In July 2019, Lowe’s recognized Victor Agapov, sole owner of Wallo Brands LLC, at the Disability:IN National Expo as its first official Disability:IN Certified Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE). We recently spoke to Victor to learn more about his inspiration to start Wallo®, challenges as a business owner and DOBE certification.
Lowe’s: Can you tell us about your company, Wallo Brands LLC and its products?
Victor: I founded Wallo Brands LLC, a family-owned company in 2013. We’re headquartered in Madison, WI, and engineer, manufacture, and distribute commercial and residential construction products. These products include metal and plastic access panels and doors as well as electrical box covers.
Lowe’s: What inspired you to start your business?
Victor: Years ago, I encountered a small problem while remodeling our basement. After the ceiling was drywalled, the building inspector came and informed me that, according to the latest building codes, we had to provide permanent access to all the HVAC air dampers concealed behind the drywall. I wanted to use something aesthetically appealing, preferably with a circular shape to match our speakers and other round fixtures we used. Since I couldn’t find any, I decided to make one myself. The company was formed shortly after.
Lowe’s: What do you love about being a business owner?
Victor: I love this business because it doesn’t feel like work. New challenges constantly keep me on my feet, whether it’s creativity, technology, sales and marketing, or social media promotions. I also love the freedom to make decisions that determine my future. I can clearly envision the rewards from my efforts.
Lowe’s: What’s the hardest part of being a business owner?
Victor: Growing a business is harder than starting one. For me, the hardest part of running a business is being a little fish in a big pond. To Lowe’s, we’re only one of their many suppliers, but we still must meet all their requirements, safety regulations and insurance limits, provide the same quality, and offer the same level of customer care and expertise as many other large and established suppliers. It presents a challenge, but it also keeps us pushing to be better.
Lowe’s: How has your disability affected your ability to start and grow the company?
Victor: I’ve been stuttering all my life, but I believe that helped me become more resourceful both personally and professionally. It forced me to seek other ways to solve some simple issues. I also thought I couldn’t realize my true potential working in the corporate world, so helped me in deciding to take a chance and start my own company. Although I control the company’s growth, my inability to effectively communicate with clients, partners, and potential customers always pushes me to innovate and seek different ways to solve problems and optimize and improve business operations. Fortunately, there are many options available to outsource and automate most of those tasks, such as customer support, inventory control, customer management, and finance. I now use several tools to help me operate more efficiently.
Lowe’s: Why did you become a member supplier for Disability:IN?
Victor: I’d never heard of this organization until one of my clients mentioned how it empowered businesses to achieve disability inclusion and equality. I appreciated the opportunities to grow my business and connect with other business owners with disabilities. I believe we have a great deal to offer each other and I always seek opportunities to learn from other Disability:IN members as well as share my experiences to help them grow.
Lowe’s: How has being a Disability:IN Certified DOBE helped your business?
Victor: The Disability:IN Supplier Diversity program has helped DOBEs such as Wallo™ connect with larger corporations like Lowe’s. It’s a win-win for all parties because it significantly advances disability inclusion. Once certified, I felt an immense impact on my business. I could enhance and improve our business capabilities through participation in various programs such as the Tuck Executive Education at Dartmount College, mentoring exchanges and annual conferences. Although my partnership with Lowe’s is new, I hope to see it evolve and grow.
Lowe’s: What do you see as the coolest and most important trend in your industry?
Victor: That would have to be building “green” and how it has become the norm for the construction industry. As more companies embrace green building standards, we see our products becoming more popular. They give people a simple way to access HVAC systems and to control airflow in the buildings, which in turn leads to greater energy savings.
Lowe’s: What’s your favorite career moment?
Victor: I feel a great deal of satisfaction when I can listen to a client’s problem, find a solution that meets their needs, and reach a place where they can appreciate the product I provide them.
Lowe’s: How has it been working with Lowe’s?
Victor: Becoming a supplier for one of the biggest retailers in the world has increased our Wallo Brands’ visibility and helped strategically position the company as a trusted partner.. It has also been an amazing learning experience. The Lowe’s team was extremely helpful during our lengthy onboarding process by assisting us through each step. Visiting the Lowe’s headquarters for the suppliers meeting was also quite valuable and gave us important insight into the company’s goals and mindset.
Lowe’s: Do you have any advice on how other DOBE suppliers can partner with Disability:IN or Lowe’s Supplier Diversity to help their business?
Victor: I recommend that suppliers do their homework, and research prospective clients and their current portfolio or product lines to determine if there’s a possible match. Typically, there’s only one chance to showcase a product or service so it’s important to be prepared.
Lowe’s: Please complete the following sentences.
- When I face a challenge…
- Victor: I remind myself of all the challenges I’ve already successfully overcome in my life which motivate me to succeed.
- If I could go back in time…
- Victor: I would tell myself that, even with my disability, there are ways to achieve my dreams.
- The one thing I couldn’t live without is…
- Victor: my family.
- By this time next year…
- Victor: I will be continuing to work hard to grow my business and look for new opportunities. I also hope to take some time away from the business and travel.
- To get my creative juices flowing…
- Victor: I like to map out my thoughts on large sheets of paper. It helps me visualize the connections between concepts.
Lowe’s: Thank you for your time. We appreciate everything you do!
Victor: Thank you for the opportunity!