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At the end of last year, the Cregger Co., a South Carolina-based family-owned and -operated wholesale plumbing distributor, acquired Colorado-based Rampart Supply, another family-owned and operated plumbing distributor.
With 39 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, Cregger Co.’s 400 associates serve plumbing, HVAC and electrical contractors with a passion and pride in workmanship. The distributor has been in business since 1978; its leadership, past and future, and expansion out west is a story with twists and turns.
At its core, Cregger Co. thrives on ambition, risk-taking and guided leadership. Its history, and where its leadership and management are positioning the company today, is an example of independent wholesale distribution at its best — tenacity, courage, and unwavering service to the customer.
From Athlete to Entrepreneur
Morris Cregger was a gifted athlete in high school, which earned him a scholarship to prep school at Fork Union Military Academy near Richmond, VA - noted for its outstanding athletic programs. At Fork Union, he excelled in basketball, baseball, track and cross country and was chosen as the school’s best athlete resulting in many division-one scholarship offers. Due to illness in his family, he decided to stay close to home and accepted a scholarship to Roanoke College.
The summer before entering Roanoke, he had an opportunity to sign a professional baseball contract with the Pittsburg Pirates, but his dad said, “No - you are going to college.” Morris tried to convince his dad he could go to college after baseball, but his dad knew better and was determined that his son would get a college degree.
He took his dad’s advice and accepted the scholarship to Roanoke College, becoming the first in the Cregger family to attend college. While there, he continued his athletic career, lettering in basketball, soccer, tennis, and track. He graduated with the highest scoring average in Roanoke basketball history, and over fifty years later, he still holds the second highest average. He is the only player in the school’s history to be named to the Mason-Dixon all-conference team for all four years. He was the leading scorer in Virginia, averaging almost 24 points per game, and was honored as captain of the Virginia All-State honor team. He established several records in track and field, competing in nine different events. In 1971, Roanoke College established its Athletic Hall of Fame, and Morris was one of the initial thirty inductees. Immediately after his senior season, he had the opportunity to try out professionally for a pro contract in the NBA. Having married in college and having a son, he considered it was too big of a risk. So, with a major in economics and a minor in accounting, he began his career.
His opportunity came about in an unusual way. Morris, his wife, and son Mike, went to a local park one day after graduation to celebrate the event. He was approached by a gentleman who told him that his two sons had attended almost every one of his college games and asked Morris if he would mind talking with them. Of course, Morris agreed.
To know Morris Cregger is to understand he never met a stranger, and he has the art of conversation perfected and easily connects with people. It so happened the gentleman worked in the distribution business. While discussing Cregger’s search for a job, Morris mentioned he had accepted a position in Nashville but wanted to remain in Roanoke. It turned out the gentleman’s company was hiring trainees in their credit and finance department. Cregger went in for an interview the next morning, and on the following day, he was informed he had the job. In May 1964, he began his distribution career…the company was Noland.
He entered the one-year trainee program with Noland in Roanoke, his hometown, but he learned quickly and, after only six months, was transferred to Falls Church, Virginia, Noland’s largest branch. Morris stated, “I was fortunate that my manager in Falls Church was Bud Lehman, who greatly influenced my life and inspired me to expect more of myself and search for perfection.” Cregger spent five years in Falls Church, absorbing all he could from Mr. Lehman. On several occasions, he became involved in legislative matters with various government agencies speaking on behalf of the industry regarding regulations affecting distribution.
Cregger was transferred to Columbia, SC, in May of 1969 to manage the finance and credit operations. He was not satisfied with just doing his job, but with his entrepreneurial spirit, he started to examine the entire industry with the hope of one day being in a position to do it his way. He stated, “I was always fascinated at the similarity between business and athletics.” At Noland, he ended up with four locations under his supervision and continued to be involved in industry regulations concerning the industry, which led to his next career opportunity.
While speaking at a committee hearing with South Carolina state representatives and senators as a proponent for changes in the mechanics lien regulations, Morris met the owners of Kline Iron and Steel, one of the largest privately held businesses in the Southeast at the time. The Kline family owned several other companies in the southeast, including Kline Supply Company, a small plumbing supply house.
