Tencarva Looking to Expand Memphis Presence

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

The story of how industrial distributor Tencarva Machinery Co. got its start has all the makings of a great motivational business speech – or a tale told in the iconic style of Sophia Petrillo from “The Golden Girls.”

Picture it: Norfolk, Va., 1974. A group of investors buys a thriving industrial supply company. As with many acquisitions, they bring new leadership, new priorities and a new business focus. Many of the company’s employees are unsettled. They start feeling less than thrilled about this new direction. The disgruntled-employee grumblings begin.

Some of these employees, however, choose to skip the “woe is me” routine and actually do something about the situation. These 19 employees – some apprehensive, but all of them passionate – take a leap of faith and band together to start their own company. The risky move turns out to be the right one. Over the course of the next three decades, their company grows to become an acclaimed industry leader.

That industry leader is Tencarva Machinery Co., named for Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where the first offices were located. And that group of 19 defectors from the now-defunct Tidewater Supply Co. has grown to more than 340 employees at 28 branches in eight states, including a Memphis location.

The company specializes in distributing pumps, liquid process and custom-designed systems for the industrial and municipal marketplaces, along with maintenance, repair and consultation services.


Retired vice president and current company director Bill Strong of Germantown is one of the original 19 trailblazers.

“We just wanted to survive,” he said. “Tidewater was a fine organization until it was sold, but the new owners didn’t really understand the industry or what we were doing. The company started to decline, and we decided our future was to go elsewhere.”

Strong said that when he and his associates left Tidewater, they had no suppliers and had to rely solely on their reputations and field knowledge to get Tencarva off the ground.

“There are always risks when you start a new organization, particularly one with no lines of equipment to sell,” Strong said. “But I had confidence in these guys. I knew that even if we didn’t have anything to sell other than paperclips, well, we’d be the best darned paperclip sellers in the world.”

While paperclips aren’t on Tencarva’s current list of products, the company did, in fact, become one of the leading industrial distributors in the country, per a recent high industry honor.

In its September/October issue, Industrial Distribution magazine ranked Tencarva Machinery at No. 41 in its annual “Big 50” list of largest industrial distributors in the nation.

The publication bases its Big 50 rankings on total worldwide sales. In 2012, Tencarva Machinery had $197 million in sales revenue.

Strong describes the Memphis branch as one of Tencarva’s largest and most significant branches, and he attributes the company’s success as a whole to a number of factors, including the management structure.

“We have been a strictly employee-owned company since 1978, so all the owners are vitally involved in the day-to-day company operations and invested in our success,” he said.

However, employee motivation goes beyond the desire to boost Tencarva’s bottom line, he said.

“We are a family here. We hire many of our people right out of college and they stay with us throughout their careers,” he said. “And we’re proud of the personal relationships we develop with our customers. We go in and establish credibility with them in that we have a genuine desire to solve their problems and help them succeed at their jobs.”

The news page on Tencarva’s website, tencarva.com, is dotted with updates on acquisitions and new product lines. Strong says the company is in growth mode and most likely will continue to expand during the next six months.

“We’re growing our ability to serve our customers, particularly in field maintenance and repairs. In the past, industrial manufacturers had extensive maintenance staffs and were pretty self-supporting,” he said. “But now, economic challenges have forced some of those companies to cut back on their maintenance staffs. We’re in the process of ramping up our ability to serve those needs and provide solutions for them.”

Tencarva’s mission to provide the highest levels of service to customers of all types and sizes could translate to good news for job seekers in the Memphis area. Strong encourages qualified candidates to submit their resumes to the company for consideration for current and anticipated future positions.

“We’re always looking for good, capable customer-service representatives with sales and repair experience, particularly in the industrial machinery field,” he said.