President and CEO Nick Giuffre sees politics, workforce and training as major challenges.

Bradford White Corp. President and CEO Nick Giuffre. Photo credit: Bradford White Corp.

Plumbing & Mechanical last month interviewedBradford White Corp.President and CEONick Giuffre. Beginning his career in the service department at Bradford White shortly after graduating from college, Giuffre has taken on a number of roles with the company including national service manager, national warranty administrator, sales administrator, vice president of sales, executive vice president and chief operating officer. He has won the Golden Eagle Award from the Association of Industry Manufacturers Representatives and the Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Supply Association.

PM:What are the biggest challenges faced by your contractor customers?

NG:The three major ones are government regulations, employee hiring, and retention and product education. Hiring the right employees and retaining them continues to be a challenge. Products are so much more sophisticated today. There are so many more offerings with green and sustainable products. Consumers are so much smarter with social media. They have done a lot of personal research on products so the contractor has to be smarter than the consumer.

PM:What trends do you foresee in water-heating technology?

NG:The trends are pretty clear with the Department of Energy requiring higher efficiency standards on residential water heaters by 2015, which means we will integrate heat pump technology to a greater degree. In a general sense, we’ll see increasing water heating efficiency, a blending of technologies, and increasing complexity of products with combustion controls and other accessories. Contractors should realize that as these products get more complex, they’re much less likely to go through the retail channel. This represents a huge opportunity for contractors to put themselves in a position to prevent these products from going through retail.

PM:What can contractors expect to see from Bradford White in 2012?

NG:Exciting new technology. Our OnGuard Remote Monitoring Technology helps contractors solve the concerns of their commercial customers regarding what happens to their water heaters when they’re not around. We can diagnose problems and then dispatch service to reduce downtime for critical applications like restaurants and nursing homes. This technology is available now. All the sales tools and support materials are being produced as we speak.

PM:How can contractors position themselves as green experts?

NG:We’ve mentioned training and industry involvement. We can’t help them if we don’t see them at industry meetings and training sessions. They have to read the trade magazines and participate in symposiums. And they have to take a couple key people with them. It can’t be just the boss; his people need to grow, too.

PM:Why does Bradford White play such an active role in trade associations such as Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors?

NG:When we speak of Bradford White, we need to speak of the corporation that includes Niles Steel Tank and Laars. We’re board members of PHCC and the Mechanical Contractors Association of America. We’re still wholesale-only while 50% of the products in this industry go through the retail channel. Without the contractor, we don’t have a company. They are the lifeblood of our company. We’re tied at the hip with PHCC and MCAA. That’s where our business is going to be. We’re involved with these associations because our dedication is to the trade only.

PM:What do you see as Bradford White’s most distinguishing feature?

NG:Loyalty. There are challenges every year in this business. Bradford White has had lots of opportunities to maneuver outside the trade community. Our most distinguishing feature is our commitment to the success of our contractors and wholesalers as well as our own. If they are successful, we are successful.

PM:If you had one message to give to plumbing and heating contractors, what would it be?

NG:This is an important election year. Get involved in the election process. Inform yourself about the political decisions and issues that affect your company. You have a responsibility. You can’t complain if you don’t get involved.

PM:How is Bradford White helping them to meet these challenges?

NG:By getting involved. Bradford White gets involved in government affairs on the manufacturing end through the National Association of Manufacturers and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. We’re also involved with ASA and PHCC. Bradford White is very involved in government affairs. We go to Capitol Hill for all the fly-ins, and we talk with local congressmen in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan where we have facilities. By helping them to understand the bills that are onerous to contractors, we’re helping contractors meet the challenges that government can put on them.

We help contractors with employee hiring and retention through our scholarship involvement. We work through North American Technical Excellence, ASA and PHCC to bring the right kids into the industry. Green is going to create millions of jobs, and we want to make sure we promote the plumbing-and-heating industry as a great place to work. When we talk about green, we sometimes forget the next step and that’s to bring the right people into our industry.

To help contractors with product education, we’re building the Bradford White International Technical Excellence Center, which will be a state-of-the-art training facility in Middleville, Mich. The ITEC will open at the end of the third quarter this year. We completed the Laars Technical Center in November 2011in New Hampshire, so we’ll have two centers to help them with their technical needs.

Something else we’re doing that’s unique is to give contractors 24/7 access to a live person on the phone at ITEC. We’ve made a substantial investment to bring on six new men and women to answer their phone calls. We put them through a rigorous training program to understand, troubleshoot and diagnose any technical problem that may occur.

PM:What innovation in water-heating technology excites you the most?

NG:We’ve looked at hybrid water heating that combines tankless technology with a stored water heating product, and we’ve come out with product that mixes the best parts of these technologies. We also try to drive innovation to a broader contractor base. Our ICON System gas control is a great example. It provides diagnostics and energy-saving features on our residential and light-duty commercial products that are not available on the retail side of the industry. ICON’s accessories are the coolest innovation I’ve seen and I’ve been around a long time. They offer increased performance and leak protection. The homeowner’s biggest fear about a water heater is that it will leak and here’s the technology to allay those fears. Our training centers in Michigan and New Hampshire will allow us to teach contractors to be consultative. We want to help our contractor customers solve problems for consumers who want these features.