PM 2016 Supply House of the Year: Texas Plumbing Supply
Growing the business together
A number of wholesalers sell not only to contractors, but to the end user as well. This can hurt a contractor and Glenn Fuller, president and co-owner of Houston-based Texas Plumbing Supply, knows this. That is why he promised to never pursue his customers’ customer, i.e. the homeowner or end user. Fuller made this commitment in April 2011 when he purchased the company.
Having started in the industry in 1980, then 17-year-old Fuller began by loading trucks, pulling orders and sweeping the floors. By the early 1990s, he knew he wanted to own his own business. He worked to gain as much experience and knowledge as he could, meeting contractors, getting to know the manufacturers and the reps who sold the material.
“I loved meeting our customers,” Fuller says. “They taught me so much about our industry. I also learned from my coworkers, asking questions and helping them so I could learn what they did to contribute to the company. I worked with some good people on the way and I found that if you work hard, learn how to do new things, try your best even when no one is looking, ask a lot of questions and most importantly listen for the answers, good things can happen.”
Through his communication with the contractors Fuller decided not to open a showroom or sell directly to end users. He believes the best way to get material to the end user is the traditional business model of manufacturer to rep to wholesaler to plumber to builder or consumer.
“Although the profit generated from these showrooms is much better than our core business, there was always this gray line that got crossed,” he says. “If you have a showroom, you become the plumber’s competitor as you are both going after the same customer. Many wholesalers try to cut out several steps by selling directly to builders or consumers and when they do this, the plumber loses. Profits may go up, but I believe it is better to partner with the plumbing contractor to help grow the business together. Every decision we make is based on one simple question: ‘Would this change help our plumber customer?’ If the answer is yes, we do it.”
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by the local contractors.
“A good supplier is crucial to a successful business,” notes Mike Wood, president, MTW Pipe Works. “Texas Plumbing Supply is a supplier that continues to exceed my expectations. Exceptional service along with competitive pricing, great product selection and availability of products make them someone I can count on to meet my company’s needs time and time again.”
Great service is what makes TPS stand out to Laban Richter, purchasing manager/estimator at Victory Plumbing Co. “Where the other guys have went the way of a Home Depot or Lowe’s with automated service, TPS has continued to listen to what we need and provide a service that is customer focused,” he says. “They go above and beyond, whether it is a 1/2-in. copper 90 or a truckload of pipe.”
Texas Plumbing Supply’s exceptional service and loyalty to its contractor customers make it an easy choice as Plumbing & Mechanical’s 2016 Supply House of the Year.
TPS currently has 75 team members in four Texas locations: Two in Houston, one in Brenham and one in Round Rock, near Austin. Fuller plans on opening a fifth central Texas location in early 2017. The company caters to new construction residential and commercial plumbing including multifamily housing plumbers, mechanical contractors, repair and service contractors for residential and commercial plumbing, utility contractors, swimming pool contractors and government entities.
In addition to Fuller, the management team includes: Terry Snyder, CEO/co-owner; wife Christina Fuller, HR and sales administration; Nathan Jarmon, IT; Ethan Flowers, pricing and purchasing agent, special projects; son Jeremy Fuller, head of purchasing; son Joey Fuller, outside sales; son Jacob Fuller, inside sales; Michele Gonzales, accounting; Steve Anthony, branch one manager, Steve Choate, branch two manager; Larry Benker, branch three manager; Marc Griffin, branch four manager; and Glenn Melton, soon to be branch five manager, special projects.
Another way TPS supports the contractor is to send its team members to product training classes — both those provided by manufacturers and those provided by industry organizations.
“We have to become specialists in the products we sell,” Fuller states. “We pick certain team members and send them to ‘school’ to be a local specialist on certain products. We have already done this on pumps. We now have a pump specialist at each location. This will allow us to supply any pump or pump system that a plumber would need. We will continue to select different product categories and do this to increase our importance to the local plumber.”
Fuller notes that communication has been imperative in the success of the business. “As the leader, I strive to have open communication with everyone,” he says. “Also, the cameras we have around the business function not only as security, but as a means to keep communication open. I can look at the monitors while at my desk and if a customer comes in that I have been meaning to contact, I can get up and go speak with him. I believe you cannot manage what you cannot measure.”
Fuller includes his cell phone number on his business cards, so that all his customers can reach him whenever they need to. Each of his branch managers has the power and ability to make daily decisions, without the need for Fuller’s approval, allowing business to happen quickly and seamlessly for its customers.
“We believe in building long lasting relationships with our customers,” Fuller says. “We are already seeing several of our customers that are passing the business to the next generation and we are there to see them through it and help them be successful — whatever that looks like to them. We want to bring local specialists and technical professionalism to the plumber.”
