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For Patrick Gentry, owner and president of Holland, Mich.-based T.A. Gentry Supply Inc., the key to success is simple. Rely on old-school conventions. It’s a business acumen that’s not fancy, but it works.
In fact, following customer-focused traditional business practices is why he says the company continues to be the wholesale distributor of choice for residential and commercial plumbing, HVAC, excavating and building professionals since 1969 — and home to West Michigan’s premier bath and kitchen elegance showrooms.
Since its inception, the company’s motto has been to provide quality products at competitive pricing with exceptional service.
Terry and Carolyn Gentry founded T.A. Gentry Supply five decades ago; the couple split the duties of running the fledgling company. The buying, selling, and delivering of plumbing products were all carried out by Terry, while Carolyn took care of all the office duties. After removing the back seats of the family 1964 Oldsmobile, the car became an efficient delivery vehicle.
The company’s first warehouse was the two-stall garage at their home. After just a few months, the company purchased its first delivery truck and rented the old Wooden Shoe building in Holland for warehousing product.
“My father sold and delivered products out of his station wagon, selling during the day and delivering product in the evening,” Patrick Gentry says. “He then moved the enterprise into a building, and it started growing from there. My father ended up purchasing our current location and built a 15,000-square-foot building. It was bigger than they could have ever possibly imagined; the company outgrew that same building approximately 10 years later.”
In March 1974, T.A. Gentry Supply bought 20 acres of land in Holland and erected a new building at the company’s current location — 2096 112th Ave.
“Major product lines were very hard to secure, so my father took on lines that the competitors didn’t have, and used his sales skills to get his customers to give them a try,” Gentry explains. “He started warehousing cast-iron pipe and fittings, copper and tubular goods, and sump pumps.”
As the business grew in sales, more major lines became available to the company. The first employee was hired, and Terry and Carolyn’s young sons helped unload and store the cast-iron fittings.
During these years, the company continued to grow, and new employees were added to the team. A new location in Lansing, Mich., opened in 1988, showcasing a 3,500-square-foot showroom.
The 1990s were growth years for the company. It opened another location in Kalamazoo, Mich.
At one time in the company’s history, Gentry says his entire family worked in the business. “Two brothers, a sister running the showroom, mother doing the books, and my father and I out selling,” he recalls. “Then over the years, it evolved into me owning the business.”
Gentry had always been a part of his father’s business, learning the industry as he went along. “When I first started in the industry, I did work at other places for a short time, but then I realized my father knew what he was talking about,” he says.
The distributor serves its primary customers — plumbing, mechanical, and underground/wastewater contractors — through its three Michigan locations: Holland, Kalamazoo and Lansing. The Holland location is the company’s main hub and encompasses a state-of-the-art showroom, central offices, counter services and a warehouse.
“We do weekly transfers by truck between the branches every week, although we ship as much product as we can from our branches direct to the customer,” Gentry notes.
Since Gentry took the helm as president in 2011, T.A. Gentry Supply has expanded its reach not only in the services the company provides but in its product offerings as well.
It has expanded into other fields, including underground services (wastewater, sewage, septic and municipal sewer works), increasing the variety of products in which they offer. “In the past year, we have taken on a tool line and sold a lot of products that, in the past, we never really looked at selling,” he says. “We offer other complementary products [to] our plumbing items that we never carried before. We really have become a full-service operation.”
What sets T.A. Gentry Supply apart from its competition is the company’s hands-on approach to business, Gentry says.
“The fact that we are family-owned, small by industry standards, and swear by a customer-focused business acumen, keeps us competitive in this market,” he explains. “You may hear that about family businesses all the time, but we really and truly live it out. Our customers can get in touch with [any of] us, at any time. We are dropping things off to them on the way home at night, or coming in on a weekend to get something for a customer.”
Everyone in the company truly cares about the business, he adds, and they convey it to the customer by giving them over-and-above service.
“This is what makes us competitive in the marketplace,” Gentry says. “We are also able to be more dynamic in our market because of our low overhead. Our motto is, ‘We aim to be your lowest-cost person to do business with.’ This is what we preach. And it is what sets us apart from the rest.”
However, he points out that it doesn’t mean Gentry Supply is going to be a customer’s lowest-cost provider. It does mean that the supplier will offer competitive pricing; will have the product on the shelf when customers need it; and ship orders quickly and accurately. “All this combined is how you become the lowest-cost person to do business with,” he says.
Gentry hears stories across the board about shipped orders that are botched, wrong orders being delivered, or product that is unavailable. “What is the point of having a good price point if the order is shipped wrong or the product is not available?” he asks. “We work hard on getting it right the first time. In other words, work it meticulously on the front end, so you don’t have to clean up the mess on the back end.”
Gentry loves the fast pace of the industry. “I love having to make quick decisions and ultimately having the contractors be happy with the service you’ve provided,” he says. “One of the keys to our success is that we don’t watch the clock. We take care of the customer in every way possible. If you take care of the customer first, it is in the best interest of Gentry Supply.”
A personalized, old-school approach to customer service keeps this business thriving, Gentry says. “If it is the weekend, and a customer needs something, we are getting in our trucks and personally driving it over there,” he notes, adding that this approach has been hugely successful for the company.
While Gentry reveres the history of the company his parents started, he’s even more excited about what opportunities the future will bring for T.A. Gentry Supply. That future will be paved with a reaffirmed commitment to community reinvestment and enhancing the customer experience.
“We’ve opened new channels to connect with our customers, the most recent one being the utilization of text messaging for client communication,” he notes. “We are also in the midst of reworking our website to streamline communication with our customers. Additionally, we are working with our software company to revamp and enhance the customer experience.”