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Long known as “The Service People” in the company’s respective markets, Dan Sherman, vice president of Seattle-based Pacific Plumbing Supply, says his grandfather Maurice Sherman knew the key to his new business was his relationships with customers and employees alike.
“And we continue that today,” Dan Sherman says. “We work hard every day to earn our customers’ trust, and we go out of our way to make sure they know they really matter to us. We’re very fortunate to have a great group of dedicated employees — we’d be nowhere without them. Having our history and employee tenure in the conversation with customers is very important. When I mention our 70th year, people often do a double-take.”
Sherman Supply & Salvage was established in Seattle in 1922 by Abe Sherman. At that time, merchandise offered was a mix of hardware of all types, including pipe, fixtures, faucets and salvaged goods. Abe had three brothers; Jack, Louis and Maurice.
They worked together on the business until June 1949, when Maurice Sherman broke away from the family business to start on his own. He had a significant following by his customers and solid relationships with many plumbing vendors, so he decided to specialize in wholesale plumbing products.
Maurice established Pacific Plumbing Supply Co. in October 1949, also in Seattle, just four blocks north of Sherman Supply & Salvage. Unfortunately, he unexpectedly passed away in 1950 at age 52, leaving his two sons, Ernie Sherman and Eddie Sherman, with a “start-up operation” and no fallback plan for the company or family.
At the time, Ernie was a 21-year-old college junior, working on his business degree at the University of Washington; his brother, Eddie, was in 7th grade. This left the family and a very young company in a tough position.
With Ernie and family loyalty at the helm, the two brothers persevered, sometimes sacrificing personal dreams for the sake of the whole, to make the company what it is today — a very successful enterprise the Sherman family still proudly owns.
In its first year, the company had only one stand-alone location, selling mostly traditional plumbing products. Today, Pacific Plumbing Supply runs 20 entities out of 14 physical warehouse locations between Washington and Alaska. With a core offering of traditional plumbing, radiant heating and decorative plumbing products, the wholesale distributor has 17 branch locations, including its new distribution center.
Pacific Plumbing Supply has largely been a residential plumbing house up until about 11 years ago when the company initiated its radiant/hydronic push, Dan Sherman says.
“That began to shift our overall base a bit,” he says. “Shortly after, we began our commercial sales effort. Today, our customers are made up of plumbing, mechanical, hydronic and general contractors, as well as a smaller portion of retail, mostly via the showroom. We’re not the largest wholesaler in our markets, but thanks to our dedicated crews and leadership team, we can dial into our customers’ needs and bring new products and services to them fairly quickly.”
In 1985, Pacific Plumbing Supply opened its first luxury products plumbing showroom in Bellevue, Wash. In 2013, the showroom was moved to Seattle and combined with the company’s Master Distribution warehouse, called Master Source.
“This was a great opportunity to synergize two important parts of our business,” Sherman explains. “Now we have a 10,000-square-foot showroom called Abbrio that is truly second-to-none in the Seattle market. In addition to traditional plumbing products, we now display and sell everything from full outdoor kitchens to lighting and door hardware and major appliances. And we just opened a Lixil showroom-within-a-showroom, including products by American Standard, Grohe and DXV.”
In 2008, as Pacific Plumbing Supply began to explore radiant heating, it opened its first Pacific Green Room location in Seattle, selling boilers, indirect tanks and tankless heaters. Since then, the supply house opened two additional Green Rooms in Lacey, Wash., and North Seattle.
“Our focus is now on hydronic sales and design,” notes Joey Longo, hydronic heating sales manager for Pacific Plumbing Supply. “We calculate and spec most everything for our customers for their projects; i.e., heat loss calculations, mechanical drawings and tubing layouts. It’s at no charge and it makes their job a whole lot easier.”
Pacific also expanded its hydronic customer base by working with plumbers on hydronic projects. “Most of our plumbing customers are mechanically inclined, so branching into hydronic projects has been pretty easy for them,” he adds.
Pacific Plumbing is opening up a new distribution center in Auburn, Wash., in late December. The 125,000-square-foot-facility will include an additional branch and operate as the company’s central DC.
“It gives us the ability to do things we couldn’t do before,” notes Ron Abramson, Pacific Plumbing Supply’s COO. “We will be able to offer 24-hour replenishment on more materials within western Washington, delivered to every branch every day.”
