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Long recognized for its exceptional service and quality products at competitive prices, Somerville, Massachusetts-based Metropolitan Pipe & Supply Co., (fondly known in the industry as Met Pipe), is a family-owned and operated, fully-integrated independent wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating, pipe, valves, fittings, and industrial supplies.
The company was founded by Wesley E. Brown Sr., and his son Wesley E. Brown Jr., in 1934. Fast-forward 85 years, Met Pipe is now a fifth-generation family business still committed to making its customers top priority.
Serving customers throughout New England, and currently under the seasoned management of President Kevin Brown and his nephew, Vice President Josh Brown, the company has always taken pride in its commitment to customer service and making customers’ lives easier. “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in having a full range of products consistently in stock,” Josh Brown says.
With annual sales of approximately $48 million, Met Pipe’s customers vary in scope and size. “Our customers include mechanical contractors, institutions like Harvard, BU, BC, and Northeastern, hospitals, and commercial plumbers,” Brown says, adding that the company is 50/50 PVF and plumbing/heating.
“Our focus for so long was just on pipe sales and fittings,” Brown adds. “We branched into the plumbing and heating world, and that’s certainly been a big contributor to our growth.”
Met Pipe stocks more than 500 product lines and 25,000 SKUs under one roof at its fully automated, 80,000-square-foot warehouse.
On the move
Met Pipe moved its corporate office and counter and warehouse operation to Somerville the first quarter of 2018. The new operation is less than a mile away from its previous location in Cambridge.
With the move, the company outfitted the new warehouse with the latest technology to improve the customer experience. After spending 50 years in its previous location, Brown says Met Pipe runs as smooth and efficient as ever, adding that the new location has a redesigned office and warehouse, which gives the company a streamlined supply-chain process.
“We moved from 150,000 square feet to 80, so we had to get really efficient,” he says. “We implemented a highly-effective and integrated system to store and pick products.” It is an automated storage and retrieval system that allows Met Pipe to optimize space and improve warehouse management. “It allowed us to recover up to 90% of available floor space while increasing picking accuracy and throughput, as well as adding product security and improving ergonomic functions,” he adds.
Brown says the move to a smaller facility hasn’t hurt the business at all. In fact, the move has improved the company’s efficiency. “In all honesty, I’d say our inventory dollar-wise—not just adjusting for inflation—is up over the past two years we spent in Cambridge. And, that’s with 60,000 less square feet.”
The Wholesaler (TW) has watched Met Pipe grow over the years. “The last time TW did a story on us we were building a state-of-the art facility, and we did a lot of the building ourselves. This time around, we hired an outside consultant to make sure we became as efficient as possible by looking into new technology and how it could help our industry.”
Brown believes Met Pipe’s 85 employees are key to the company’s success. “The goal of each staff member is to keep the customer happy. All of us—sales, counter, warehouse, and office personnel— strive to meet that goal with the best possible service in the industry,” he says.
With an average of 25 years of industry experience, Brown says, every employee at Met Pipe has what it takes to make good on that commitment. “Our sales team has extensive knowledge on all of the lines we carry, and can assist customers in finding the right supplies for the job,” he adds. “Our counter team in our parts department—one of the largest in the Boston area—prides itself on the ability to get the customer in and out quickly, with just the right product to finish the job. Time and again, it’s our product expertise and willingness to go the extra mile for our customers that sets us apart from the competition.”
Brown says the company always tries to grow and promote from within. “Being able to identify entry-level employees who are driven, and having the ability to teach them the industry while focusing on that drive, has always been our best bet. “For example, 95% of our sales staff is homegrown. We really try and grow from within because I’ve learned that if you pack and receive through the pipe shop, and work at the counter, you know the company better than somebody that’s coming in blind. Our employees have learned the business from our lens and we’re all a team. Everyone is constantly helping each other, whether it’s a new salesperson or a 40-year-old veteran.”
When it comes to attracting new talent to the trade, Brown says options are limited when it comes to encouraging interest in the industry. “I think we can only do so much, as it’s a cultural construct that the only way to the ‘American dream’ is going to college. The trade is so important, and a great way to make a heck of a living. We can never have enough skilled tradesmen, and hopefully as a culture we start to embrace that more.”
With ecommerce integration, billing and inventory management options, online access to accounts, and new product training sessions, Met Pipe is poised to take advantage of industry change by adapting to the needs of its customers.
“We have an active ecommerce site that a lot of our customers use. I think it will only continue to grow as younger people start making their way into becoming decision makers. We want to be the best vendor partner we can be for our customers, and whatever we can do to make their lives easier, we’re ready to do,” Brown says. “Now that the move is behind us, we’re certainly looking for opportunities to grow, whether through acquisitions or new branches. We’re also interested in what the new trends in the industry will be. We were an early adopter of ProPress when it came out, and we’re always looking for the next big thing.”
The company has a full training program through the American Supply Association (ASA) University. “New employees sign up for a potential three-phase training, whether it be general warehouse, counter sales, or full inside sales. These training sessions include not only basics of the job, but also specific product training. We also have ‘Lunch-and-Learns’ with our vendors that we also encourage warehouse and counter staff to attend, not just our sales team.”
Since its inception, Brown says the company has taken great pride in delivering the best value to its customers, in whatever form that takes. “When the industry changes, the needs of our customers’ change, and we accommodate, learn, educate, and always answer the call. It’s a partnership. We want everyone to succeed.”
Now that Met Pipe has moved to its new location, Brown says the company is focused on growth, adding that they have a few more family members coming into the business. “Having new family members coming on board is exciting, but you also want to make sure they’re not just here because they are family. You want them to be able to find a place to grow, learn, and prosper.”
The company is looking to expand through acquisitions, whether it be through another wholesaler looking to sell, or an opportunity to add another branch to the business.
“We’ve also been 95% commercial forever, and we are going to start looking into doing more residential work with customers in our area,” he says. “Not necessarily high-end residential, but definitely more single-, two-, and three-family homes. We’re planning on making an active push on this directive in the fall. But with anything, we want to make sure we get it right. We want to make sure we have the right products in place, and our price point is correct. And we want to make sure our salesmen know how to sell it.”
Once they have all the background work done, Brown says the company will start promoting and marketing this work. “We just want to make sure all of our ducks are in a row first.”
Brown says he has learned great lessons from the generations that preceded him. “I learned a lot from my grandfather who was definitely one of the pioneers of the family in terms of company growth. He was an integral part our success as a company. He listened to what the market dictated, and he listened to what the customers had to say. He then made the necessary changes to benefit both. It wasn’t just about our bottom line. He always said you have to make a demand for your product and your service before you can start worrying about penny-pinching.”
Brown says this acumen has been influential in his commitment to always finding new ways to help customers. “I want this company to continue to be known for our industry knowledge, our customer service, and being a one-stop-shop destination.”
Going through the move was probably the biggest learning experience Brown says he’s has had in the industry. “Everything else you learn from repetition, because you do it every day, year after year. But the move was at such a high intensity it was impossible not to learn and grow from it.”