As a contractor, you understand better than anyone the value of a good wholesaler. Through all the changes the plumbing industry has experienced over the last two decades, the supply house remains an essential link between you and the manufacturers whose products you purchase and install.

Plumbing & Mechanical recognizes how vital a well-run distributor is to your business. That’s why we’ve named Beaumont, Texas-based Coburn Supply Co. our 2010 Wholesaler of the Year.

I started covering our industry 20 years ago as an editor on Supply House Times, PM’s sister publication. I got to know a number of wholesalers, including Coburn’s, and reported on the challenges they faced from big-box retailers and dot-com companies that sought your business.

Good wholesalers have withstood these competitors by adapting to the changing times and your changing needs. They’ve worked hard to develop stronger relationships with you by getting to know your business better.

Much of Coburn’s success comes from its clear understanding of its role in the supply chain. It has performed this function exceptionally well through its 76 years of operation.

“One thing we know is we’re not a manufacturer. We’re not good at creating demand for a product,” Coburn’s President Don Maloney says. “We certainly know we’re not a contractor. We know we move material.”

We realize that many wholesalers have not fared as well as Coburn Supply. This is particularly true in the last couple years when a runaway construction market was not there to bolster companies with poor business practices and uneven customer service.

Coburn Supply, on the other hand, has built its business on six core values that would make a solid foundation for any company, be it a wholesaler, manufacturer or contractor. They’re worth sharing with you here.

1. Be customer focused. A company must strive every day to earn its way by serving its customers and understanding how it can add value to them.

 “We’re an extension of our customers. If our customers are successful, then we’re successful,” Executive Vice President A.J. Maloney says. “We can’t do anything to impede them from making money or doing their job on time.”

2. Sell quality products. A company must have great products to sell and partner with quality manufacturers that supply them. The wholesaler adds value to its contractor customers by supplying them with these products.

3. Adapt to an ever-changing marketplace. A company must continually try to improve by embracing changes that help it become better at what it does.

4. Focus on the future. A company must continually try to foresee what its world will be in the future as customers, products and competitors change. Its challenge is to be in a position to organize for success no matter what changes occur.

5. Believe in the value of the individual. It is people who make a company strong and will be the foundation of continued success.

6. Respect the firm’s legacy. A company should take pride in its past, which gives it stability and its employees a sense of who they are. Today’s leaders and employees must strive for excellence to put in place a structure to create success for future generations.

The pace of change in our industry only will accelerate. Partnering with a wholesaler that understands what you need to succeed, however, still will remain a valuable asset.

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