Southwest Plumbing Co. has grown its business together with TPS for more than 25 years.
“With all success there has to be a backbone, and Texas Plumbing Supply has been that for us,” says Ashik Revdiwala, vice president of Southwest Plumbing. “Texas Plumbing Supply has always made us feel that we come first. From the friendly and knowledgeable counter guys to the CEO and president, Terry Snyder and Glenn Fuller, to my wonderful outside and inside salesmen, Travis Elrod and Reading Cotton, they have always been able to work with us in order to fulfill our business needs.”
Partnering with plumbing businesses is not uncommon for TPS.
“The decision for us to become trade partners with TPS was very easy and effortless,” says Ricky Stephenson, chief financial officer at Sonny’s Plumbing. “Their company leadership has been great to work with. They came in and from the start treated us like family and have been as transparent as anyone we have ever worked with, which is very important to us as we are a family-owned and -operated company in which trust has been key. TPS’ ability to bend and flex along with us from project to project and be on point with pricing and around the clock availability is something that has allowed our own company to grow.”
To show his appreciation, Fuller has annual customer appreciation counter days at each of the locations in December. He reaches out to vendors and asks them to showcase their products, give product demonstrations, offer training courses and hand out samples. Last year’s event had more than 450 contractors in attendance. Fuller also holds counter days any time a major product change or new product comes into the industry, in order to make his plumbers more aware.
Each year Fuller purchases a suite for the Houston Astros baseball season. He invites those customers who enjoy baseball to watch it in a unique environment. He invites many of TPS’ vendor partners to join them for the event.
Ahead of the curve
Texas Plumbing Supply is a veteran-owned and family-operated independent business. Started in 1962 by Kenneth “Doc” Snyder, the company began with only five employees and two trucks, just a few miles from where the home office stands today. Soon after opening, Snyder’s brother, Jerry, joined him.
In 1977, the second generation, Terry and Lance Snyder, joined the family business. In 1991, Doc Snyder retired and officially passed the company torch and the title of CEO on to son Terry. In 1996, Lance Snyder became president of the company, taking the reins from his father, Jerry. Years later, Terry Snyder’s son-in-laws, Flowers and Jarmon, also joined the company.
In 2011, Lance Snyder retired and Fuller took over as president. Since he has joined the company’s sales has grown more than 400%.
One of the biggest changes Fuller made was to the company’s culture, which he notes is a very difficult thing to do in an established company: “We changed the culture by leading by example. My family has incredible work ethic taught to me by my mother. She was an amazing example to our family. Christina and I have been able to pass that on to our kids. They know how much we expect out of them because of who they are, and I am proud to see how they continue to lead by example, not titles. These examples helped change the culture of TPS. All of our team members stepped up and worked hard to accomplish our goals. I remind our team relentlessly, our goal is excellence. Vince Lombardi said it best, ‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.’”
In order to stay ahead of what contractors need to know and on top of what is new in the wholesale industry, Fuller has partnered with many industry organizations. In addition to Affiliated Distributors and the American Supply Association, Fuller is a board member of his local chapter of the Gulf Coast Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors association. About 15 years ago, eight plumbing contractors formed an industry trade group called Responsible Plumbers and Associates and asked Fuller to lead them. In 2011, the group merged with PHCC Texas and Fuller joined the organization.
“I also serve on several other industry organizations,” he says. “The knowledge I gain from the people I serve with as well as the information these organizations present to me, allow me to share with our customers and team members. I really enjoy the advocacy portion of our business. Recently, the Department of Labor was targeting several plumbing contracting companies — our customers — and I led a group to meet locally with our congressman to help fight this. I also flew to Washington, D.C., on five occasions with the ASA Government Affairs Committee and fought for relief on this issue and many more that affect our industry.”
In preparing for the future, Fuller and son Jeremy have been staying on top of the AD eCommerce initiative. His goal with the e-commerce solution, as it relates to a plumbing contractor, is to create a resource in which a plumbing contractor could be on the jobsite, pull out his iPhone or iPad and place an order with TPS.
“I think that’s where the future is,” he notes. “I think a superintendent is going to be on a jobsite, walk around at 6 a.m. and decide what he needs and be able to enter that request through our app. The next generation wants to enter it on their iPads. They don’t want to pick up the phone or wait until 7 a.m., or in our case 6:30 in the morning, to call somebody. They may be on the jobsite at 9 p.m., doing a walkthrough, checking up on their installers’ progress to see what they did and make a new material list. The app would allow them to enter orders 24 hours a day.”
They would then come in in the morning and their orders would be sitting there waiting for them whenever they want it, or the order could be shipped and show up at the jobsite when they need it. That’s our goal. We want to be the plumbing source for today and tomorrow.”