Bruce Carnevale of Bradford White (left) and Don Devine of American Standard Brands were part of a manufacturer panel discussion at October’s PHCC Connect meeting in New Orleans. Photo credit: Bob Miodonski/Plumbing & Mechanical

Communications, training and technology hold the keys to improve the flow of products from manufacturers to wholesalers to contractors. A panel of manufacturers reached this consensus Oct. 23 during the Connect 2009 meeting sponsored by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association in New Orleans.

“We can’t wait for the economy to improve to make changes in the supply chain,” said Legend Valve Vice PresidentRobert Vick, who moderated the discussion.

The format for “Determining Roles for Success” allowed each manufacturer to address separate topics such as green plumbing products, Building Information Modeling and product availability. The panel then opened to questions from PHCC members in the audience.

Manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors all play a part when products are not available when customers need them, Vick said.

“For manufacturers, it becomes increasingly difficult to know what wholesalers want to add,” he said. “There’s no consistency in what contractors buy from supply houses. Inconsistency of flow results in shortages.

“Manufacturers have to commit to higher fill rates, wholesalers have to stock more variety and contractors have to order more than a day ahead.”

Products not being available create an ongoing source of stress in the supply chain, InSinkErator Vice PresidentDennis Brodericksaid. Another six months probably will pass before product mix, availability and demand come into balance.

“There’s a need for increased communications to reduce surprises within the supply chain,” he said. Builders continue to approach manufacturers about buying direct, Broderick said. Contractors must do a better job of communicating their value to builders.

“Contractors have to understand what builders want and explain how the supply chain works,” he said. In a follow-up answer during the Q-and-A period, Bradford White Vice President Bruce Carnevale emphasized the point to PHCC members.

“It’s incumbent upon you to sell the value of your service to builders,” he said. “I fight that battle every day with builders. I tell them you can remove the company from the supply chain, but you can’t remove the function.”

Carnevale also encouraged contractors to communicate more openly with manufacturers to develop new products.

“It goes back to communication,” he said. “It’s very important to our R-and-D process to know what your needs are for products that haven’t been invented.”

Anvil International Vice PresidentDean Tayloragreed. “Our best ideas come from you,” he told PHCC members. “Communication is important. Training is important for contractors and wholesalers so you can make the right choices for your customers.”

Contractors should take advantage of online training opportunities for their employees and themselves, American Standard Brands CEODon Devinesaid.

“We need to use online training and the Internet more than we do today,” he said. “We can deliver an enormous amount of training in a decentralized fashion at a time that works for you. Take time to increase your Internet capacity and aptitude.”

Contractors’ familiarity with technology should extend to BIM, said NIBCO Chairman and CEORex Martin. Building owners are driving contractors and architects to use BIM on large, complex construction jobs to make the process better, faster and cheaper.

“The ease of use with BIM will go up and cost will go down, and building owners will demand BIM be used on smaller projects,” Martin said. “It could be used in the future in residential construction if big builders can use it to reduce costs.”

About 750 people attended Connect 2009, including 400 contractors. The event included educational seminars, product showcase, PHCC business meeting and day of service. Next year’s meeting will take place Oct. 13-16 in Las Vegas.