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Amelia Kittson (r) is poised to take over KIE Supply as her father, Gus Kittson Jr. (l), plans to retire. She looks forward to becoming part of the legacy of the business’ positive impact on the local community and its more than 100 employees.

KIE Supply Poised for Third-Generation Leadership and 70th Anniversary

Family-owned and operated since 1955, Kennewick Industrial & Electrical (KIE) Supply prides itself on treating its team members and customers like family.

Unlike big-brand businesses where employees and clients are just cogs in the machine, the company’s founder believed in respecting and helping the people integral to his business. The loyalty this created would ultimately come back around to benefit the company and local community. His ideals remain a cornerstone of KIE Supply today.

KIE, which is transitioning into its third generation of ownership and leadership, will celebrate its 70th anniversary next year and endures as a pillar of community in the Inland Pacific Northwest. The company is diversified in what it sells—electrical, decorative lighting, plumbing, turf irrigation and wastewater products—and steadfast in its commitment to serving contractors, repair professionals and do-it-yourselfers via six locations across Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

“We capitalize on all different markets and opportunities, particularly in the rural areas where we’re the only guy in town,” Gus Kittson Jr. said.

His father Augustan “Gus” Kittson Sr. started the business buying surplus electrical supplies after World War II and reselling the materials to local utilities building out their infrastructure in the United States. The company expanded into plumbing distribution, later into irrigation and most recently into wastewater product distribution.

When his father passed away at the age of 71, Gus Jr. presided over the business and continued to grow it. Now that he is ready to retire, his daughter, Amelia Kittson, is poised to take over the family enterprise. “My father is ready to retire on his birthday in January,” Amelia said, adding that she looks forward to becoming part of the legacy of the business’ positive impact on the local community and its more than 100 employees.

Amelia was promoted to vice president after completing her MBA through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Business Grainger Center’s Supply Chain Management program. She received a rare fellowship, including a full-ride scholarship, from The Grainger Foundation to attend the program.

With the shift in leadership from Gus to Amelia at KIE comes running Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analyses and setting SMART goals. “That’s how to drive strategic growth,” Amelia said, adding that she looks at everything with a critical eye to ensure everyone at KIE is rowing in the same direction.

Also critical to a successful succession plan is taking proactive steps to capture the knowledge and experience of the company’s long-term employees before they retire. Some of KIE’s employees have worked for the family for more than 40 years.

Remaining nimble in the marketplace is also key to KIE’s continued success. “Being a locally owned business allows us to make changes to better cater to market conditions,” Amelia said. “In the 80s, when the economy slowed down, we pivoted to focusing on repair parts. We focus on where the market is right now…and evolve to meet market conditions.”

In the last five years, KIE has added two people to its marketing team who specialize in community engagements. “They are getting our name out there, maintaining our digital presence and keeping us on top of Google search results,” Amelia said. “Through social media, they are getting the attention of both retail people and those who walk in off the street.”

KIE has also been working with IMARK member service provider Bravo Business Media to set up an online store. “It’s a couple-year process because we have to integrate it with our ERP system,” Amelia said. “While it’s a great initiative coming down the pipeline, what we found when we talked to customers is that they don’t want to go online 100% of the time. They want an omnichannel solution where they can go online and then look through our shelves where they can pick what they want.”

At KIE branches, customers have access to more than 80% of the parts and products the company sells. “Customers like that they can pick orders if they want to and it’s nice for add-on sales,” Amelia said.

For Gus Jr., it’s optimal to pass the business on to another generation and he looks forward to seeing how KIE evolves under Amelia’s leadership.

“Most people in the industry are similar to my father; looking for an exit strategy,” Amelia said. “I’m just getting started. In the grand scheme of things, we’re looking at expansion through acquisitions or other locations, but I have time on my side and that’s an asset and a resource.”

IMARK membership has been a strategic stone in the company’s growth path. “It provided us with better opportunities to negotiate with vendors and reps and access to other distributors around the country to talk about potential solutions,” Amelia said. “We are huge proponents for these groups [IMARK Electrical, IMARK Plumbing and Luxury Products Group (LPG)].”

Amelia serves on the LPG board “because it’s important to our company to give back to these groups and allow them to grow.”

As she continues on her career trajectory leading KIE into the future, Amelia strives to carry on the legacy her grandfather started with the business—to genuinely take care of the company’s employees and customers.

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