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By Sarah Cimarusti
Family distributor for the central states and 2009 PVF Hall of Famers Missouri-Kansas Supply (MKS) Pipe & Valve Co. of Kansas City, Kansas has recently shed its old skin and undergone a significant transformation that will allow the company to grow and the next generation to prosper.
This summer, MKS opened up a sparkling new facility at 1202 Adams St. The former printing plant was vacant for almost three years, and it was in poor shape – windowless with cinderblock walls and stolen parts. Regardless, MKS saw tremendous possibilities in the “battleship-torn” building with a great location.
MKS, founded by E.R. Hendricks in 1946, first began as a supply supplement to Hendricks’ contracting company, Brookside Plumbing & Heating. That was when the company name was changed to Missouri-Kansas Supply, and Hendricks hired two salespeople. The company first supplied plumbers, pipe fitters and industrial and commercial markets, selling exclusively wholesale to licensed tradesmen.
Hendricks retired in 1958 and sold MKS to his employees – two salesmen, a warehouse manager and an office manager. In the 1960s the business grew exponentially. Then in the 1970s business was consolidated under co-owners W.J Kelly and F.L Lavery’s leadership, who became president and vice president.
The year 1975 was the turning point for the company, as that was when MKS decided to liquidate all plumbing items and solely stock PVF. Then in 1984, Kelly passed away, leaving Vice President F.L. Lavery the sole owner. Shortly after this transition, salesmen Pat Adams and Bruce McKeon purchased stock in the company. Lavery retired in 1996.
President and CEO Pat Adams purchased the remaining shares in 2008. He has come a long way since beginning his sales role at age 23. Adams has carried invaluable skills into his leadership that have made the recent move slightly smoother for the MKS team.
“We knew there was a lot of work to do. We thought, ‘the only thing that’s going to change is everything,’” he said. “Everyone seems to be upbeat. Though there’s still a lot to be done, I haven’t found a downside so far.”
The move was a big risk and a bigger expense, but MKS pulled together because they knew it would be worth it. After being downtown for 68 years, the company needed a good fit that would provide a more efficient system. Before, the company was divided into four buildings, including two separate pipe yards that were almost three blocks away from each other. Transporting products back and forth in a congested, downtown Kansas City was an exhausting process to say the least, and it was easy for communication between associates to be lost in translation.
Operations Manager Austin Deupree, who oversees everything except sales, was in the midst of re-organizing MKS operations when he was designated to oversee the transition. Deupree has been with MKS for a year and a half now, and thus far his mantra has been to “do all the things that Pat [Adams] shouldn’t have to do.”
The move happened slowly at first. Deupree and others in the company had been transporting material to the new location over several weeks. MKS closed its facility for a mere four hours on a Friday in order to move the rest. It was important for the company to continue operation for its customers.
“It’s been hectic, but fun. And it’s a great opportunity. It’s important to not forget how fortunate we are to move to a brand new building and have it set up the way we want it,” Deupree said.
To Deupree and others it’s all about developing the right processes and the employees to execute them. The new location isn’t the only makeover the company is currently undergoing. There are a lot of new faces, which Deupree says is the “perfect mix of fresh talent and experience,” including new employees in every department.
The warehouse-fulfillment team has been going through a transformation for a while now – even before the move. One of Deupree’s first initiatives since he joined MKS has been to build a solid, cohesive team.
“We have a lot of high-character guys with honest, hard work in their backgrounds. When we hire, we look for variety and work ethics – not necessarily someone with a ton of industry knowledge, which we know builds as time goes on. I am proud of what has developed,” Deupree said.
Adams added, “There are a lot of new people. We made the effort to hire the right people—team players who get excited about accomplishment. We want all of our people to get ahead.”
Though there are a lot of rookies, keep in mind that MKS’s average tenure employee has 15 to18 years. Some have 20, even 30 years in their pockets. Getting all employees – new and old – on the same page in training on products and other internal procedures has become a priority. Overall, MKS has increased its focus on advanced communication, ASA education, new hire training, sales and product knowledge, software proficiency as well as cross-training for specific products.
