Not only do talented women help operate our nuclear facilities, they run businesses that support our plants, too. For Women’s History Month, we’re sharing the experience of one of our female-owned nuclear plant suppliers.
For Wendy Watson and her family, spring break at Disney World was a normal family vacation: spending time together, catching a show and buying nuclear plant parts while riding Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Watson, who owns Dapco in Upstate, South Carolina, specializes in procuring equipment and parts for companies like Duke Energy, particularly hard-to-find items for nuclear plants. The nature of her business often means working odd hours to facilitate expedited orders, including while on vacation.
Before the recent family trip to Disney World, Watson had contacted a supplier of obsolete parts in Massachusetts, not realizing he would have what she needed that weekend to fulfill an order for Oconee. “The supplier drove to his warehouse to get the material then allowed our courier to pick it up for a weekend delivery,” Watson recalls. “The funniest part was that I gave the supplier my credit card payment over the phone while riding Thunder Mountain Railroad. My kids still talk about that!”
Finding her niche
In 2013, Watson realized there was a need to streamline the procurement process for companies like Duke Energy, that deal with many suppliers. Between the multitude of supplier options, ever-changing part numbers and differing purchasing and communication requirements, Watson sought to streamline the process for procurement personnel without affecting the bottom line.
“I like to think of us as professional shoppers,” says Watson. But purchasing parts, particularly for nuclear plants, is more complicated than your average trip to the store. Watson spends a lot of time asking people to search old inventory and even start producing material again to meet her clients’ needs. “Arranging weekend pick-ups, getting people to open up in the middle of the night, and even having material sent on commercial flights for same-day delivery, are some of our most difficult tasks,” says Watson.
Another challenge is helping vendors understand the precise nature of nuclear plant purchasing. As Watson puts it, “there are very few substitutions in this field.” From part numbers to shipping methods, every item ordered for a plant like Oconee Nuclear Station must be exact, to ensure regulatory requirements and industry standards are met.
Running a small business
While running a small business can be challenging, Watson has found it to be advantageous. For example, she has access to small-business buyers’ groups and discounts that allow her to sell a wide variety of materials at a reasonable price. The inventory is particularly beneficial when sourcing unusual items in unconventional time frames. “We have a little notebook full of after-hours contacts willing to provide their services and materials 24/7 should an emergency arise,” says Watson.
Being close to a nuclear plant is also helpful for a company that specializes in hard to find nuclear plant materials. “Our location has been key,” says Watson. “We actually relocated in 2016 to be even closer to both Oconee Nuclear Station and our frequent supply sources.”
Raising a family
The flexibility and stability Dapco provides has allowed Watson to support her local community beyond business transactions. In 2013, Watson made her first sale to a Duke Energy facility. That was the same month she and her husband started the process of becoming a foster family.
In addition to having three biological children, Watson has also helped raise 13 foster children, several of which have stayed for more than a year. “Having my own company can be intense at times, but being my own boss provides a unique flexibility that allows me to be a mom and a team leader all at the same time.”
Advice for other female business owners
Be genuine. Everyone wants to do business with someone who is prompt, kind and honest. Be honest about your mistakes and humble in admitting them. Acknowledging your mistake now may save you from a greater loss later.
Never forget a sale. It’s important to remember all your contracts, even the smallest of businesses that you work with. Networking is your most valuable tool as a small-business owner and it helps to keep detailed records and accurate accounts so you don’t forget a contact. You may think that you will never forget, but 1000 orders later, those memories do fade.
Be generous. Look for opportunities to support other minority businesses. They will be the ones to help you when needs arise. My biggest blessing has been being able to pay it forward.