They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with its first step. For Plumbing Distributors Inc. (PDI), the first step was made in 1973 by Glad Mealor and his brother-in-law, Ronald Pratt, along with Glad’s son, Sid Mealor. The three men established PDI in a 3,000-square-foot warehouse in Lawrenceville, Ga. to distribute plumbing products.
The company quickly established itself within the community — doing things a little differently — its way of delivering to its customers what they need and when they need it. Glad Mealor was the ultimate salesman, and Sid Mealor was the analytical counterpart. “If a competitor opened its doors at 7:30 a.m., PDI opened at 7:00 a.m.,” says Coley Herrin, PDI president and CEO. “Glad and Sid were perfect checks and balances, and the partnerships grew the business.”
That growth was based on treating customers, vendors and employees with respect, support, and service.
Today, the company known as PDI, Inc. provides kitchen, bath and lighting solutions for homeowners and professionals from 26 locations across Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, including the first two Kohler Signature Stores in the region. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, PDI is proud to remain family-owned with more than 400 employees carrying on the founders’ legacies.
What hasn’t changed is PDI’s commitment to its customers and a drive to deliver. It flourishes by focusing on core values of accountability, commitment, flexibility, integrity, loyalty and teamwork.
Managing and growing an independent, family-owned business is challenging. However, Glad and Sid Mealor worked side-by-side to bring their dream to fruition, with the company’s backbone being its employees. Hiring the right person for the job, and the company, was and still is essential.
In 1999, Herrin joined the company as its operations manager. “I interviewed with Sid, and he thought I would be a good fit for the company, as I had previously worked for both a contractor and a manufacturing company,” he recalls. “He thought I was a good fit on the distribution side because I could talk with the contractors at the counters, as well as talk to leaders of manufacturing companies — I understood both sides.”
The company was doing well, and Herrin advanced up the ladder, partly due to the mentorship and guidance from Sid Mealor, who would guide Herrin to be the best version of himself. To do so, Herrin would need to step out of his comfort zone. “Sid told me I had to change — be more visible, personable and cuddly,” he says, smiling. “One of the many things Sid taught me was if you want to get better at anything, you have to make yourself uncomfortable.”
He attended industry events, volunteered on industry boards and actively engaged in PDI’s buying group events. In 2007, Herrin was promoted to the position of executive vice president and general manager.
In December of 2010, Glad Mealor, who was then chairman of the board, passed away. He was 80 years old, and up until a few months before his passing, he came to work every day. So beloved was the leader it hit the company hard. During this time, there was a question about who would run the company as its president — family or someone else. There was no debate; In January of 2011, Herrin became the first nonfamily member to lead PDI as president and COO. Sid Mealor remained as CEO and was elevated to chairman of the board.
Then, the unthinkable happened. In May of 2011, Sid Mealor passed away, and the blow to the company of losing two leaders in a short amount of time was difficult. He had two sisters; the younger one, Lyn Wright, who was on the company’s board of directors, would guide the company as its chairman and CEO, and currently as its executive director. In January 2017, Herrin was named CEO alongside his title of president, the combination of which he holds today.
“There was a lot to process and grieve — Lyn and her sister lost their father and brother in a short amount of time, and I lost my mentors,” Herrin notes. “We kept the business going — we survived, thrived and continued together doing the things Sid and Glad taught us to and kept pushing forward.”
Expansion By Acquisition
When founded, PDI was a traditional wholesaler, servicing only plumbing contractors.
The company created showrooms for its contractor customers so they could send in their customers to look at kitchen and bath products. As time went by and the emergence of big box stores took shape, PDI knew it had to evolve and open its showrooms to the public to succeed. In addition, it changed its philosophy to formalize the growing company into divisions: residential plumbing, commercial plumbing, a builder’s side, showrooms, and e-commerce.
As the distributor grew, it expanded its footprint. In 2001, PDI made its first acquisition; a small, independent wholesale distributor focusing on plumbing and lighting in Georgia. “It was a good fit for us, and the addition of lighting was a good compliment for our showrooms,” Herrin says.
In 2006, PDI moved into a new flagship location in Lawrenceville, Ga., also serving as the company’s distribution center. In 2007, PDI acquired a company in downtown Atlanta. In 2021, PDI purchased West Georgia Plumbing Supply, and a year later acquired plumbing, appliance, lighting, electrical and irrigation distributor W.A. Bragg & Co., based in Augusta, Ga.
“The acquisition of Bragg was the largest acquisition we’ve done,” Herrin says; he and the team knew it would be a good fit. Like the other acquisitions, it was a family-owned company. PDI and Herrin understood the importance of making sure the company cultures were similar, keeping the integrity of its uniqueness while ensuring that, just as the founding fathers of PDI established, “everyone who works here is part of the family; the relationships between the employees with the mindset that we are all connected — that is our secret sauce,” Herrin explains.
In 2022, PDI Lighting and Home opened in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. The brand specializes in indoor and outdoor lighting solutions, accessories and select luxury home décor. Growth continued when, in 2023, the company opened another similar showroom in Alpharetta, Ga.
‘We Take Care of Our Own’
“Everyone who works here is family, and we take care of our own,” Herrin says; it’s the company culture that remains at the heart of PDI’s uniqueness, one that empowers team members and fosters a growth mindset. “PDI’s culture is that when something happens, we find a way to succeed, and we are not going to take failure as an option in anything we do,” Herrin states. “We may stumble, but we will not fail or quit — we keep pushing on.”
