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Family -- and not just those related by blood -- is key at Raven Products. The company has been a family owned and operated business since its founding in 1981. But the ownership takes their idea of family much further, to include its employees, customers and suppliers. This attitude has helped Raven Products significantly grow its business, expand its product offering and capture new customers in new markets.
Putting down roots
After serving in the Army, Les Pelletz spent 16 years at a Boston-area plumbing and heating wholesaler. Working his way up the ladder provided Les with a knowledge of what was important to its trade customers, and what was lacking. Following his instincts and believing that the risk would be worth the rewards, Les founded Raven Products -- an importer and rep firm -- in 1981.
Initially Les ran the company out of a small space in Stoughton, Mass., assisted by just one employee. When Raven Products began to quickly grow about 12 years ago, Les’ daughter Laurel Sabala became involved and gradually worked her way into a partnership with her father. Two years ago, Les’ son Michael Pelletz joined the operation as an outside salesperson.
“It is most gratifying for me to have my children, the next generation, offer creative ideas and work to help grow the business,” noted Les, who is the president, owner and sales manager.
Laura added, “We like to feel that all of the employees at Raven Products are an extension of our family. This provides customers with a comfortable feeling, knowing they will get quality service that has been established from the beginning of the company’s history.”
The products originally imported by Raven were malleable fittings; Raven shipped containers directly to the customer from its source in Taiwan. Traveling to Asia, Les was able to foresee some opportunities for growth by developing new products. They began inventing some fittings and started selling to wholesalers in New England.
“Our first product, the e-z Header, is a hydronic manifold system that saves installation time, became a success,” Les said. “Now every wholesaler in the Northeast stocks this item, including some patented versions. This success led to the development and patenting of several other items, which continues to be the foundation of what Raven strives for -- innovation.
“And while our main focus was on the products we imported, we always had some lines to represent that complimented our business.”
Growing the business
Raven’s products can be divided among four categories:
In addition to the e-z Header, some of the other products for which Raven Products is best known and holds patents are the diverter tub spout, 1/4-turn sillcock and 1/4-turn boiler drain.
Some of its most recent product introductions were transition couplings, pex crimp tools (including heavy-duty and the new dual jaw heavy-duty pex crimp tool), crimp ring tool kits, 1/2” ips polished chrome loose key hose bibb with vacuum breaker, and the 30-06 one-touch drain for lavs with overflow (to complement its 30-05 series for lavs without overflow).
Several years ago, to accommodate its growing need for inventory, Raven Products moved into a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Westborough, Mass., from which the majority of the product is shipped. Large orders, however, are often shipped directly from the factory to the customer.
Around the same time, Raven’s ownership realized that the company needed additional strength in its office and warehouse. Among those added was general manager John Paquette, who has known Les for more than 20 years and has 30 years of experience I the wholesale distribution industry.
“John has increased the productivity from within and has streamlined many of our procedures, making it easier and better for both our staff and customers,” Les noted. “We have an excellent support staff of inside sales/customer service, and warehouse staff that provides true value to our customers.”
John added, “Les has taught me a great deal in such a short period of time. He has a very easy and straightforward philosophy, which is: ‘I want to be known by our customers as a company that is easy to do business with.’ I have adopted the same and have seen it trickle down to our entire staff.
“My wholesaling background has enabled me to assist and train our staff in better understanding our customer needs and the difficulties that wholesalers face on a regular basis, which enhances our service. Our company is large enough to service customers across the country yet small enough to provide personalized service.”
John went on to discuss the attributes of several key employees, and what makes them so valuable to both Raven Products and its customers:
John went on to say, “Les and Laurel have given me a great deal of latitude and trust in helping to run their business as they want it and I am very fortunate to be surrounded by such a core of employees who help me along the way.”
A focus on the future
Raven Products now sells to many wholesalers around North America, along with several buy/sell rep agencies. Its current product mix is about 80% residential and 20% commercial.
Developing relationships with its customers is a primary focus at Raven Products. “We have always been a company that prides itself on customer service,” Laurel noted. “We have always made sure we are timely with our information, provide excellent quality products, and get to know what is most important to each customer, as it differs with each and every one.”
Raven employs four outside salesmen covering the six New England states. Raven also employs a salesman for the Florida market. For territories outside of New England and Florida Raven utilizes independent manufacturer rep agencies. These agencies come under the guidance of John Sandbek, Raven Products regional sales manager. He has over 20 years of industry experience and is responsible for New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas.
The majority of products Raven sells are imported. That requires a great deal of communication between Raven management and its overseas suppliers.
“We are in constant contact with our factories, whether it be either by e-mail or telephone,” Laurel explained. “Once or twice a year we visit the factories to inspect products and nurture the relationship we have had with them over the past 30 years, and to build new relationships with factories creating new items for us.”
Les said that there are two key words that are at the heart of Raven Products. “I believe that quality and innovation are what separates us from our competition. We continue to create and offer many unique products with the focus based on quality. Our wholesale customers have given us an opportunity to bring unique, profitable [for the wholesaler], time saving [for the contractor] products to the marketplace.”
Raven Products’ sales have doubled over the last four years and its management team expects the company will continue to grow as its sales territory is expanded.
“We will strive to continue to introduce innovative new products to the marketplace,” Les said. “The future is exciting, even in these difficult economic times.”
For information, call 508/836-3707 or visit www.ravenproducts.us.