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Each year, The Wholesaler magazine puts out an all-call for nominations for its Showroom of the Year award and receives many deserving entries. Each company has a unique story — about partnerships, perseverance and growth through challenging times.
As the saying goes, there can only be one winner — but the spotlight should still shine on those that deserve accolades. A company that caught our attention is East End Plumbing Supply, based out of Louisville, Ky. The plumbing distributor showcased a can-do spirit — and went above and beyond in its submissions that it took us by surprise.
We were surprised not only from this small, independent wholesaler’s tenacity, but from the outpouring of support of its channel partners. East End’s showroom contest submission included a FedEx package packed with glossy photos and letters of recommendation from its supporting manufacturers’ representatives.
Company owners didn’t think the firm would be considered for the award: “We may be too small.” However, having gained our attention, we decided to turn the spotlight on East End Plumbing Supply, its mission, its spirit, and how a small company — with two showrooms — is a big player in the industry.
East End Plumbing Supply is a family-owned and -operated wholesale distributor, focused within the plumbing vertical, which opened its doors in 1973. Started by Elmer Seelmeyer and Edwin Jackson, the gentlemen saw a need for an additional supply house in the area to provide options for the customer base.
They started the business in the east end of Louisville (hence the name), and through city progress, relocated in 1975 to the city’s Bluegrass Industrial Park. A bustling neighborhood that has gone through many changes, it is now a prominent location as the city and area thrives.
Roots run deep in the area, as well as pride and purpose. “As long as we are family-owned and -operated by the Jackson family, we will always remain in this area,” states Kenny Griffin, vice president and COO of East End Plumbing Supply.
Today, the company is under the helm of the third generation, with President and CEO Scott Jackson, grandson of Edwin Jackson, leading the company. Scott Jackson started working in the distribution firm at the age of 14 — as many generational leaders do — helping out after school and learning the business from within every level of the organization.
By his side is Griffin, who started in the channel as a plumbing manufacturers’ representative, with East End Plumbing Supply as one of his customers. Seelmeyer was so impressed by Griffin that he asked him to start up the sales department of the company.
“After two months of servicing East End Plumbing Supply, I called the manufacturer I represented and said, ‘East End Plumbing Supply is a great company, it takes care of its employees and customers — I’m not leaving,’” Griffin recalls. And so, his 30-plus-year career with the wholesale distributor charted a new course.
The duo run the organization as a tag-team who seem to work together seamlessly, sharing the motto and vision as set from the beginning.
“Elmer taught me two things. No. 1. Don't sell to people who are not going to pay us because we have to pay our bills. And No 2: customer service,” Griffin says. “All companies have products, but not everyone has customer service. We pride ourselves on high-level customer service, interaction and delivery. If we get to where we're not getting all of our deliveries out each week, we will buy another truck and add an employee. That's our philosophy here – customer service above all.”
Serving the Customer through Expansion
East End Plumbing Supply employs 21 people taking care of its two locations, with a focus on serving its customers — plumbing contractors and builders.
The company runs lean and strong, and its slogan is proudly displayed on its website: “We have always prided ourselves on strong, friendly, customer service and providing reliable, professional-grade products at a fair price. From the beginning, East End has been locally owned and operated, it shows when you visit. East End takes pride in our local community, and we look forward to helping with your plumbing needs. Come in and see us.”
In late 2019, the company understood it needed to expand and remodel its showroom to serve the growing designer, remodeler, custom home builder and DIY market. After an assessment of its 1,100 square feet of showroom space, the duo agreed that a remodel and expansion was necessary. But then COVID-19 forced the world into a shutdown — what was the company to do?
“We decided we had to continue our plans for expansion and remodel,” Griffin states. “The pandemic is not going to be forever, and now is the time. In all actuality, it worked out better for us — as we served our customers from a space set up in the warehouse, abiding by all safety protocols. This allowed for an uninterrupted buildout in the showroom space.”
