Last month,Plumbing & Mechanicalinterviewed 40-year industry veteranRuss Dueger, vice president of sales for Wolverine Brass, Conway, S.C. The 112-year-old company is unique in that it uses an 85-member national sales force and ships factory-direct to contractors throughout the country.
In high school, Dueger worked for a New York-based plumbing specialty company. He held several positions with the firm, plus had a stint in the Vietnam War. In 1990, Dueger joined Wolverine Brass to oversee sales and marketing. He and wife Sherry live in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and have two married sons.
PM: How is Wolverine Brass holding up during this extended recession?
RD:We have not seen declining sales to the level experienced by other manufacturers because we focus on supporting repair/remodel plumbers. For the past four months (April-July), we have seen sales growth each month and anticipate continued growth.
PM: What do you feel is the key trigger to a sustained rebound for the plumbing market?
RD:Consumer confidence is growing. Once it is re-established, repair, remodeling and new construction work will grow and prosper.
PM: How have plumbing contractors changed their buying habits during the recession as opposed to going into it?
RD:Plumbers are shopping more on price to make more profit.
PM:Where do you see the best opportunities for contractors in the year ahead?
RD:Customers are putting off repair and remodel work. I’m betting on faucet sales increasing, so we’re broadening our lines in preparation. We also expect more growth for our plumber-customized faucet brochures, ball valves, sink strainers and ballcocks.
PM: What one piece of advice can you offer for plumbing contractors during these challenging times?
RD:Contractors need to continue training their techs to achieve a high standard of quality installations. By doing so, contractors will make better profits.
PM: What are the advantages of selling through a network of field representatives, rather than two-step distribution?
RD:Wolverine Brass wouldn’t be Wolverine Brass without the relationship and service our sales force provides our customers. One-step, factory-direct distribution allows the professional plumber to make a greater profit on products not found in home centers.
PM: Which products drive company sales the most and why?
RD:All Wolverine Brass-manufactured products are made in the United States and to a standard not found in most home centers. This includes our lines of residential and commercial faucets, as well as brass valves, ball cocks and tubular products.
PM: How does Wolverine Brass support plumbing contractors?
RD: We’ve always been a major contributor to business education for the professional contractor by sponsoring programs. We continue to support Nexstar, Plumbers Success International and Quality Service Contractors.
PM: If a contractor runs out of your products, he/she cannot run to a wholesaler or home center and pick one up. How does that impact your customers?
RD:Most of our customers are dependent on Wolverine Brass products and reorder before they run low. In extreme situations, we ship product overnight or allow our sales staff to transfer product from one customer to another.
PM: What is the company’s greatest accomplishment?
RD: In 1972, Wolverine Brass invented the ceramic disc faucet cartridge, revolutionizing the way we turn water on and off.
PM: How do you use technology to serve your customers?
RD: We realize how valuable time is for contractors. For our larger customers, we provide a wireless scanning device for inventory management that submits orders to us when stock is low. This saves time counting and buying product, and increases billable man-hours.
PM: How has the change in ownership impacted Wolverine Brass?
RD: We were purchased by Bradford Equities in 2001. Our new owners have provided significant working capital, allowing us to build inventory and product lines, plus add two additional distribution warehouses.
For more information on Wolverine Brass, visit www.wolverinebrass.com or call 800/944-9292.