The impetus of the expansion is due to limited distribution space at the company’s main branch in Seattle. “We are way over capacity at our main branch,” Abramson says. “Currently we are running our commercial department, Green Room, administrative office and acting DC out of there, so we are moving the entire distribution entity to the new facility to open capacity and streamline operations. There’s also 6,600 square feet of office space for our commercial department and administrative team.”
He adds that the move helps the company as it opens up the market to hire employees who wouldn’t typically want to commute to Seattle from Tacoma but would be willing to drive from Tacoma to Auburn. “It opens up our ability to hire further out,” he explains.
With the new facility, the company will be moving to a 24-hour night delivery system. “We are putting together a two-man team running throughout the night,” Abramson says. “Once the company closes, a second shift will come in, pick orders sold that day, and get the inventory on a truck so our clients have their order first thing the morning.”
Abramson says many of the company’s Pacific branches are four- to five-person operations, so the DC is absolutely critical due to Seattle’s growth. “With our fill rate, the DC will allow our smaller branches to do things even our bigger branches can’t do,” he notes. “Because our branches are strategically placed around the city, even though they’re small, it gives us a centralized advantage.”
Earlier this year, the company began operating from its new software platform, Epicor P21, a well-established software platform, widely used in wholesale distribution channels across the United States.
“We made this software upgrade to better serve our customers through improved inventory service levels and enhanced product offerings,” Abramson says. “The software allows us to utilize additional technology applications to make order inquiries, processing and fulfillment substantially more efficient.”
The Power of Authenticity
Pacific Plumbing Supply CEO Larry Solomon started with the company in 1976; he took the helm as CEO in early 1990. Solomon has been a significant part of Pacific Plumbing’s growth and development for a long time, an accomplishment he attributes to the hard work and dedication of everyone in the company.
Solomon says the most significant factor that helped him learn and succeed in the business was the good fortune of being mentored by Ernie Sherman. “Ernie had many years of experience as a successful leader, and he was able to support my development in a way that maximized my sense of responsibility and independent decision-making,” he says.
Company-wide, Solomon’s leadership style is steeped in a core belief in the authenticity of what his team does every day to serve each other, their customers and their vendors.
“Connecting that to a felt sense of meaning and purpose to the work we all do every day is key to creating a culture of mutual respect, and ignites the desire to serve others,” he adds. “I rely on surrounding myself with others who are smarter than me; to listen to their advice and never worry about who gets the credit for our successes.
“I am enormously grateful for the strong leadership of COO Ron Abramson and CFO Jon Stafford, as well as the support of our overall executive leadership team— and, of course, the Sherman family, now in its third generation of independent distribution success.”
Pacific Plumbing Supply joined Embassy Group Ltd. in 1995, another critical factor Solomon says has driven company growth over the years. Established in 1991, Embassy Group is a highly respected, 100-percent member-owned buying group. Owners are a select group of independent plumbing, PVF, HVACR and waterworks wholesalers with more than 800 branch locations throughout the United States.
In 2017, Solomon was asked to chair the Embassy Group board. “I am honored to have been part of the team that worked on our recently completed merger with WIT,” he says. “It is my expectation that a culture of camaraderie will continue to flourish in The Commonwealth Group.”
WIT, a member-owned organization consisting of independent plumbing, heating and cooling distributors from across the country, merged with Embassy Group in September. By partnering with the industry’s premier manufacturers, WIT ensures that each of its distributors is competitive in all the markets they serve. Effective January 2020, the new group will be named The Commonwealth Group.
Solomon says he learned many lessons over the years.
“I have learned that often the road to a given goal does not go in a straight line,” he says. “But if the goal is sound, eventually it will be achieved. Don’t be deterred by a challenging road.”
Family First, Pacific Second
For Pacific Plumbing Supply, accountability seems to secure a guaranteed work/life balance.
The company’s philosophy is family first, Pacific second, Abramson says. “We know that when your child is in a play, it is a one-time experience, and you need to be in attendance,” he explains. “Work will still be here tomorrow. If we support you and your family, we know you will support us and ours.”
Abramson says he always emphasizes the importance of being like family when working the day-to-day. “You’ve got to support each other,” he adds. “You need to have each other’s back out there in the warehouse. You need to work as a team. But it’s more than that — you need mutual accountability and respect. We push that family focus in everything we do.”