The old joke around Liberty Pumps is that as soon as the company wraps up its latest expansion, it starts planning its next one. Opened in 1965, the company relocated in 1979 to a former swimming pool manufacturing facility that measured 4,800 square feet before an expansion in the 1980s brought the site to 33,000 square feet.
Then in 2000, Liberty built its first site from scratch when its current Bergen, N.Y. headquarters opened as a 60,000-square-foot facility. The company figured it would get 15 years out of that space – but only managed eight years before more room was needed. So, the company expanded in 2008 figuring on another 15 years – only to double again in eight years.
Late last year, Liberty broke ground on a new 107,000 square-foot material handling center that will provide additional warehousing and added manufacturing space. It is anticipated to support 30 additional jobs at the family- and employee-owned manufacturer.
Upon completion of its latest expansion, Liberty will have a total of approximately 350,000 square feet of space at its corporate campus. With the new facility expected to open in January, we sat down with Randy Waldron, vice president, sales and marketing; and Robyn Brookhart, president and CEO, Liberty Pumps, to bring us up to date on this and other business developments.
PHCPPros: We know Liberty is on track to soon open its new material handling center. What will the facility mean for Liberty’s capabilities?
Waldron: The new material handling center will provide some much-needed space for material storage that will supply our manufacturing areas. We have simply out-grown our existing warehouse space. In addition, we are implementing more efficient means of tracking and moving material within our complex through scanning.
PHCPPros: Considering the new expansion will house inventory – both your own raw materials and finished products – how has Liberty’s inventory management needs changed as a result of the pandemic?
Waldron: We have struggled with the supply chain just like everyone else over the past 18 months. There were simply no easy answers to what was occurring across all supply segments. As a result, we have been forced to carry more inventory to provide stock buffers where our suppliers may not have been able to meet our incoming material needs. In addition, dual sourcing became a higher priority, which also creates more inventoried material. This has obviously come at a higher cost – carrying added inventory, but meeting our customer needs and getting product out the door has been our biggest priority.
PHCPPros: From what we’ve read, the new material handling center will also free up additional manufacturing space. Considering our last question, how has Liberty’s manufacturing changed as a result of the pandemic?
Waldron: Yes, moving our current warehouse area to the new material center will free up space for additional manufacturing cells in our current building. Several categories of products continue to grow at a very strong pace and this new manufacturing area is needed to continue to meet demand. We have also been implementing more automation with our manufacturing processes. The addition of robotics in several areas has not only helped improve manufacturing efficiencies, but it also helps combat the labor/hiring issues that many in the manufacturing sector have struggled with this past year.
PHCPPros: More often than not, Liberty is always undergoing some type of expansion to its Bergen, N.Y. campus. The last one we wrote about extensively was in 2016. Can we recap what these expansions have allowed Liberty to do over the years?
Waldron: Each expansion has really been to address growth, while meeting our customer expectations for delivering product in a quick and timely manner. Whether it is in an assembly area, administrative area, engineering or even now – our warehouse and shipping expansion; we want to be able to operate a manufacturing campus that moves material and produces product in a smart and efficient manner.
PHCPPros: Despite the pandemic, many PHCP manufacturers have told us they’ve had some of their best years during this time. What can you share with us in terms of overall sales highlights at Liberty? Were there any particular strong market segments?
Waldron: Without sharing details, I can say the past two years have been very strong. In some ways, surprisingly so considering the environment we all were faced with. And there was not one particular area – all market segments performed above our forecast.
PHCPPros: What is your forecast for Liberty’s business activities looking ahead to 2023?
Waldron: I think coming out of the pandemic with so many months of record high business activity, leaves some big questions as we head into 2023. It’s obvious that those type of sales levels cannot be sustained and that corrections in the market are inevitable. With that said, we certainly see a leveling out of business. The question remains to what extent. There are just too many variables with how inflation is dealt with. In the end, we still anticipate a solid year for 2023 with much slower growth.
PHCPPros: Robyn, you took over the family business as president and CEO in 2019 from your father, Charlie Cook. Can we talk about some of your corporate highlights since taking charge?
Brookhart: Liberty Pumps’ remarkable success has still not stopped, stemming well before I transitioned the title of president and CEO. Liberty continues to experience phenomenal growth, adding 96 members (Liberty’s term for employees) since 2019 to help support this growth.
In fact, this past July we celebrated a string of 25 consecutive monthly sales records, and business is still going strong! Beyond our growth, we’re incredibly proud to have been certified as a “Great Places to Work” company for the past eight years in a row. The GPTW organization recognizes employers who create an outstanding employee experience, which speaks to our culture and the talented people who work here.
In addition, we’re honored to have been chosen as a Rochester Top 100 company not only during the years since my transition, but for a total of 22 years. These accolades are wonderful, and they also show consistency in how Liberty is led, and how our entire team is aligned.
What’s very exciting is the new warehouse project. Upon completion in January 2023 this will put our total square footage at approximately 350,000 square feet. Within our footprint we’re continuing to implement automation to not only increase efficiency but also to enhance ergonomics on the shop floor.
And it’s no secret that we like to have fun! The most fun and memorable celebration of 2022 was to honor Charlie’s 50 years of service here at Liberty Pumps. Charlie serves as chair of the board of directors and continues to be a sought-after mentor by our leadership team.
PHCPPros: Liberty has been going strong for quite some time. What do you see as Liberty’s most distinguishing feature?
Brookhart: Our distinguishing feature is 100 percent our people and culture. We care deeply about each other, our customers, vendors, and this amazing community we call Liberty Pumps!
PHCPPros: Liberty goes through wholesale distribution. How has that channel of distribution changed in recent years?
Waldron: The wholesale channel remains, at its core, what we have always known it to be – brick and mortar locations servicing the local contractor. The biggest change in recent years would be how they are now playing in the e-commerce arena. So many distributors now consider online sales a significant business category and are developing new strategies to expand in this area.
PHCPPros: We know you have some new products coming out at the end of 2023 that you want to keep under wraps for now. But besides new products, what else can our readers expect from Liberty in 2023?
Waldron: The biggest thing to expect would be for Liberty to get back to the quick shipping and service levels that we have built our name around. The investments we are making internally with expansions and new equipment, along with continuing to work on shoring-up a robust material supply chain, will help Liberty return to the pre-pandemic service levels our customers have come to expect.