Moody, Ala.-based Jones Stephens continues to evolve as a supplier of plumbing, contractor and MRO specialty products. Part of the New Jersey-based World and Main (formerly Hardware Holdings) family of companies, Jones Stephens is able to leverage products from its sister World and Main divisions in Houston and Cranbury, N.J., providing its customers with more than 35,000 plumbing items along with contractor and MRO specialty products across its three distribution centers in Alabama, Pottsville, Pa., and Valencia, Calif. Jones Stephens is further bolstered by a customer-service track record of fill and error-free rates approaching 100%.
Plumbing and Mechanical recently traveled to company headquarters in Moody to speak with World and Main Sr. Vice President of Wholesale Channels Michele Hudec, Jones Stephens Director of Operations Brian Owens and Vice President of Field Sales Christopher Rohling about a variety of topics, including the strength of parent company World and Main, customer-service initiatives and the company’s new Keep ‘Em at Your Counter initiative.
PM: How does Jones Stephens benefit from being under the World and Main umbrella?
MH: At World and Main, we buy so much material for our large customer base, that we’re able to offer all customers product at the best delivered value. And that helps Jones Stephens gain the sale with innovative product solutions (the plumbing category is World and Main’s largest with 35% of company revenue coming from that platform). We offer over 45,000 own-brand SKUs across 14 categories. That’s a pretty complicated mix, but the value we offer the customer is we simplify the buying process for them by reducing complexity and increasing efficiency. We have become experts at delivering simplicity and facilitating our customers’ success.
PM: How has the perception of Jones Stephens changed since coming under World and Main’s auspices?
MH: Prior to becoming a World and Main company, Jones Stephens was thought of as a fill-in supplier. Customers would order from us when another supplier let them down. Our value proposition has changed. We are positioned to be a primary supplier across several categories and the industry is taking notice. We’ve been able to expand our customer penetration by delivering the right product, on time and at the best value, and by offering thoughtful solutions to our customers’ challenges.
CR: Many of our customers used to think of Jones Stephens and they’d get lost in our catalog. Trying to navigate thousands of SKUs can be daunting. As a sales team, we’ve focused on key categories such as MRO products and toilet seats and that’s helped us grow and it’s helped our customers grow. We want our customers to be more efficient in the buying process and with inventory management. We want them to know they always can get what they need from Jones Stephens, usually in one day. We’re easy to do business with. The customer is looking for simplicity and we provide that.
PM: Tell us about the new Jones Stephens “Keep ‘Em at Your Counter” initiative.
MH: It’s all about leakage. A shared customer is a customer at risk. Under the World and Main umbrella, Jones Stephens is able to offer an expanded product mix with everything a contractor uses on the jobsite, so he doesn’t need to go to another store and instead can head from the distributor location, straight to the jobsite. I was speaking with a contractor recently who said he would much rather have his guys buy everything they need at the distributor’s location so they don’t have to make two stops. Time is money for contractors and we want the plumbing wholesaler to be their primary and only stop. We want our customers to think like retailers so contractors stay in their stores. The contractor leaves the store happy and the wholesaler enjoys increased revenue from the sale.
PM: And what are the keys to keeping contractors at the counter?
MH: Jones Stephens stocks more than 300 SKUs related to contractor specialties and MRO products focused on keeping the contractor at the counter. We’re also able to customize displays for distributors so they can carry the contractor specialty items most relevant to their customers. Jones Stephens has the merchandising expertise where we can work with a wholesaler, small or large, and help them properly merchandise their counters with things plumbing contractors use every day, such as contractor trash bags or safety gear. It’s all about customer retention. We want wholesalers to win at the counter. Additionally, our wholesaler partners can become customers of World and Main. The opportunity is there for wholesalers to have access to more than 45,000 SKUs. This allows them to expand their reach of business and their wallets.
PM: How important is the behind-the-scenes piece in your three distribution centers?
BO: Our goal is fast and error-free shipping. We run a two-shift operation out of Moody that allows for same-day shipping on all orders up to 2 p.m. Right now we’re at 99.9% for on-time shipping and most of the time it’s in the fulfillment process within an hour of us receiving the order. We pull and ship thousands of lines daily out of the Moody facility and we’re 99.8% accurate. We always keep the metrics in front of us, which are safety, quality, cost and delivery.
Jones Stephens also has a custom assembly department where we can build more than 8,000 SKUs. We do a lot of custom jobs and we’ll stay until we get the job done. We’ve come a long way and we’ve been able to do that because we have good processes in place. Good processes coupled with good people allow everything to come together. If we’re focusing on safety, quality, cost and delivery, everything works out. We’re keeping costs low and we’re getting the customers what they want, on time and we’re doing it in a safe manner. That’s all that matters.
MH: The opening of our West Coast facility in Valencia in June of 2015 was pivotal. Jones Stephens has long been a significant player east of the Rockies. Now, we’re able to provide excellent service to our growing West Coast customer base. Those customers used us largely as a fill in supplier, but it would take 5-7 days for product to get there. Now, our West Coast customers are receiving orders in 24-48 hours, their freight rates have been greatly reduced and Jones Stephens is enjoying significant growth in the region as a result.
PM: What does the future hold for Jones Stephens?
MH: We are continuing to expand our reach with a broad product offering, innovative programs and a forward-thinking approach to our customer partnerships. Jones Stephens saw double-digit growth last year (Jones Stephens serves more than 2,500 unique customers with close to 7,000 locations) and we see something similar happening going forward. I’ve been in the plumbing industry for close to 30 years and have never worked with such a talented and dedicated team as the one at Jones Stephens. It’s all hands on deck to get it done because it’s all about satisfying the customer. Jones Stephens and World and Main have a solution to sell. We’re selling a company here not a widget. The days of, “I have one, do you want to buy it?” are long gone. We pride ourselves on working with customers to solve their problems and to explore new opportunities. We sell solutions and that has uniquely positioned Jones Stephens in this industry.
This article was originally titled “We got it” in the November 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.