At the beginning of the 20th century, W. Frank Dowd recognized the need for plumbing pipe in the newly industrialized, post-war South. He built a small foundry in 1901 in Charlotte, N.C., to produce cast iron soil pipe and fittings. Upon his death in 1926, his son Frank Dowd II began leading the company with the goals of expanding the sales territory and developing stronger customer relationships.
In the early 1950s, Frank II’s sons Frank Dowd Jr. and Roddey Dowd joined the company. They supervised the overall mechanization of foundry production processes during a time when many cast iron pipe foundries ceased to operate due to relentless competition in the industry. In the mid-1960s, the Dowd brothers explored the use of plastics for plumbing. They opened the Plastics Division in 1967 in Monroe, N.C., to take advantage of the growing market for thermoplastic plumbing pipe and fittings for drain, waste and vent (dwv) applications.
Another key element in Charlotte Pipe’s history began in 1992, when the company established the Industrial Plastics Division to supply Schedule 80 pipe and fittings manufactured from both pvc and cpvc resins for industrial and pressure applications. In 1994, the Plastics Division began producing FlowGuard Gold pipe and fittings for hot and cold water distribution systems. Today, the company continues to introduce new products to better serve its customers; among its latest introductions is the ChemDrain cpvc Chemical Waste Drainage System.
Charlotte Pipe & Foundry now is led by the fourth generation of the Dowd family -- chairman and ceo Frank Dowd IV and president Roddey Dowd Jr. These two executives recently shared a behind-the-scenes look at Charlotte Pipe & Foundry with The Wholesaler’s editorial director Mary Jo Martin.
MJM: Could you give us an overview of Charlotte Pipe today?
Frank Dowd: We’ve come a long way since the early days of our history. The original company of 25 men has become an industry leader with about 1,400 associates and satellite plants in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama and Utah. Today, we are the largest manufacturer of dwv pipe and fittings in the U.S., and the only manufacturer that offers a complete system of cast iron, pvc, cpvc, abs and FlowGuard Gold® pipe and fittings for residential and commercial plumbing systems and industrial applications.
An experienced group of officers provides effective leadership for Charlotte Pipe. Combined, the 12-member team has more than 230 years of service dedicated to the company. By working together efficiently, this team ensures that Charlotte Pipe is on track to make the best products possible and back them up with excellent service.
Many of the folks on our management team have worked in numerous positions in the company over the years. That experience makes us better leaders because we understand how the products are made and how they are sold. It also helps us to recognize the challenges our associates face each day as they work to help make this a great company. Having been in many of those roles ourselves, we can truly appreciate how hard they work and contributions they make every day to help us be successful.
MJM: How important are the real hands-on actions of employees to the production and quality of your pipe and fittings?
Roddey Dowd: It is essential that we make the best quality products possible or risk tarnishing our image in the market place. Poor quality subjects our company to great danger at the hands of our competitors and makes us vulnerable to unfairly traded imports. We rely on our associates to ensure that we make the best quality products we can. Many of our best innovations for improving quality and increasing productivity have come from our associates on the shop floor. No one knows their jobs better than they do, and we encourage them to think about ways they can do their jobs even better.
MJM: I know that you are very proud of the foundry’s environmental practices, which are even more notable with its proximity to downtown Charlotte. Would you share some of the practices you have put in place over the years that have significantly reduced emissions/ pollution?
Frank Dowd: Throughout its history, Charlotte Pipe & Foundry has been committed to making every effort to be a good corporate neighbor and a responsible employer. Our primary mission is to protect the health and well being of our employees and neighbors, and provide a safe working environment. That’s why we have voluntarily installed new equipment or upgraded old equipment over the years to improve our environmental control systems. Company engineers responsible for these programs report through senior management to president Roddey Dowd. We also employ third-party consultants to independently verify our environmental compliance efforts and reporting.
MJM: Are there any specific certifications or recognition that Charlotte Pipe has achieved for its environmental practices?
Frank Dowd: The Foundry was recently awarded the “Crown Award of Environmental Excellence--Water Conservation” by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Environmental Management Division for our outstanding achievements in water conservation. We received the award in recognition of our unique approaches to reducing and re-using water. Since we installed a water treatment plant in the 1980s to recycle our process and storm water, we have reduced consumption of city water from 100 million gallons a year to 33 million gallons. We now discharge less than 9 million gallons of treated water into the city sewer, which reduces the burden on our municipal infrastructure. We also received a “Silver Star Award” that recognizes industries that have achieved 100% compliance for reporting and no significant non-compliance incidents for two calendar years.