The Klines later offered Cregger the position of President of Kline Supply Company and the opportunity to operate the company as his own and to obtain an ownership position later.
Cregger jumped at the chance, knowing he could grow the company and be a part of its footprint. He was very good at seeing opportunity and acting on it, and soon he would talk to ownership about expanding — and was met with hesitancy. The corporation offered to sell him the wholesale company for $1 million. Cregger knew it was not valued that high, plus he didn’t have that kind of money.
Going back and forth in negotiations, Cregger recalls the magic words, “OK, you write the deal,” and he did. The deal was set, but there was one slight problem. He didn’t have the money needed to purchase the company. He had taken out a loan from the bank but was short and needed to find investors. He did, and one investor, a close friend, placed a second mortgage on his home to invest, which speaks volumes about Cregger’s character, tenacity, and drive.
He entered the closing just shy of the required equity, so Cregger asked for 90 days to provide the additional funds needed. “I didn’t want to have any more investors in the new business, so I started M & M Investments, a limited liability company, to raise the additional funds,” he explains. It was a critical move — the investment company raised enough to cover the necessary equity of the plumbing distribution company that would carry his name.
Low and Lean
Cregger Company opened its doors on October 1, 1978, performing all operations by hand, as they could not afford a computer system. The accountant, fully aware of their limited cash, reminded Cregger not to forget to budget for income taxes. Cregger replied: “‘I’ve looked at the inventory, and we won’t be making any money (just surviving); there will be no taxes paid for the first three months.’ And that is the only time we have never been profitable.”
It took five years for Cregger to pay off the remainder of the debt owed to the previous owners and investors. In 1979, the first full year of business, with a five-year lease on the 10,000-square-foot building, less than 10 employees, and one delivery truck, the company made $2.2 million in sales.
Prior to the purchase, Cregger, then single, met a woman who worked for the parent corporation as an accountant. Her name was Sheila Sprouse, and with his charm and wit, Cregger told her that he wanted a meeting with her — there was something off with the financial statements she sent over.
There wasn’t anything wrong with the paperwork — he wanted to meet her. Sheila arrived at the lunch meeting, and as fate would have it, the two began dating. Sheila had a nondisclosure agreement so she couldn’t help Cregger with his new company. He smiles as he winks: “We found a way around that — we got married. And she lent me her savings — $2,500 in her bank account — to help start the company. I haven’t paid her back yet — but I think she is OK with that.”
Sheila Cregger worked side by side with her husband to establish the company and also do the financials. A copy of the first year’s financial statement, handwritten with beautiful penmanship, hangs on the wall in Matt Cregger’s office. Matt is Morris and Sheila’s son, now at the company’s helm as its president and CEO. Sheila Cregger continues as secretary-treasurer at Cregger Co. Inc. Morris Cregger is as active now as before and continues as chairman and CFO.
In the beginning, the couple would work 10- to 12-hour days. “We would take Matthew to daycare, and he would be the first one there and the last one to be picked up,” Morris Cregger recalls.
“And when we did go home, you and mom would still be working,” Matt Cregger replies.
“We still work long days, and it’s never really work,” Morris Cregger says. His son quickly adds, “It’s the pursuit of passion.”
Morris Cregger’s pursuit of challenge and opportunity can be related to athletics. “I’m an overachiever,” he says. “If determination can make it happen – it will, I don’t quit.”
Always with an eye for opportunity, around 1979, an opportunity presented itself to purchase stock in Eljer, and with funds from M & M Investments, he took the calculated risk. Several years later, Eljer was purchased by another company, and his stock investment made an incredible return — enough to pay off all investors in M&M Investments plus additional funds to give Cregger Company a solid financial footing.
“He has always been a risk taker,” says Matt Cregger, who inherited the determination and drive from both of his parents. And with risk comes reward.