“We’ve had more and more progress over the years in getting involved. For example, ASA – conventions, meetings, training – has been very helpful for us. What you quickly learn is that if you get involved and you decide to become a leader, you will become a leader,” Adams said.
One of the strongest embodiments of MKS leadership is Business Development Manager Ejay Cahill. Cahill started out at MKS as a truck driver 20 years ago. He climbed his way from driver to warehouse manager, a position he held for 10 years.
“Twenty years ago I didn’t know anything about anything," he described. "I immersed myself in the day-to-day business and developed relationships with customers and started to learn the industry as a whole. I have been growing into my current role since I was 23 years old. As it turns out, I will never stop learning from our customers, vendors and manufacturers about products. ”
Pat Adams’ son Steven Adams is another good example of someone who had little industry knowledge and was able to build up his understanding to maneuver a complex industry in the best way he can to become a leader. Before his time with MKS, he worked for GE Capital’s commercial lending group. When he joined his dad, he said he knew the transition would be a “leap of faith.” What was more, if Steven were to become a leader, it was expected of him to accelerate and deepen his learning of not only what MKS does, but also how and why they do it that way.
What motivates Steven is the ability to learn something new and get better every single day. “If you stack one good day on top of another, and you don’t let the inevitable bad days break your stride and progress, pretty soon you’re looking back at some great accomplishments,” he said.
Steven Adams also enjoys MKS’ involvement with different industry associations such as Affiliated Distributors and ASA: “They provide such unique opportunities for our company; we can’t thank them enough.”
MKS’ new environment has thus far been able to foster company closeness – even on a basic, literal level. Meaning, office employees who never really co-mingled with warehouse employees because of the old facility’s divided setup now find themselves sitting next to each other in the same break room. Employees have also been doing more activities outside work, such as bowling together.
“We want the team concept," explained Pat. "Around here, it’s not so much about the individual, as it is about everyone. The transition has brought us closer. It’s like starting a whole new company – so exciting.”
The new state-of-the-art 114,000-square-foot facility has two entrances, windows and a new roof. It has plenty of storage and space, and the best part is it is everything – and everyone – is all in one place. The facility also incorporates environmentally conscious components, including recycling processes, low-wattage lighting and five new rooftop units with heating and cooling capabilities. In a short amount of time MKS has already seen positive changes in the efficiency of its business.
“The transition has been a fun, challenging experience. We identified glaring inefficiencies, and our new home will help us continue to get better,” Steven said.
Cahill added, “If we keep doing what we’re doing we’re going to revolutionize the piping business. No other PVF supply house in the region is as diversified as us.”
Finally, MKS has seen tremendous growth in its Technical Group, which specializes in product development and works heavily with OEMs. The group is all about start-up support and aims to provide more assembly and testing functions for its products, making processes smoother for maintenance professionals.
“Our territory is what we make it, and we certainly aren’t bound by any geographical boundaries," Steven described. "There’s a huge opportunity in the industrial maintenance and power markets for companies like us right now. With facilities cutting their maintenance staff across the board, they need companies like us as partners. We will continue to focus on our core competencies and create process improvements to better serve our diverse customer base. We have a team of individuals that has embraced this challenge and work hard every day in an effort to achieve our goals.”
It’s clear that many believe the move is what the team makes it. What’s good to know is that MKS has a loyalty that is deeply rooted. What’s more is that they are ready to take their loyalty to the next level.
“Pat has given us a jewel here," shared Cahill. "He’s at retirement age, and he could have counted his money and moved off into the sunset. Instead, he chose to reinvest in the next generation. He didn’t have to do that, and we will be forever indebted. We have a great core and quality individuals. This might sound a little sappy, I don’t care; I will say it anyway. Small family businesses are still alive in America.”