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In 1949, Maurice Sherman left his family’s salvage reselling business to start his venture, Pacific Plumbing Supply, in Seattle. Within months, he secured a warehouse, stockead products, hired employees and began operations. Many of his previous customers loyally followed him to his new enterprise, a testament to his drive for quality products, with attention to customer service and commitment to help customers succeed.
Tragically, two years into this endeavor, he fell ill and passed away. The company’s responsibility fell to his two sons, Ernie and Eddie Sherman. At the time, Ernie Sherman was a 21-year-old junior at the University of Washington, pursuing a business degree, while Eddie Sherman was only in the 11th grade.The brothers took on the challenge of running Pacific Plumbing Supply, determined to do whatever was necessary to help their very young business survive.
From its modest beginnings as a single storefront distributing plumbing supplies, Pacific Plumbing diversified and expanded to multiple locations. Now, as the distributor marks its 75th anniversary in 2024, it stands as a tribute to the dedication and vision of the Sherman brothers. Today’s celebration recognizes Pacific Plumbing Supply’s remarkable growth and impactful reach, benefiting customers and communities.
And this is only the beginning …
Ernie and Eddie Sherman were immersed in the family business from a young age, dedicating themselves to its growth. Originally established as an independent plumbing wholesale distributor in Seattle, Pacific Plumbing catered to contractor customers from this sole location. Today, the business remains family-owned, with family members Eddie Sherman, his son, Dan Sherman, and Marc Sherman (Ernie’s son) actively involved. Over the years, it has expanded its reach, offering plumbing, radiant/hydronic products, commercial goods and luxury plumbing products.
The distributor’s footprint now boasts eleven plumbing branches in Washington state, three in Alaska, one in Bozeman, Mont, and a soon-to-open branch in Helena, Mont. (more on that in a moment).
Ernie Sherman was active as an owner up until his passing in July 2023. Marc and Dan both joined the firm in 1986, and are owners and partners in the company.
Reflecting on his uncle’s legacy, Dan Sherman notes: “Ernie devoted nearly 73 years to the company. Astonishingly, that’s an entire lifetime — mirroring the average lifespan of a U.S. male today. Ernie was highly focused; he had very high standards in work ethic and getting things done properly.
Yet, Ernie Sherman’s intense personality was tempered with generosity. He would commend good work (albeit in his way, with silent praise), and employees knew his drive intended to promote corporate and individual achievements.
Following his passing, an annual contractor event was held where around 100 attendees — including customers, employees, vendors and reps— convened for a Mariners ballgame to celebrate partnerships. Several of those present had been loyal to Pacific Plumbing Supply for decades. Sherman acknowledges the symbiotic nature of these business relationships. Before paying tribute to Ernie Sherman, he recognized his uncle’s significant and positive impact on those present.
Ernie Sherman had extended credit to numerous businesses when no one else would. Highlighting this, Dan Sherman notes: “We toasted to Ernie, and I mentioned that there might be a few customers in the room who got their businesses started with Ernie at Pacific when no other wholesaler showed willingness to extend credit. As I said this, several attendees raised their hands. I got the chills.” This gesture was a powerful affirmation of Ernie Sherman’s principles, which remain at the company’s heart- taking care of customers, always.
Many of its employees flourished under Ernie and Eddie’s mentorship, progressing into leadership roles. Notably, Larry Solomon, who began in the warehouse, then purchasing, then management and on to become president and CEO, now CEO (emeritus). In turn, Solomon spent many years mentoring Pacific’s new CEO, Ron Abramson.
It’s a testament to Pacific Plumbing for always looking from within to promote talent. “For our bullpen, we look within first, Abramson notes. “We work to promote everyone who shows they want to take the next step. We are always open to adding individuals with our core values to the roster. And we love the opportunity to pick up the ‘seasoned veteran’ to close out their career at Pacific Plumbing.”
While starting as a plumbing warehouse, Pacific Plumbing Supply has expanded its verticals. In 1985, its first plumbing showroom was opened, which was reimagined in 2013 with the creation and opening of its luxury showroom, Abbrio; in 2008, the company expanded into radiant heating and environmentally friendly plumbing products and opened its first of three “Pacific Green Rooms,” selling radiant heating, tankless water heaters and other eco-friendly plumbing products. As with the luxury product showrooms, at the company’s core are employees focused on excelling at customer service and providing education and training on the products it sells. The Pacific Green Room offers product knowledge and training classes throughout the year, led by factory-trained technicians.
Pacific Plumbing Supply’s most significant growth launch would occur within the last three years, including investments that have set up the company for its 75th anniversary in 2024 and beyond.
In early 2020, Pacific Plumbing Supply completed the development of a new central distribution center (CDC), approximately 100,000 square feet, just as COVID-19 hit our shores.
“Ron led the charge on ensuring we had the right people and equipment in place, and all was set up in the building,” Dan Sherman notes. With a completed building, the charge now came to stocking it with inventory. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to the supply chain.
Dan Sherman smiles as he tells the story of Abramson leading the company at this pivotal moment: “Ron wanted us to be well-stocked, even in light of the unfolding pandemic, so he leaned into purchasing. He knew it was a massive risk for us, but the investment paid off.” The heavy orders to manufacturers kept the plumbing distributor stocked, and the early ordering provided a constant refreshment of products. In being proactive, Pacific Plumbing was able to help other supply houses with their supply chain issues.
Having a new supply CDC and an influx of products, Pacific Plumbing needed to manage the movement of its costly investments accurately. So, at the same time, it invested in a new warehouse management system (WMS). As many can empathize, software implementation is always a work in progress and a massive undertaking. The distributor learned the hard way — it is the first plumbing distributor to marry its specific WMS software with its specific enterprise resource planning system, so there were challenges to work through. Along the way, it fine-tuned the WMS to help the systems run more efficiently.
