History: Sewart Supply
The Beginning of an Era
Sewart Supply began as a general supply store that served the needs of Sewart Supply Seacraft Shipyard and the Berwick, Louisiana area. In 1966, Fred Sewart added a product line to Sewart Supply’s offering that would prove to be the foundation for the company that has since become a world leader in the sales and service of marine propulsion equipment. However, after selling Sewart Seacraft to Teledyne, Teledyne decided to spin off the supply division in 1969.
In came Allie Adams, Jr. After rising to the position of general manager with Brady Engine Co. in Houma, Louisiana, he was very familiar with the opportunities for one of Sewart Supply’s product lines. Adams felt that Twin Disc power transmissions could play a major role in the developing oil and gas marine industry of the Gulf Coast. As with most worthwhile endeavors, his visions of a standalone Twin Disc distributorship would not come easy.
After making a couple of red-eye flights to and from Racine, Wisconsin, Adams successfully negotiated assignment of the Twin Disc contracts with John Batten, then chief executive officer of Twin Disc. Upon returning to Morgan City, he acquired Sewart Supply and sold off the miscellaneous product line to concentrate his efforts in developing the Twin Disc product line.
The Flood of 1973
Just four short years after Adams purchased Sewart Supply and was well on his way to developing the reputation the company enjoys today, in came the Flood of 1973. The spring thaw caused the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to crest at unusually high levels. To relieve the Mississippi, more water was diverted into the Atchafalaya, and that caused it to overflow its banks.
For many companies, like Sewart Supply, located outside the protection of the river’s floodwall, the flood could have been catastrophic. However, while the lower service department portion of the facility on the Berwick waterfront flooded with 4 feet of water, the elevated portion of the facility remained dry. This enabled the company to continue sales operations through rear doors cut into the building, allowing shipping and receiving of merchandise over the floodwall.
Sewart Acquires Harahan Branch
Shortly after the Flood of ’73, Adams was approached by Twin Disc with another major decision concerning the growth of Sewart Supply. Twin Disc owned and operated a factory distribution store in Harahan, Louisiana and was spinning off its factory-owned stores, going strictly to an independent distribution network.
The offer was for Sewart to acquire the factory branch and set up operations in the New Orleans area. While it seemed like a great opportunity, it was coming on the heels of the ’73 flood, and the company was only four years old. However, Adams saw the potential that a branch based in the New Orleans metropolitan area represented. So in May of 1974, Sewart acquired the existing facilities, making the acquisition the first of many that make up today’s company structure.
Sewart Moves from Berwick Riverfront to Morgan City
After 13 years in the original Berwick location with no room for expansion, Sewart outgrew its facilities. As a result, Adams purchased property on U.S. 90 in Morgan City. In 1982, the company moved into its new 30,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art sales and service facility.
This represented a tripling of warehouse and service space, enabling Sewart to serve its ever-growing customer base more effectively. As continued growth has demanded, this facility that is still occupied today by the company has grown to more than 50,000 square feet.
It was at this time that those who would become today’s upper management joined the company. Greg Roussel, a summer apprentice and recent accounting graduate, joined the company in 1982. Shortly after, Al Adams III joined the company after completing mechanical engineering studies at Louisiana State University.
Unfortunately, the next few years proved to be a good education in surviving tough times in the oil patch. However, when times get tough, that seems to be when great opportunities present themselves. In 1984, the industry was in a downward spiral, and service companies were struggling to keep their heads above the water.
Another Twin Disc distributor with locations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, consisting of seven branch locations, was approaching insolvency and looking for a way out. The newly-formed team at Sewart developed a strategy to purchase this distributor and serve the market with Sewart’s existing locations. That allowed Sewart to grow without overextending itself during challenging economic times.
Growth through Diversification
In 1989, Sewart was approached by Hamilton Water Jet of New Zealand to become a Gulf Coast representative for the product. In keeping with its strength in the Gulf Coast marine market, the product seemed to be a natural fit. At the time, there were no commercial vessels powered by water jets in the Gulf Region. After several years of sales and promotional efforts, Diamond Services—through local boat builder, Swiftships—decided to give jet propulsion a try.
Fifteen years later, after numerous vessels that have been delivered all over the world, a fleet of more than 50 water jet powered vessels now plow the water of the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to operators such as Diamond Services, Candy Fleet, Seacor Marine, Graham Gulf, Oceanic Fleet, and Rigdon Marine, water jets have developed into a viable propulsion option.
Sewart Moves to the West Bank
As it happened in its Morgan City operation, Sewart outgrew its Harahan location and opted to relocate to the West Bank to serve its customers more effectively. In 1990, Sewart built a new, 45,000 square-foot sales and service facility on the Harvey Canal. Up to this point in the company’s history, all service work was performed by the Morgan City service technicians. This represented a change in company philosophy and set the stage for a period of marked growth for the organization.
The Move West
In the early 1990s, Sewart was once again approached by a Twin Disc distributor in Texas that was experiencing financial difficulties. As before, multiple branch locations and towering overhead proved too great to manage in slow economic times.
Adams, Roussel, and the team applied the proven principles of the past and purchased the distributorship, consolidating its inventory in one location in southeast Houston. After 10 years in a leased facility, Sewart purchased property in Friendswood, Texas and built a 46,000 square-foot sales and service facility that still serves as its Texas base today.
Keeping up with the Industry
As the offshore marine industry has continued to evolve, the need for higher capacity for larger propulsion equipment has followed suit. Sewart’s most recent expansion was designed to address its existing facilities’ shortcomings in supporting such large equipment.
The new 30,000 square foot warehouse, training facility, and technical support center bring the Morgan City operation to more than 85,000 square feet of support facilities to serve Sewart’s ever-growing customer base. The state-of-the-art training facility has been equipped with a mock engine room to simulate field installations and help accelerate the training of the next generation of marine propulsion technicians.
People Are the Future
Sewart Supply continues to position itself to meet the challenges of the constantly-evolving commercial marine market. The company has a dedicated staff of over 70 employees and has been involved in training programs to help compose and continue to motivate the next generation of Sewart Supply employees.
As the company celebrated its 40th anniversary, Sewart welcomed the third generation of the Adams family to the team. Following his graduation from Louisiana State University in Business Management, Allie Adams, IV joined the Sewart Supply team. After spending several months in the service department, sales, and every other department in Sewart Supply to understand the business and how the company operates, Adams IV joined the management team, and he continues to work tirelessly to improve on the traditions of hard work and unparalleled service that his father and grandfather instilled in the company.
Such new leadership will continue to usher Sewart Supply through its 5th decade of existence, and it will be sure to see the company through several more years of development and continue its role as a leader in the marine industry.
As Allie Adams III has stated, “With our committed and dedicated staff, quality products, and future leadership in place, Sewart stands poised to take advantage of the opportunities the changing marketplace will bring.”