As we all know, the world of online commerce is an incredibly competitive one. We see new concepts come and go and sometimes companies flame out just as quickly as they appear. It is a high risk, high reward playing field. To succeed, a company needs to know exactly who it is and what it is doing. Perhaps most importantly, it has to understand its customer base and know how to serve it.
A strong, customer-driven philosophy and a desire to always grow and improve have made a success story out of SupplyHouse.com. Formerly known as PexSupply.com, the company went from somewhat humble beginnings just 10 years ago to become a major player in the plumbing and heating supply market today.
“My family owns and operates a local wholesale distribution company that’s been around for about 80 years. So when I was in high school, I talked to my dad about starting an e-commerce company selling plumbing and heating supplies,” recalled Josh Meyerowitz, president of SupplyHouse.com. “After college, I worked for about three or four years and then came back to the idea and realized it could be a great opportunity.”
In 2004, Meyerowitz started what then was called PlumbingGoods.com out of his one-bedroom apartment in New York City. As things began to grow, he hired one employee and moved into a small office near Madison Square Park.
“Sales grew pretty quickly in the beginning because we were focused on PEX products and PEX wasn’t widely available at general supply houses back then,” Meyerowitz said. “E-commerce was kind of at the beginning in our industry so sales grew rapidly for us. We were fortunate in the timing.”
PexSupply.com began stocking its own product in 2005, and also hired COO Fernando Cunha.
“From that time, we started expanding rapidly,” Meyerowitz said. “We were growing by 100 percent per year for the first five years or so, and since that time we’ve grown by about 30 percent each year. We even grew 25 to 30 percent through the 2008-2009 housing market collapse.”
This skyrocketing growth came with some moving around over the years.
“This is our third building in six years,” Meyerowitz said. “We went from an 8,000 square foot building to a 20,000 square foot building, and now we’re in a 100,000 square foot building. We grew very quickly and continued to add exceptional people to the company along the way.”
The PexSupply.com branding came about because of the popularity of PEX in the early days of the company and because the product was a significant part of what the company was about.
“Originally, we put about 10,000 items online and PEX probably accounted for 2,000 or 3,000 of those. But in terms of sales, PEX accounted for about 65 percent of our sales for the first three or four years,” Meyerowitz explained. “PEX is probably more like 10 percent of our sales today, but it was definitely a primary focus at the beginning, mostly because of customer demand. At that time, we were an outlet for this new product that wasn’t readily available. Over time, we’ve continued to have great sales in the PEX area, but have also strengthened our sales in other areas.”
This diversification of the company’s offerings got people thinking that it might be time to move away from the PexSupply.com name. With 65,000 products available on the website, it became clear that tying the company’s name to one specific type of project may be too constrictive. Shakespeare may have asked, “What’s in a name?” But in the world of e-commerce, a lot depends on brand recognition. Changing one’s name is not a move to be taken lightly.
“It was probably one of the biggest decisions we’ve made in the history of the company,” Meyerowitz admitted. “For three years, I’ve talked about the fact that for the long term prospects of the company, this was something that had to change. And the longer we waited, the more expensive it was going to be. We knew there was a giant risk because all of our business is online and when you switch from one domain to another, you risk having your rankings drop in search engines and you can experience a significant revenue drop. We spoke to other companies that have been through this transition and they experienced downturns as much as 40 percent for three months or more.”
Even in the face of these risks, Meyerowitz knew the change needed to happen and had faith that the company and its people could pull it off. A great deal of effort was put into communicating the change to SupplyHouse.com to the market, and detailed logistical preparations were made in every facet of the company’s operations. In fact, the top-to-bottom company examination brought about by the name change unearthed lots of opportunities for tweaks and improvements.
“There is a massive list of all the places large and small where the name appears and this was an opportunity for us to look at each of those places in detail,” said Lauren O’Toole, marketing captain at SupplyHouse.com and a leader in the marketing efforts around the name change. “For example, on the boxes we had to get new plates made for printing the logo and that was something that when we looked at it closely, we found we could improve the print quality, work more closely with the vendor and make the file perfect. We looked at each individual piece and every detail, which is something you wouldn’t normally step back from day-to-day business to do.”
According to Meyerowitz, the people that make up SupplyHouse.com are the main drivers of the company’s continued growth.
“Our team is a big part of our success. The people in the warehouse, the people answering the phones, the people in purchasing and accounting, every single part of our team is part of it,” Meyerowitz said. “People are working hard and we try to take care of them and they take care of the company. We run it as sort of a family atmosphere, but in high growth mode. We are constantly trying to push and change things. Something is changing in the company every single day.”
The kind of growth experienced by SupplyHouse.com doesn’t just happen on its own. It is driven by a spirit of constant innovation and improvement.
“We run the company under the Kaizen philosophy, where every single day we are trying to improve the company in every area,” Meyerowitz said. “We are adding new products all the time and bringing in great people who are really excited about the business.”
Fostering his team is a big point of emphasis for Meyerowitz, and it’s clear that his own philosophies and attitudes set the tone for the way the company functions internally.
“Some of the most important principles we have are humility and respect. We keep ourselves grounded and don’t go around thinking we’re better than anyone else. We are constantly trying to learn from others and respect each other in the office,” Meyerowitz said. “Anyone can ask any kind of question. There is always an open platform and there are no dumb questions. Those philosophies lay the groundwork for our success, and after that it’s innovation and collaboration. It’s OK to make mistakes here and try new things, because we are constantly trying to improve.”
The official change from PexSupply.com to SupplyHouse.com took place in April. While the company braced itself for a hit in revenue, so far things have stayed right on track.
“It was scary,” Meyerowitz admitted. “We had planned for three months of significant revenue decline, but still made the decision to move forward. It’s been amazing so far. Our sales are actually up from this time last year. Our search engine rankings are almost back to where they were and better in some cases.”
SupplyHouse.com may have made their name transformation look easy, but Meyerowitz knows that is only because of meticulous planning and the efforts of his team.
“We have phenomenal people here and everyone at the company is paying attention to this project,” Meyerowitz said. “The launch of SupplyHouse.com was probably the best execution of any project we’ve ever done.”