recognizing exceptional growth and the ability of a company to sustain it. Being named to this prestigious list for two consecutive years is more than doubly difficult.
To Jim Witmer, the growth of his business has been a natural development of his desire to support the public service community; "the real heroes," as he puts it, that he knows so well. He has been a volunteer firefighter for 34 years, and recently completed a three-year term as chief of the East Brandywine Fire Company. "After so many years as a firefighter, myself," Witmer said, "I know where public service professionals are coming from, I know what they need, and what they expect. I've hired people who also understand, and we do whatever we can to support our customers."
Customer service has always been the most important part of the equation for this family owned and operated company. Today Witmer Associates' staff of over 80 people includes 17 volunteer firefighters, four EMTs, three police officers, three firefighter's wives, and one police officer's wife. Jim Witmer summed up how important that affinity is to the way his company does business. "We're family," he explained. "We're colleagues. We understand the unique needs of public safety professionals, we know our products, and we simply won't compromise on quality. We just keep doing everything possible to exceed expectations."
In a business sense, it has been about continuing to find new and better ways to meet the needs of a niche market, then applying specialized expertise, resources, and technology to meet customer needs. Witmer Associates was started 21 years ago by Jim Witmer and his late brother Greg, initially as a manufacturers' rep for restaurant equipment companies. Jim, a firefighter since he was a teenager, saw a new application for the corrosion-resistant wire racking used in the food service industry, and designed a line of specialized fire station turnout gear racks and lockers that would allow a fireman's wet gear to dry while it was stored. Soon afterward, the Witmers started Gearmasters, Inc. to manufacture and market his growing line of gear racks to the firefighting community.
With a growing knowledge of the needs of the firefighters throughout the country, in 1996 Jim convinced several of the major fire helmet manufacturers to allow Witmer Associates to sell factory replacement parts directly to the firemen who would otherwise have to strip parts from new helmets to make repairs to their old ones - an expensive proposition, especially for volunteer firefighters, who generally must buy and maintain their own gear.
Greg's marketing expertise and desire to apply the then-fledgling Internet technology were behind the launch of HelmetPartsSource.com, one of the first e-commerce websites targeted specifically to the firefighting industry. New products were added to the website on a weekly basis to meet demand. As Witmer Associates continued to expand their product offerings beyond helmet parts, a change in the website name became necessary - in 1999 TheFireStore.com was born.
The growth has been nothing short of astonishing. A retail store was opened to go along with the online business. And a specialized outside sales force was established to serve the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware tri-state area with sales of regionally exclusive and more service-intensive products.
In 2004 Witmer Associates launched OfficerStore.com, a website focusing on the needs of the law enforcement community. Their solid reputation with the firefighting and EMS industries provided instant recognition and credibility, and this second outlet quickly took off. The subsequent acquisition of Pennsylvania Police Supply, an established full-service law enforcement supply business near Pittsburgh, gave Witmer Associates the ability to serve Law Enforcement and Homeland Security agencies with firearms and a much more comprehensive range of specialized products. Plus it gave OfficerStore.com a new showroom and service facility in western Pa.
Just a year ago, the company moved from its 5,000 square foot retail location in Downingtown, to a brand new 35,000 square foot facility in Coatesville, PA. The custom-designed building, which resembles a giant red-brick firehouse complete with a brass pole in the foyer, contains a large retail showroom, customer service center, warehouse and distribution facilities, and corporate headquarters.
Improvements are continually being made in distribution, inventory control and handling, and in the website itself. Today the company represents many of the industry's largest and most important brands. New products and new lines are being added literally every day. From about 20 people just three years ago, Witmer's staff has grown to over 80; and more additions are planned in both personnel and facilities. With the recent purchase of 18 acres adjacent to current headquarters, Witmer Associates is primed for future expansion.
Yet growth isn't changing the company's core values. "Customer service will always be the most important part of the equation," Witmer explained. "We couldn't be happier with the results."