Construction began in 2020 by removing the walls and ceilings down to the studs — a start from scratch. The only original structure to remain were the exterior walls. The space is designed with understated elegance, including a black drop ceiling and a marbleized metallic floor design in black, gray and pearl white. The neutral palate accentuates the new LED lighting in the showroom. Chandeliers complement the new modern workspace furniture.
“Our interactive showroom has plumbing fixtures to meet all budgets, though it has a luxury focus and ambience,” Griffin says. With a curated mix of lines to fit all budgets, the showroom is an experience.
“One can experience the interactive displays and imagine how they would operate within the home,” he states. On display are five working toilets on trend with bidet seats. “We have a custom-built, 9-foot Elkay trough sink that accommodates nine working kitchen faucets and two operating garbage disposals. This allows us to emphasize individual attributes and showcase new technology offered with kitchen faucets.”
Adding in an interactive shower display with 13 operational showerheads, three flat screen televisions that highlight focus products, cast fixtures or order reviews, the small space packs a sensory punch.
Going Beyond in Customer Service
East End Plumbing Supply understands that to stay competitive, it must add value through white glove customer service. The team at East End has more than a century of experience, with many employees partnering with the company for more than 30 years.
“The experience level and consistency has served the showroom in technical expertise, allowing customers to bring us their challenges and we can easily identify solutions,” Griffin says. Employees understand they are part of a team that works together, and the company prides itself on the high level of customer service, as it represents the family name
“It gives one great pride to work for a place that has been in your family for generations,” Jackson says. “Sometimes you take things personally to a fault, but that’s because we are carrying on a tradition.”
Employee recruitment, engagement and retention is always in motion, with recruitment coming from word of mouth — and mostly from the 21-plus team of employees. “We look for team members who have the hard work ethic and a good attitude,” he explains. “We can teach them everything else about our supply house.”
Focusing on these inherent skills fosters growth. “Our last hire worked at a mechanic shop and had no idea about our industry, but has a good attitude and pride in his work ethic,” Jackson notes. It’s the inherent traits of customer service and pride of work that distinguishes East End’s customer service.
Retention is achieved by having an open-door policy. “Kenny’s door is always open for anyone to come in and discuss matters,” Jackson says. This level of engagement empowers team members, which in turn fuels their customer service excellence.
To help its team members succeed, the company is expanding into educational programs through the American Supply Association, as well as its strong partnership with the Southern Wholesalers Association. Rounding out its entrenchment in the industry is its active membership of The Commonwealth Group (and original WIT Group member).
“As an independent wholesale plumbing supplier, meeting with fellow members to discuss challenges and find solutions is vital,” Griffin explains. “I learn so much from our focused networking groups and can bring it back to the home front to use. This support and information have been instrumental to our company.”
To say that the company ties run deep within its employees, the community and the Jackson family, it is easy to understand the level of commitment to each. Jackson said it best: “My great grandfather was a plumber, as was my grandfather. I remember saying something along the lines of ‘We're just plumbers’ and my grandfather got very angry. ‘Don’t ever apologize for who we are.’” he recalls.
He went on to describe that in the state of Kentucky, master plumbers’ licenses have five digits. “My grandfather’s had three — and he is 96 years old,” Jackson adds. The sense of family pride breathes through the generations.
East End Plumbing Supply connects with its community by going all in — from donations to the local grade school and high school sports teams and into its local Habitat For Humanity builds. The independent distributor is always helping find answers and lending a hand.
So much so that I found another title that Griffin holds: mayor of his town. “I got tired of trying to figure out how to get my street paved, and other issues,” he notes. “I went to a couple of meetings — and well, yes, now I’m the mayor.”
In closing out my conversation, I ask both Griffin and Jackson about the company’s future path. They both stated that expanding into more showroom locations is the plan. “But first, I need to make deliveries today,” Griffin says.
And with a chuckle, the duo, working hand in hand, set up for another day of serving customers the best way they know how — as their motto states: “With strong, friendly, customer service and providing reliable, professional-grade products at a fair price.”