WestAir Gases has grown by leaps and bounds since 1970 but still retains the tenets of a small family-owned business. 

In 1970, WestAir founder Andy Castiglione was working for National Cylinder Gas as an outside sales representative in San Diego. He was very successful but found himself disillusioned with the level of service that the company was providing for its customers. Recognizing that customers craved improved customer care, Andy and his wife Sue decided to strike out on their own and opened San Diego Welders Supply.  

“It was just the two of them,” says CEO Steve Castiglione. “Dad was on the sales and mom answered the phones and did a little bit of bookkeeping. At that time, they didn’t have any money or resources to purchase cylinders, so they focused on the hardgoods market.” 

Andy’s knowledge and reputation in the industry, combined with his vision of providing the most exceptional customer service, along with San Diego’s burgeoning ship building markets, allowed San Diego Welders Supply to survive those early years.  

Sales began to grow, and the company was able to quickly expand, hiring like-minded employees who embodied the company’s philosophy of special, one-on-one customer service.  

“My dad and mom grew the business through their relationships that they had in Mexico and ship building,” Steve says. “That was how they got their foundation and how they really got started.” 

Expanding Beyond Hardgoods

In 1980, Andy and Sue’s son, Steve Castiglione joined the company. Prior to joining the business, Steve worked as a welder in the San Diego shipyards. Around this time, San Diego Welders Supply began dipping its toes into the packaged gas markets. Andy was very familiar with the market and well-connected from his time with NCG. But the company didn’t have the capital when it first opened to operate in that industry. 

“As time went on and the company grew, we opened up a second location and got into cylinders,” Steve says. “We used Air Liquide for our cylinders and bought cylinder gas products from Air Liquide. In the late 80’s, Air Liquide had a contract for their location in San Diego that wasn’t going well for them, so they asked us if we would like to take over that location and their business in San Diego. That gave us our second location.” 

Upon deciding that the packaged gas industry was one they wanted to build on, San Diego Welders Supply began investing in that side of the business.  

“Our customer base was primarily smaller customers and that helped build a base,” Steve recalls. “As that grew, we opened more locations, and started putting more focus on our gas products.” 

He continues, “We began to buy our own cylinders, financing them through Wells Fargo at a 15% interest rate. We put in a small lab for doing basic specialty gases. We put in a small fill plant and then eventually moved it to a larger location.” 

And then, in the early 2000’s, Andy decided to retire. 

“My dad decided that it was time to retire, and he turned the business over to me,” says Steve. “And my focus was more gas-related and less on the hardgoods side.” 

By now the company was well-established in San Diego and had built a reputation for customer service and being able to fulfill its customers’ needs quickly, efficiently and with integrity.  

“We realized at that time, that our name was no longer appropriate for who we wanted to be. We no longer wanted to be a welding supply company,” Steve says. “We wanted to be an industrial gas company. And so, we changed to our current name, WestAir Gases.” 

He continues, “We started focusing our attention on gas products. We began buying our own tube trailers, transports, and bulk tanks. We were one of the first companies to get into the microbulk business with Chart. We saw a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on new market share that was available through microbulk. We took the risk and it’s been very rewarding.”

This has been a hallmark of the newly christened WestAir Gases. It is willing and able to be on the bleeding edge when it sees opportunities to expand to new markets and segments. And it’s comfortable being an early adopter and taking the long view when it senses potential market shifts. 

And it is also willing to expand through partnerships and acquisitions. In 2013, WestAir expanded into the North Texas market through an acquisition of Ward Welding, based in Springtown, TX. The next year, the company acquired Texas Welders Supply and Melo’s Gas & Gear. Those acquisitions gave WestAir two locations in Texas as well as six more retail locations in California, along with another high-pressure pumping facility and acetylene plant. 

Today, WestAir operates in 18 different locations, with five-cylinder gas facilities and one lab producing EPA protocols and hydrocarbon blends, and 290 employees.

Commitment to Service

Though WestAir has grown far beyond its roots as San Diego Welders Supply, it still operates on the same tenets that it did when Andy and Sue were a two-man band. The company has grown strategically, partnering with companies who share its devotion to independence and exceptional customer service. And across its 18 locations and nearly 300 members, the company is still united under the banner of “Large Enough to Serve, Small Enough to Care.” 