This mindset returns to PDI’s core values of accountability, commitment, flexibility, integrity, loyalty and teamwork. It goes back to the culture started by the founding fathers, and applies to employees and customers. “Glad once told me ‘doing the right thing may not be the most profitable, but it will always be the right thing to do,’” Herrin says.
That philosophy can be felt in the company culture through many different avenues. Doing whatever needs to be done for customer success is a given — and an art form. Hearing how employees act to take care of colleagues is also evident — from an “all-in” aspect when it comes to helping other team members to the compassionate care of helping when times are tough.
When an employee’s house caught fire, and before the company started its outreach, employees from the branch immediately sprang into action to help the family. This camaraderie comes from the heart, empowered by a company that cares. In addition, PDI was presented with the AD’s Spirit of Independence Award of Giving Back — another testament to the heart of the company.
“We want to improve people’s lives: our employees, vendors and customers’ lives by doing business with us,” Herrin notes. Knowing that the products the distributor sells can be purchased elsewhere, PDI focuses on hiring and retaining the right people to staff the business.
“Our customers purchase from us because we are going to take care of them; we are going to help make our customers more profitable,” he says. “If it’s a consumer or homeowner, we will help them build their dream house or kitchen and do that with them in partnership.”
Partnerships mean working with vendors for success. “RWC is proud to call PDI a partner. Their focus on customers and value on partnerships makes this a great opportunity for both companies. Together, we both strive to deliver service and innovative products to the customers. Congratulations on your first 50 years, and we are looking forward to the future,” said Kevin Mayer, vp of wholesale sales, Reliance Worldwide Corp.
Part of PDI’s culture is understanding that talent grows the company and providing employees with avenues of professional growth will lead to success for all.
“We have a grow-or-die mentality, and we are always going to find a way to grow our business and move forward,” Herrin says. “It’s not only about it being a good business strategy; we must provide opportunities for our employees to grow, so we need to grow to provide them the opportunity.”
Several years ago, PDI created its internal training department and hired a training manager to implement avenues for employee professional development. “There is no finish line for education,” Herrin says. Training is focused not only on products but also sales, leadership and soft skills. Empowering employees to drive their success also drives the company’s success.
“Instead of saying we need to open up a branch in this new area, we say let’s go find someone to do it,” Herrin explains. ”We have people ready to open and run a branch, so let’s give them the opportunity.” Always providing avenues for growth and pushing forward empowers employees; Herrin knows this firsthand. “I was given the opportunity of a lifetime that I didn’t have the experience doing,” he says. “I had to learn to get better and produce. Our team here provides the opportunity and the resources to grow.”
An example of opportunities matched with drive is Fielding Alderman, who joined the company in 2012 and worked his way through the company’s management training program. He was promoted to showroom manager and, in 2016, general manager, taking on responsibilities for PDI’s strategic day-to-day business operations across all executive functions. In 2022, Alderman was named executive vice president and general manager.
“I’m very fortunate to work with some of the best people in the industry on a daily basis,” he notes. “Our team at PDI makes my job easy and allows me to focus my time on working on the business to support our long-term growth initiatives.”
These initiatives include the distributor’s dive into technology to help make jobs easier for its employees and more efficient for its customers and vendors. “How can we improve the daily lives of our employees and customers?” Alderman asks. He cites the company’s investment in electronic data interchange and its ERP system as means to accomplish that.
“Our goal and our job at PDI is not to work to replace our people as much as to find the technology we can invest in that enhances their opportunity to be more successful at PDI,” he says. “We’re focused on finding new opportunities so that our people can have a long and celebrated PDI career.”
“Charlotte Pipe and Foundry is thrilled to congratulate PDI on half a century of outstanding service to the plumbing industry,” said Hooper Hardison, CEO of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry. “The strong leadership of the Mealor family has guided the business for generations. The relationships they have forged have cemented them as a trusted partner for their customers and their vendors. Like Charlotte Pipe, they invest in their people as their most valuable asset. Charlotte Pipe and PDI have a partnership that goes back decades, and it is a relationship we value very much. We look forward to their future success.”
Educational opportunities are also found within industry partnerships. PDI is a member of the AD buying group, which Herrin explains has fostered the company’s growth mindset and is about personal growth and bettering oneself.
“We take employees with us to our buying group meetings,” he says. “I want to be around companies bigger than us, hearing and learning from them with our team. It’s a learning opportunity for people who want to improve and instill the desire to grow in others.” This also includes being active in industry organizations such as the Southern Wholesalers Association and the American Supply Association. He says that being an active member provides opportunities of a lifetime. And it shows.
In 2023, PDI revealed a refreshed brand identity, showcasing the brand’s evolution to honor the road traveled, and the path ahead. Now known as PDI, Inc., the new company logo and updated website showcase the growth into new territories and verticals while solidifying its commitment to vendors and customers.
PDI wanted to make the celebration of its 50th anniversary personal, recognizing the people who helped make the company what it is today. So, management embarked on celebrations throughout the year at all its facilities and locations. It is their way of showing gratitude to the hundreds of employees, customers, vendors and reps who helped shape the company over its five decades.
The culmination was an anniversary gala in September with more than 300 guests gathering to honor the hard work and dedication to success that can only come from a cohesive group working toward a common goal.
Herrin smiles when I talk about the uniqueness of the company and its drive to be the best for itself and its customers, employees, vendors and community. “We’re humbled to be part of this great industry,” he says. “We’re humbled to be able to serve our customers every day. We are hard-working folks who want to do the right thing.”