The Art of Entrepreneurship
Matt Cregger joined the company in 2008, but he has been preparing for this role for a long time. Growing up, he would watch his parents work long hours to build their company — and he learned the art it takes to seek growth opportunities, the art of financial investment, the art of empowering team members and the art of providing exceptional customer service. Both parents excelled in those areas, and Matt Cregger learned from an early age they were driven — for success and opportunity.
After graduating college with a business degree, Matt Cregger began working in Cregger Co.’s purchasing department. From there, he worked his way through different opportunities, including operations director, where he helped open up an HVAC branch, a new vertical for the company, from the bottom up. “It was a great learning experience to open a new branch,” he says. “You learn every part of the business doing it.” He chuckles as he relays the story about putting up pallet racking in the warehouse — “I have a slight fear of heights, and I froze up when working on assembling the top shelf. I had to get help….”
In 2017, Matt Cregger was approached by his father about leading the charge at the company as its president and CEO, but it was not an overnight change. Morris Cregger started management succession planning in 2012, getting his son prepped for when he would take the reins. “My Dad has gone far beyond what anyone else had done in preparing their sons or daughters to take over the business,” says Matt Cregger. And it shows. He has the savvy, connectability, and drive —inherited from his parents.
I asked Matt if his leadership style differs from his father’s; he responded that he is an extension of the previous generation — driven with an eye for opportunity while fostering its company culture. He adds that he is driven to be more associate focused as the company grows.
“While our philosophy and mission are consistent, we marry it with keeping our roadmap flexible,” Matt Cregger explains. “We recognize that our people are driving our success, and we set up the infrastructure to allow them to grow with the company as it grows.”
For example, a branch manager wanted to expand his branch’s footprint — in a building the distributor didn’t own. It needed additional space to serve its growing customer base. The branch manager was all-in to find a solution; he developed a plan to accomplish the goal and presented the opportunity to Matt Cregger. “I trust our team, and after hearing and reviewing the proposal, I said – let’s get it done, and the decision was made in one day,” he says.
The company quickly added 5,000 square feet for the branch — a testament to the determination and drive of empowered associates, which translates into pride in workmanship. In addition, it showcases how being nimble when an opportunity arises has allowed the independent wholesaler to act quickly — one benefit of being an independent family-owned and -operated company.
Empowerment Leads to Success
The company’s slogan is: “Our Pride Makes the Difference,” and it is taken to heart by each employee. “How do you instill emotional investment in your associates?” Matt Cregger asks. “How do you get them emotionally invested in the organization’s success and the success of your customer base? We do this by instilling the idea that by making our customers more successful, we will make ourselves more successful. That is our foundation.”
It all comes down to employee empowerment. “It’s at the foundation of who we are; the company is structured so that our staff can rapidly take care of our customers’ needs. Our ability to get things done quickly is one thing that sets us apart.” Matt Cregger explains. “Also, we foster an entrepreneurial spirit in our associates. We want our branch managers to be empowered leaders and our sales staff to be able to make quick decisions. A culture of empowered associates throughout all levels of the company, coupled with programs that allow ALL associates to participate in the company’s success, has been a key driver of our growth.”
An example of empowerment is personified in a new company store in Raleigh, where the regional and branch manager quickly identified a building for the new location. After the location was selected and a lease negotiated, local management and staff had the location up and conducting business in a matter of weeks.
“The company will provide the financial resources, guidance and help along the way, but at the end of the day, it is the local teams that dives in and brings it all together — from the racking, inventory, renovations, setting up the counters, etc. — truly building it from the bottom up,” Matt Cregger says. “Think about the emotional investment that instills in them!”
The pride of associates acting like owners is transparent. “One branch, by their own initiative, had our company slogan printed and mounted on the wall, and in the pipe yard a pirate flag was flying — because they feel like their team is working together to take siege their local market!” Matt Cregger adds. “It’s fantastic to see the camaraderie they built.”
The company culture of success and empowerment is represented in the company newsletters, recognizing the success of each branch, listing their growth from year to date, and what month they set records at their branch.