The company continues to be a family company, with Steve serving as CEO, while his sons, Andy Castiglione (Regional Vice President) and Chris Castiglione (Energy Specialist) serve as third-generation owners. 

“My dad was always big on service. We like to refer to it as seamless service,” says Steve. “We want to be a support vehicle for our customers, we don’t want to be a problem for them. That’s been our competitive advantage in the marketplace. Providing top-notch service. Culturally, our employees know that our customers are number one, and we need to do our very best in taking care of them.” 

WestAir’s vision is to be the best and most respected independent distributor of gases and equipment, and the company knows that in order to do that, it must provide the best customer service, with well-trained, courteous employees, providing customer solutions, guided by hands-on leadership. 

The company’s “Commitment to Customer Service” is summarized in 12 points on the company’s website: 

  • Do what you say you’re going to do 
  • Greet guests immediately upon arrival 
  • Refreshments offered to all our guests 
  • Well stocked locations 
  • Answer all telephones by the third ring 
  • Maximum customer hold time is 20 seconds 
  • Respond to all inquiries within one hour 
  • First person who makes contact, owns the experience 
  • Will-calls ready within 30 minutes 
  • Same day delivery service available 
  • Cylinders maintained above industry standards 
  • The highest standard of professionalism from our employees, vehicles and all facilities. 

“Our grandpa did an amazing job of building a foundation for our company to grow,” says Andy Castiglione. “And then our dad came in and focused on gases. We really have put a focus on controlling our own destiny and providing that seamless service to our customers. To do that, we needed to take control of our own destiny and have been investing in bulk transports so we can go to the spigot, pick up the gases and then deliver them to our customers or bring them back to our packaged gas facilities. When you take that seamless service on the gas distribution side and you couple it with technology such as telemetry and cylinder bar coding, which provides information such as cylinders delivered and received back and know where they’re at, when they went out, who signed for them, and what PO they used, those little differentiators give us a competitive advantage because we can offer better service, we’re more reliable, and we’re easier to do business with than our competitors. We recognize we don’t have a national presence, but we do feel like we have a competitive advantage in the regional markets that we service through our customer service and investment in technologies.”

-Andy Castiglione

The Next 50 Years

54 years after Andy and Sue Castiglione opened the doors, WestAir continues to thrive. As they say, past is prologue. The company has itself well positioned to continue to grow in its quest to be the best and most respected independent distributor of gases and equipment. Built on the tenets of customer service that Andy and Sue instilled in the company and always willing to be on the leading edge of the next frontier, WestAir refuses to sit on its laurels and remains forward looking. 

“We see a tremendous opportunity for WestAir to participate in the Hydrogen mobility market and other parts of the industrial market,” Steve says. “We hired a consultant about six months ago to help us identify what that market will look like and where we might be able to participate. We’ve made great progress with that. We’ve purchased several hydrogen tube trailers in the past year and are purchasing more now.” 

Andy Castiglione adds, “In California alone, aerospace is huge, life science, beverage, the metal fabrication market is significant, food (agricultural, grows for lettuce, food packaging, dairy, cheese) the list goes on. There is so much opportunity in California. In five years, we’d like to cover the entire state and be able to outcompete our competitors through service and technology offerings.” 

In addition to its M&A growth, WestAir has always been very good at forming relationships within the industry. Today, Steve Castiglione serves as the chairman for IWDC. The company is a staple at GAWDA meetings. And the company is also an active member in the BIG Group and Trend Leaders. 

“All four of those organizations have been instrumental in helping us get to where we’ve gotten today. GAWDA is very important to us, and we primarily use it for relationship-building with our major vendors. The IWDC is important to us because it allows us to purchase through the co-op at very competitive pricing, but also gives us the ability to participate in round table discussions and talk to other distributors about the industry issues occurring or opportunities in the industry and we can all collaborate on that. And in the BIG Group and Trend Leaders we do a lot of information sharing, trying to keep up with technology, marketing opportunities, things of that nature.” 

-Steve Castiglione

Concludes third-generation owner Chris Castiglione,

“Over the last 54 years, many things have changed, and many things have stayed the same. It’s impossible to predict how the industry or business will evolve over the next 50 years. But we can be certain that we will continue to focus on providing excellent products and services to our customers.”





Exit mobile version