MJM: I haven’t had a chance to tour your plastics plant. Can you describe its operations as well?
Roddey Dowd: The centerpiece of our Plastics Division is our plant in Monroe, N.C. -- which is one of the largest and most modern plants of its type in the country. While the bulk of our plastic fittings are made in Monroe, we are always looking for opportunities to expand. That’s why we built a new plastic pipe plant recently in Cedar City, Utah. Located about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City, the new plant will allow us to sell our pipe and fittings systems from Colorado west to the Pacific Ocean.
MJM: There is a real focus on safety at Charlotte Pipe. Please share a little about how you’ve accomplished such a safe work environment?
Roddey Dowd: Safety is our most important job and responsibility and something all of us in management take very personally. We work relentlessly to eliminate workplace accidents. Maintaining the safest and cleanest plants in the industry and improving our safety record each year continue to be our absolute highest priorities.
Upon hiring, all Charlotte Pipe employees participate in a safety training program. The program includes a review of the general guidelines for plant safety as well as specific departmental safety rules. Refresher courses and updated osha training programs are conducted on a regular basis. The company also has full-time safety professionals at our plants that coordinate safety programs for their Divisions. Safety inspections of each department are performed monthly, using guidelines set forth by osha. The tracking reports from the monthly inspections include recommendations for corrections and continuous improvement. Each department has periodic safety meetings to discuss issues and make recommendations.
In 1999, Charlotte Pipe and Foundry initiated a 5-S program, which incorporates housekeeping and workplace cleanliness as major components of safe-operating practices. This works hand-in-hand with the company’s emphasis on safety.
As a result of all these efforts, we have had consistently and significantly fewer reportable incidents than the metalworking industry average, and we have received numerous One Million Man Hours Safety Awards and Gold Safety Awards from the North Carolina Department of Labor.
MJM: Have increasing metal or fuel prices had an impact on your business? If so, have you taken any measures to deal with those increased costs?
Frank Dowd: Raw material and fuel prices continue to rise at extraordinary rates. Our primary plastic raw materials, pvc and abs resins, are linked to natural gas and oil, respectively. World demand for energy is increasing at an unprecedented pace and there is not much we can do to stop raw material prices from going up. And a weak dollar makes exports of U.S. Pvc resin very attractive, which fuels demand for pvc feedstocks, keeping prices high.
On the cast iron side, we have seen a profound jump in scrap iron prices over the last four years, jumping more than 200% over traditional price levels. Further increases are expected. World demand for steel is still strong and many developing countries do not have adequate iron ore resources or scrap to support their domestic industries. Global coal prices have shot up like never before.
All of this means we have to be even more diligent in how we run our business, looking for ways to increase productivity and lower costs without sacrificing product quality or customer service. The past few years have presented us with new challenges. But with our talented management team and our loyal, hardworking associates, we know we can not only continue to survive, but to thrive for many years to come.
MJM: Describe some of the things you do to develop, maintain and strengthen your relationship with your wholesaler customers?
Roddey Dowd: One thing that will never change in good times or bad is our belief that people buy from people. We have always placed a premium on building personal relationships with our customers and treating them with the respect they deserve. Staying in front of our good customers during tough economic times sends a clear message that we value their business and that we will always stand by them. This philosophy has served us well since our founding in 1901 -- and we will continue to focus on strong customer relationships in the decades to come.
MJM: You seem to have a very hands-on management team. Talk about the leadership philosophy at Charlotte Pipe and why it works so well?
Frank Dowd: The first line of our Mission Statement -- the bedrock of our philosophy -- is integrity. That’s what guides the Board and management team in making decisions to benefit our customers, associates and shareholders. Our management team understands the importance of keeping our focus on the horizon, while managing the details of our business carefully so we can be the kind of company our customers, ownership, suppliers and associates can be proud to work with.
MJM: The Dowd family and Charlotte Pipe have been extremely generous in charitable causes. Please tell us about the Dowd Foundation, its founding, and the types of organizations/charities it benefits?
Roddey Dowd: We take great pride in how much the company and our associates give back to the communities in which we work and live through our time and generous giving. For example, in 2007, we raised more than $600,000 for the United Way of the Central Carolinas through individual associate contributions, special fundraising events and company matching funds. In addition, the company and its charitable wing, the Dowd Foundation, give away approximately 3% of Charlotte Pipe & Foundry’s pre-tax income every year to worthy charitable causes. n
To learn more, call 800/438-6091 or visit www.charlottepipe.com.