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Learning from the past, there are things of permanence that make the George T. Sanders Co. (GTS) special. And with time-honored traditions, core values and loyalty, the priceless longevity within the organization shows no signs of slowing down.
Serving both trade professionals and homeowners with the highest quality products since 1950, GTS is the largest independent distributor of plumbing and heating supplies in Colorado. Based in Wheat Ridge, the family-owned company has grown to 17 locations throughout Colorado and two in Wyoming, including three Colorado showroom locations in Wheat Ridge, Berthoud, and Greeley.
GTS is proud to serve the plumbing, heating and HVAC trades as well as the general public by offering efficient and cost-effective product solutions for any project, says fourth-generation leader Reed White, GTS president and managing principal of operations. “We are committed to delivering the highest-quality products and services our customers have come to expect,” he notes.
The company has a lasting reputation of being the first choice to supply all plumbing and heating projects, from large commercial buildings to residential dwellings, and new construction to service and remodeling.
The strength of GTS, White says, is its commitment to supplying quality products to its customers with a high level of professional service. “Over the years, our customers have proven that they recognize the value we’ve added,” he explains. “They have demonstrated this recognition by supporting our company and rewarding us with continued growth and profitability.”
Growth through Acquisition, Ecommerce
Starting as a sheet metal supplier in 1950, living predominantly in the HVAC world, the company eventually started selling copper as a commodity, launching GTS into the plumbing business. With its recent acquisition of Nordyne Distributing, the company has returned full circle to the HVAC space.
“This has significance,” says Kyle Sanders, GTS president and managing principal of sales (also a fourth-generation company leader). “We more or less lost our way in HVAC for maybe 50-plus years. This acquisition brought us back to the HVAC world, circled us back to where it all began. There’s considerable nostalgia in that.”
White and Sanders both became president of their respective divisions last March. With backgrounds in business, the two cousins started in the warehouse about 10 years ago, beginning in part-time positions. They worked in every department in the company, taking the appropriate steps to make it to the top of the ladder in their organizational fields — White primarily in operations and marketing, and Sanders in sales and business development.
In 2011, overall company sales were about 43 million, Sanders states. Now at 80 million, both White and Sanders say they have been a part of this extreme growth.
When asked how he has contributed to the evolution and growth of the company, White says he was integral in the launch of the company’s new website, online webstore and mobile app. Acquisitions have increased, along with stock levels and breadth of product offerings. The distributor integrated new IT and marketing departments under his direction, and implemented new store and delivery fleet branding.
Sanders says White has done a tremendous job bringing the company’s IT development up to speed.
“The company rebuilt its website a few years ago, adding an online storefront — enabling customers to invoice, place orders and pay bills,” Sanders explains. “The application is fully integrated for both Android and iPhones. The first year of taking the new online storefront live, it generated close to $3 million in sales. That’s pretty significant, and we continue to optimize our technology accordingly.”
Gary Sanders has been the greatest mentor for the cousins. “Our grandfather Gary is definitely our No. 1 mentor, and we believe the biggest contribution to the company we can make is to keep his culture and legacy going while adapting, at the same time, to a new generation,” White says.
The pulse of the company begins with relationships, Sanders says: “Our reputation in this state is of being a long-time, reputable partner for both business and occupation. We have long-term customers and employees who have been with us for decades.”
One of the company’s employees, Audrey Archer, worked for GTS for more than 50 years until she passed away a few years back at the age of 104.
In December 1963, Archer first interviewed for a bookkeeping position at GTS. During the interview, she was upfront with founder George T. Sanders and told him she planned on working for the company for “five years, tops.” So much for her plans; Archer was with GTS for decades to come. And that goes for many of the company’s employees.
To that end, Gary Sanders is still very involved with the company. “He remains chairman of the board, and is CEO as well as owner, so we keep him in the loop on basically everything,” Kyle Sanders says. “He likes to hear everything that is going on, and he’s very supportive. He knows all our employees as well as, or better than, we do.”
He adds that the company is very community-oriented, relationship-oriented and friendship-oriented.
“Gary, along with each member of the management team, knows all 200 employees by name and face, on a personal level,” Sanders says. “That’s pretty rare. Our grandfather has fostered this level of rapport within the company, and we have adopted his core values. What sets us apart from the competition is the fact that we are a high-service provider focused on community relationships and friendships. We treat our employees and customers as human beings first and foremost.”
GTS is a building supplier dedicated to community improvement, White states. “And we see ourselves from a high level,” Sanders adds. “We’re just selling building supplies, but we try to be a good partner with the community in every way, from our customers to our employees and their families. We want to make sure we are helping to make our community a better place.”
White says the company is known as a great place to work within the community, and this is what he believes differentiates GTS from others in the industry. “We value the fact that our employees and customers are exceptionally loyal,” he notes. “People make your company. Respect them and keep them happy.”
The GTS management teams strive to practice servant leadership — a leadership philosophy in which the primary goal of the leader is to serve. Different from traditional leadership where the leader’s chief focus is the thriving of the company or organization, servant leadership focuses on the people they lead — enriching their lives, thereby building a better organization and helping to create a more caring world.
“Our management-level team members also work for the people they are employing, enabling them to achieve everything they need to achieve, and that’s critical,” White says.
Both men are on-site quite a bit, and their work phones and personal numbers are always available to their people, no matter what. They believe this helps foster focus and dedication.
“They know we care and are dedicated to their successes, as much as to the success of the company,” White explains. “This has fostered confidence in our people over the years as they know they have the resources to accomplish what needs to be done and will always have the support of their management team. And that makes a huge difference in the workforce and our overall company culture.”
Sanders agrees: “We are profit- and results-driven, but at the same time, we feel the impetus for this drive comes from our people and the people we surround ourselves with. My grandfather always says that GTS has not been successful because of us, but because of the company we keep. And we try to focus on that, realizing that knowledge is in the group, not the individual.”
What Lies Ahead
In terms of growth and future focus, White says the company is always looking for good local partners.
“A lot of the businesses we acquire, fit our model very well,” he notes. “We strive to be a good, small business that is very customer- and service-oriented. Because the companies we’ve acquired have reputations in their respective markets as being excellent (local) independent supply houses, process integration has been rather seamless.”
He adds that GTS tries to integrate as much of the staff of the acquired companies as it can — about 100 percent over the past five or six acquisitions. “This makes a big difference in terms of our company culture,” White says. “We’ve really chosen some great partners and have added great people over the years. They just roll right into the way we do things. We give them the support to continue operating the way they were, but enhanced by our better service and quality stock offerings.”
Sanders agrees the company’s acquisition acumen is a significant benefit to GTS overall: “I think it’s a huge asset. It’s what separates us from our competition from an acquisition standpoint. These small, independent operations know they’re selling to a family-owned business with small-business core values in its operation, and they feel more comfortable knowing their employees are going to be in caring hands moving forward.”
White and Sanders are definitely focused on growth. Ask either of them, and they would say the same — both want to have an impact on the company in their own ways.
“We want to make our own imprint on the company, like our forefathers before us have done, but we want to make sure to maintain those core values of a small business,” Kyle Sanders says. “We are absolutely growth-oriented leaders, and we have already grown significantly. But I would expect the company to be more than 200 million in sales before Reed and I hang up our jackets.”
And it is suspected, as time goes on, the GTS tradition of growth will continue.