Safety First

DiVal Safety Equipment

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DiVal Safety Equipment, Inc. is dedicating to keeping workers safe. The Buffalo, New York-based company is a business-to-business (B2B) distributor of safety equipment and associated safety supplies, and it does safety training, testing, and events.
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The biggest segment of DiVal Safety Equipment’s business is the sale of safety products. “That’s the locomotive that drives the train,” says Dale Lesinski, vice-president of sales and training.

Indeed, DiVal stocks thousands of safety-related products in categories ranging from fire-fighting equipment to first aid and emergency response, contractor supplies, gas detection equipment, personal protective equipment and traffic work zone safety. Personal protective equipment (PPE)—a grouping that includes safety glasses, boots, hard hats, ear plugs, gloves, and coveralls, among other items—is the company’s top-selling category. In addition to sales, DiVal offers rentals.

The company serves as a distributor, not a manufacturer and is a premier distributor of 3M products, chemical protection coveralls from DuPont and safety footwear from leading manufacturers such as Reebok and Timberland. “There are thousands of manufacturers we deal with,” says Lesinski.

DiVal has segments devoted to OSHA compliance training and gas detection including the sales, service, calibration and repair of gas detection devices as well as fire extinguisher inspection and safety footwear. It travels to workplaces in company vehicles called ‘ShoeMobiles’ to fit and sell work shoes and boots to clients, and it does respirator inspection and repair, equipment repair, fire hose inspection and provides workplace vending machines that contain safety products.

There is a new division that handles promotional products. This division was initially started to provide customized products for companies to hand out as safety incentive rewards to employees.

“Anything you would like with your company name on it—coffee mugs, Frisbees, golf shirts, you name it. It’s a complete division of our company now, with embroidery, silk screening, imprinting all done on site right here,” says Lesinski.

DiVal has a broad client-base. “We have a nice mix—manufacturers, general industry, contractors, road crews, construction, environmental contractors that do remediation and clean up. Plus schools, municipalities, and hospitals utilize our products. We get into a little government work but not much,” says Lesinski.

The company has clients from around the world but primarily deals with U.S.-based customers in every state.

The company operates several branches as well as its Buffalo HQ. There are distribution warehouse locations in Rochester and Syracuse in New York State and in Houston and Boston. Then there are sales offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Albany, Toledo, Fort Lauderdale and Manchester, New Hampshire. It is looking to expand even further but is not currently releasing details about potential new branches.

The company was founded in 1977 by Joe DiMaggio and Chuck Vallone, who initially sold rain suits and safety gloves from their car trunk. The company name was derived from the first letters of the men’s last names—Di and Val. DiMaggio eventually sold out to Vallone, who is now retired. Vallone’s son, C.J. Vallone, is the current company president.

Over the decades “we’ve continued to get bigger and better and continued to grow,” says Lesinski. He believes that there are several reasons for the company’s longevity. “Our leadership has been consistent, strong and committed and has done everything to continue to grow. If you don’t grow, you die. We’ve never been complacent. We’re constantly working to get better … [we have an] insatiable drive to continue to grow and improve.” The company currently has between 250 and 300 employees.

Customer service is paramount. The company offers product testing and will test items such as electrical gloves—designed to protect workers from electric shock—and fire hoses. For the latter, DiVal will send a unit on site to fill hoses with water and run them through a battery of tests.

DiVal Safety is a training center for the National Safety Council (NSC) and has several NSC certified trainers. The company holds safety training and compliance programs, typically at a client’s worksite. There are training classes available on everything from first aid, CPR & AED training to heat stress, lockout–tagout , powered industrial truck and fall protection, distracted driving and dealing with hazardous waste. One of the latest training programs examines new OSHA workplace rules regarding crystalline silica in construction.

To add to these client-specific activities, DiVal hosts presentations aimed at broader audiences. These include the Safety Expo, Safety Summit, and Power events. The Safety Summit is a regional conference that takes place over three days in early June, in Niagara Falls, New York.

“Conferences are getting harder for a lot of customers to attend because they’re far away, it takes a lot of travel to get there, and they can’t afford to be away from work. We created this event so you can leave your doorstep on Monday morning, get to the event, catch most all of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. By the time the show ends on Wednesday, you’ll be home before the sun sets,” says Lesinski.

The summit features “hundreds of vendors, thousands of products … it’s a national caliber event, with speakers and phenomenal content … [it’s] kind of our crown jewel,” he adds.

The Safety Expo is another event and is held on three consecutive days in three different cities—Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse—and geared towards customers and prospects alike. “It’s more product-centered, although there are a couple different workshops or educational sessions. There are new products and a lot of demonstrations,” says Lesinski.

DiVal also hosts Power Mornings, Power Lunches and Power Evenings. These events are typically focused “on one specific topic, with two or three product demonstrations or regulatory-type speakers—experts in their fields.” The Power Events are held all over the country “in any random city,” he adds.

For the past ten years or so, DiVal has been offering unique motivational speeches on the benefits of workplace safety. “We look at the safety business as two sides—an art and a science. The science side is the compliance side, the regulations. It’s black and white—you’re in compliance or you’re not. The other side is what we call the art side, which is getting humans to do the right thing.

“We help you with the culture side of your company, get employees to do the right thing. So we created a method: ‘Safe 4 the Right Reasons.’ Get employees to value their own safety. It goes over basic human nature and helps them get a good understanding as to why safety is so important. It gets employees to value their own safety and look out for each other,” says Lesinski.

The motivational speech service “has become one of our more popular and fastest growing parts of our company. It’s a true differentiator,” he adds.

The training and customer events DiVal puts on offer excellent promotional opportunities for the company. The firm also has a website and does “a little bit of social media but not much,” says Lesinski. “Our chief means of promotion is our direct sale force” doing old-fashioned phone call pitches.

As the company continues to expand, DiVal looks for new hires who “can work and live inside our values. That’s certainly first and foremost. We want people who are honest, hardworking and coachable … and have a desire to succeed and make a change,” states Lesinski.

DiVal’s corporate culture “is extremely positive … we still try to keep that family business mentality as much as we can. For the most part, you don’t have a boss here; you have people that you work with. We’re very productive; we probably get ten hours of work done in eight hours here. And we’re all accountable to each other,” he continues.

This positive spirit is reflected in the fact DiVal was selected as the number one mid-sized company to work for in Western New York in 2014, by The Buffalo News (the daily newspaper for the city). For the past 13 years DiVal has made Best Places to Work finals in the Buffalo Business First journal.

These results “show we’re doing right thing by employees. They’re proud to [work for us],” says Lesinski.

In terms of challenges, Lesinski says distributors such as DiVal have to recognize that “everybody can buy anything they want from Amazon or other huge suppliers,” these days. DiVal’s way of coping with this challenge is simple: offer great products and above all, great service. “There’s just no substitute for service. I think all of us are on the wrong side of good service every day. When you do get good service, you’re blown away. That truly is what we’re all about,” he explains.

Asked where he sees the company in five years, Lesinski says, “I see us bigger and better than ever. We will have more locations, more employees, and we’ll continue to thrive. We feel very confident.”

“We’re devoted to the safety of your employees and committed to the bottom line of our clients. Pretty much everything we do comes back to that. We work hard to help you protect your employees, so they get home to the kitchen table each night,” he adds.

September 23, 2017, 5:53 PM EDT

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