Matt Cregger recalls once when he sent out the newsletter with one branch omission: “Within two minutes of sending out the newsletter, I had a message back from the branch manager. I had missed his branch, and it had set a record for that month — I couldn’t believe I forgot to include it! But it happened.” It was another testament to the emotional investment Cregger Company associations have in the success of their operations.
He adds that the team spirit and culture of working together for its customers’ betterment makes Cregger associates’ cohesiveness genuine. “And those of us in leadership have to maintain perspective and recognize that it’s our associates who are working together and driving the organization’s success. We set up the infrastructure to allow them to do it.” Morris Cregger adds, “When I used to interview candidates, I would say I can motivate you when you are here in the office, but your pride will make you want to be the best person you can be — every day.” That is its secret sauce.
Matt discusses that while the tools in an employee’s toolbox might look similar to other companies, “where we are different is our people are empowered to make decisions and do so immediately.” It’s the ability to be flexible and speedier in assessing a situation, allowing a quicker response and resolution to issues. Coupled with “unselfish cross-division collaboration,” as Matt Cregger calls it, brings full circle the empowerment in associates, which translates into their emotional investment in the company and its customers, which manifests in pride in workmanship and, ultimately, the success of the company and team.
Matt Cregger emphasizes that the company designs programs and structures that encourage collaboration while fostering the independent spirit - Our Pride Makes the Difference. With aggressive and unselfish leaders, from regional managers up to the vertical team leaders, Brendan Donohue, senior vp of sales; Steve Bennett, vp of HVAC and Richard Kerr, vp of the electrical division; all foster the entrepreneurial spirit while driving collaboration and cross channel opportunity within the organization.
In 2017, the company added another layer to its associate’s toolbox: a Career Development Program designed for individuals and students interested in starting a career in wholesale distribution. The one-year program, created by HR Manager Nichole Boles, is carefully designed to guide individuals through wholesale distribution and retail industries. The inaugural class held a commencement ceremony to honor the graduates, and the program continues and has expanded along the way.
When Matt Cregger stepped into the role of president and CEO in 2017, in reality, he had been doing so for a while. “Matt had been running segments of the business well before that,” Morris Cregger says. “I didn’t need to worry about operations and could concentrate on investments and expansion.” Matt Cregger’s vision for the company is from the same lens as his parents. “Where our team presents an opportunity, we then provide the support needed to make it happen,” he says. And with an eye for expansion, an opportunity presented itself in a unique way.
Rampart Supply: People Serving People
In 1968, Joe Perry started Rampart Supply, a plumbing wholesaler headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., focusing on plumbing, hydronic heating, and industrial pipe, valve, and fittings (PVF) sectors, serving residential, commercial, and various industrial and facility maintenance sectors. Family-owned and -operated, Joe’s sons Colin Perry and Kevin Perry, son-in-law John McCallum, and grandson James Perry eventually joined the company.
Each lent his talent and enthusiasm for the business. They were naturals at forming connections and driving an employee-based culture. In time Joe Perry, Kevin Perry, and John McCallum would retire from the company; Colin Perry would take the helm as president, and son James Perry as vice president.
Colin Perry knew from a young age he wanted to take part in the family business; at age 11, he was sweeping floors and stocking shelves. After graduating college a semester early, he joined the company. As Colin Perry says, “my resume is short — one employer.” Son James Perry joined the company in 2010 as vice president after working outside the industry for about six years: “I wanted to come back to a family business perspective.”
Through the years, the company would expand its footprint to include a location in Denver and Pueblo, Colo., with its service area reaching as far north as Wyoming and south to New Mexico. With a company culture and leadership similar to Cregger’s, its 300-plus associates take great pride and care for their fellow team members and customers.
“We are very people-based and -oriented,” James Perry says. “The core of the company is the people who work for us; it’s people serving people.”
Its website says it best: “The company recognizes the business exists, above all, because of its focus on recruiting and retaining the best people, committing to a deep and diverse inventory, and doing right by [its] customers, suppliers, and community.” And above all else — it’s the relationships they build through trust and service at its core.
James Perry believes empowering associates is a secret to Rampart’s success: “The people who flourish here are self-starters — and try to do the right thing for their customers, as well as for the staff members who work with them.”