“Our CDC is probably the most valuable tool for us in supply chain and inventory management,” explains Abramson. “We move almost 75 percent of our non-direct inventory through it. We’re working on fine-tuning our WMS system, allowing us to pick/pull more efficiently. We’re the first to use this particular vendor with our systems provider, so there have been some challenges, but it’s enabling us to improve fulfillment efficiencies. We believe this package is valuable to our customers, branches and vendors.”
And it is working. With the expanded inventory and a WMS in place, it was time to tackle the next big hurdle for any business: e-commerce.
On July 20, 2023, Pacific Plumbing Supply launched its e-commerce website — only nine months in the making.
The company knew that to continue growing with its customers, it had to provide them the tools to succeed — including ordering at their convenience. The site is available for credit customers only, and a controlled group has been granted access to allow for glitches (if any) to be worked through. “We have a team set up for any issues that may come in, and they also work on weekly set-ups of more customers in our system,” Abramson says. “Our near-term goal is to have about 20 percent of the orders we receive on e-commerce.”
Currently, Pacific Plumbing has 95 percent of its lines online for e-commerce, but it’s more than listing the product for sale – it’s also about the immense amount of data the company uploads.
“We knew it would be important for our customers to have the best quality imagery of every product we sold – even commodity products like fittings,” says Abramson. So for months, team member Hidy Abramson has taken thousands of items out of their boxes and taken pictures 360-degree pictures, so we have the best possible assets for our customers,” Ron Abramson says. “It differentiates us and ultimately helps our customers succeed,” responds Sherman. The site also allows for inventory management for its customers. They can plot their parts pickup at multiple locations if needed, saving time in advance in knowing where the products are on that day.
“Our site is up, and we are proud of it,” Dan Sherman says. “The e-commerce team worked hard to bring this to fruition, and it shows. Customer response so far is outstanding, and we’re ramping up more users every day. It saves us time and is efficient for both sides of the counter. Ron is leading the charge on some other ‘secret squirrel’ projects we’re working on.”
One that is not so secret is the company’s organic build in Helena, Mont.
Moving Into Montana
In 2022, Pacific Plumbing expanded its reach into Bozeman, Mont. With the addition of the new CDC, the growth and expansion would allow new branches to be serviced with the same attention to detail. And, as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”
“We hadn’t established a new location in a long time, and when we had our open house for Bozeman, it was amazing to see how many people were curious about our company story,” Dan Sherman notes. Customers wanted to learn more about the distributor and welcome it into the community. “I was very surprised; we were not expecting that general interest,” Abramson added. It demonstrated to Pacific Plumbing that there was interest for other plumbing supply houses to join the area. And with that introduction, it set its sights on another location.
So, earlier this year, Pacific Plumbing set its sights on Helena — it would be the company’s first organic build in many years. Ground has been broken, and Pacific Plumbing expects completion in the first quarter of 2024.
The growth into Montana is a strategic move, as the company’s CDC was built to accommodate future growth, and continue to supply the products its customers want and need. And making things easier for its customers is a core goal of Pacific Plumbing. The expansions have also allowed Pacific Plumbing to expand into more of the commercial side of plumbing. What was once a traditional plumbing house for residential is now seeing it diversify into 70 percent residential plumbing sales, 20 percent commercial and 10 percent PVF. It’s all about helping its customers succeed.
“We care about a one-person shop as much as we do a 500-employee mechanical,” Abramson explains. “We carry more C and D items to help with one-stop shopping for our service customers. Our team members build relationships and trust with their customer base; our people help make it easy. Quick, accurate and fill rate make our contractors more successful. Each interaction and transaction with our customer means everything to us.”
Dan Sherman adds: “We’re still a small company. Probably for the first 30 years, we were in survival mode and battling to create our backyard, our spot in our market. Larry joined us in 1976 and rose to CEO in 1991. Under his 48 year leadership, we were focused on stability, strategy, bringing people up through the organization and evolution from analog/manual to computerization. Now we have a course set for the future with Ron at the helm, who has 32 years with Pacific Plumbing and started as a truck driver. Over the last five-to-six years, we have focused more on efficiency applications to make our jobs easier, and we think this will make us better partners for our customers and vendors. We’re setting ourselves up for the future; we are starting to think like a larger company.”
Next year marks Pacific Plumbing’s 75th anniversary, and it has a fantastic year in store for employees, manufacturing partners and customers. An employee celebration is planned in January at a unique venue in the Seattle area to celebrate the team that helps build and maintain the company and its high level of service, allowing it to thrive over the past 75 years.
“Our Pacific core value is what has gotten us here; your family is first, Pacific is second,” Abramson explains. “One takes care of the other. We respect our customers, coworkers and vendors all the same — we are built on partnerships. Our core values will continue to serve us in the future. We love our industry, and it shows.” The company is planning a year of celebrations and new initiatives, however, these are some of the ‘secret squirrel’ projects that will be revealed in due time.
I asked what Pacific Plumbing’s key challenges in the coming years are and how it plans to address them to ensure sustained growth. Keep in mind that the company has made incredible investments over the last few years with CDC, WMC and launching its new e-commerce site.
The answer was simple — it all comes back to employees.
“I think we are all in the same boat on this one — hiring people who want a career and have drive and integrity, Abramson notes. “We all need people who believe in more than right now and look ahead toward the future. We need people who want to be part of a team.”
And, with this outlook, Pacific Plumbing Supply is well set to take on the next 75 years commandingly.