Rampart Supply holds a high standard for its team members and provides tools to assist, educate, and bring them to the next level. Colin Perry worked closely with the American Supply Association on its Education Foundation. For many years, he would lead the way in providing Rampart Supply associates with the educational tools they needed to elevate their understanding of the industry and increase their confidence in helping customers.
As with every organization, building up one’s bullpen and having a succession plan was essential to the company. “I’m the third generation, and there is no fourth and no other family involved,” James Perry notes. “We knew we had to do something eventually and wanted to provide a clear path for the future of our people.”
Colin Perry emphasized that the path forward for the company needed to be defined. “A year ago, if an employee asked, ‘Can you tell me what Rampart will look like in 10 years?’ we couldn’t have given them an honest answer. Because we didn’t know, and James didn’t want to be standing alone 20 years from now trying to figure this all out by himself.”
In the early summer of 2021, the duo started their outreach and made an appointment with a broker to start a conversation. In their minds, it would be a long process, probably two to five years. They had a wish list for the company; at the top was to focus on other family-owned and -operated wholesale distribution firms, thus fulfilling their desire to continue as part of an independent wholesale plumbing company.
They drafted a list of possible new owners. As fate would have it, the day after the broker appointment was made, they received word from The Commonwealth Group, their buying group, that fellow member company Cregger Co. was on the acquisition trail. It was fate, as that was the company at the top of Rampart’s list.
Colin Perry and Morris Cregger have known each other for more than 25 years, having served on the same boards and committees. There is deep mutual respect among the gentlemen, and each company is similar to the others. Where one might have a weakness, the other is strong, but the value systems are the same – people first. Colin Perry made the call, and within a few weeks, he, Morris Cregger, James Perry, and Matt Cregger were in Colorado to discuss the possibility of an acquisition.
It didn’t take long; by August 2021, the deal was sealed on a handshake and finalized at the end of the same year.
“If it had been anyone other than someone I had a close working knowledge of, it would have been a long process,” Colin Perry explains. “Morris and I have shared everything between the two of us over the years — there are no secrets. And when you know the other company culture, their values, and you know that when they tell you something, you can take it to the bank – it makes the handshake that much easier.”
James Perry adds: “It’s a perfect fit, and all the boxes were checked. The sale of the company to someone we knew and trusted, that has a very similar organization, is growth-oriented, invests in their people, and wants to grow and provide a solid secure future for our people — It’s a win-win.”
Having established itself in the Colorado market for more than 54 years, building a good name within its communities, both parties understood the importance of keeping the Rampart name. “That was important to our people and us,” Colin Perry says. “And, I think that has helped our people a lot,” James Perry adds.
The deal went through with one caveat: the name remains Rampart Supply but adds a division of the Cregger Co.
When the acquisition took place, the Rampart team members were onboard, understanding that the company was keeping its established identity and company culture and leaders. The Perrys continue with the company they love, now a part of another company that shares their vision and standards. In addition, they also understood the importance of being a part of an independent family-owned and -operated wholesale distribution firm.
When the change occurred, Rampart team members put their customers at ease, explaining they were continuing business as usual. Colin Perry smiles when I ask about feedback from customers: “The biggest compliment I received was from one of our larger customers. He said, ‘Nothing is different other than the header on your invoices now say a division of Cregger Company, and from our perspective, nothing has changed.’”
The future looks bright for the company. They now internally refer to each other as Cregger East and Cregger West, each filling the gap for the other weaknesses and supporting the other in growth opportunities. Cregger Co. is looking to expand its footprint further with an established base out west. “I can’t imagine a scenario where we would have been more confident in the future of our people and company,” James Perry says.
Cregger Co. has built its business on multifamily housing and large projects, as well as the residential, commercial, industrial, and municipal areas. Rampart Supply has been a stronghold in the residential and commercial arenas and various industrial and facility maintenance sectors. With the acquisition, in total, the company has 42 locations, a central distribution facility, and more than 750 team members — driving excellence and expansion from coast to coast.