For 15 years, “The Wholesaler” has inducted influential members of the PVF industry into the PVF Hall of Fame. This recognition is undoubtedly a testament to the tireless work these individuals do on a daily basis in this most important of global industries. For our 2017 issue, we honored Rob Braig, vice president of strategy at Wolseley Industrial Group. Here is my interview where we discuss the current economic climate and his extensive experience within the industry.
Danielle Galian: What does your current role encompass?
Rob Braig: As Vice President of Wolseley Industrial Group, Ferguson’s Industrial Division, I am responsible for the growth and development of our industrial supply business in the United States. We concentrate our efforts on seven industry segments: pulp and paper, food and beverage, chemical, oil, gas and refining, general manufacturing, power and mining. As of August 2016, our Wolseley Industrial Group geographic build-out is complete and we have dedicated leadership covering 44 states. We work closely with operational leaders across the country to deliver revenue and profitability by executing our strategic plan.
DG: How have your roles evolved since taking them on in 1978.
RB: I started with Ferguson in 1978 as a trainee when residential/commercial plumbing was our primary business. I was in sales before heading to our headquarters in Newport News, VA where I managed inventories at the branch and distribution center level. Just a few years into my career, I managed a branch in Baton Rouge, LA, and then moved to Charlotte, NC where our business was more diversified. When I came back to our corporate headquarters in 2003 as a national manager for our PVF and fire protection groups, Ferguson was on the verge of forming its Business Groups. In 2007, Wolseley Industrial Group was created with the objective to build an industrial supply business that delivers “peace of mind” to our customers by providing the best and most knowledgeable associates. Wolseley Industrial Group is evolving under Ferguson, and today has an exceptional reputation as a trusted supplier in the industries and markets we serve.
DG: Share some key factors that helped you learn the business.
RB: Without question, the people I have had the good fortune to work with and for, have had the greatest impact on my career. We are also supported by key vendors and associated companies that are friends of the business. I’ve also benefited from the investment Ferguson makes in providing product knowledge, sales, customer service and industry training.
When I first started my career, the Ferguson training program provided a foundation for learning the business. Today we are creating the same tools for the industrial business with Wolseley Industrial Group University which sees its first group of industrial trainees in August 2017. It is critically important for industrial associates to have a strong foundation before they enter the field, and this training program focuses on early industrial development of qualified trainees who are the organization’s future leaders.
Bringing young people into this business is more difficult than ever, requiring a clear path for development and training. Ferguson has been a leader in the development of trainees for decades. We are now applying this expertise to the industrial business with Wolseley Industrial Group University.
DG: With your extensive experience within Ferguson, talk about some of the changes within the PVF market that have led to current projects or long-term goals.
RB: Ten years ago we saw an opportunity to develop an industrial business built on quality people, products and processes. We wanted to develop capabilities that we could offer to a broader segment of the industrial market, not limited to just one industry. Specifically, the geographic footprint had to be developed in the markets we wanted to serve. At the same time, capabilities in quality, national contracts, major projects, integrated services, sourcing and distribution grew parallel to our footprint.
Wolseley Industrial Group’s strategy has grown with the changes in the industry. For instance, quality and safety are critical components for any industrial customer. These things are at the forefront of everything we do, including our Quality Assurance Lab in Morrisville, NC. In addition, our customers need to focus on plant operations and don’t often have the time or resources to deal with supply chain logistics. Wolseley Industrial Group has teams dedicated to helping our customers manage their inventory, replenish products, etc.
Changes in the PVF market have even led our own operational changes. Our greatest opportunity is to leverage Ferguson’s assets by utilizing our logistics network and supporting departments.
DG: Explain the PVF industrial business group offerings, benefits, etc.
RB: Wolseley Industrial Group has more than 160 local certified industrial branches covering 44 states, supplying PVF to the pulp and paper, food and beverage, chemical, oil, gas and refining, general manufacturing, power and mining segments. We have exclusive, master or preferred distributor status with manufacturers recognized for high quality products. We maintain inventory of both commodity and specific application valves in a variety of sizes, materials and pressure classes.
Wolseley Industrial Group also provides PVF services to our customers, including:
DG: What do you feel has been the best accomplishment of the group?
RB: Wolseley Industrial Group’s greatest accomplishment is that we are a long-term industrial supply business in the U.S. We built a serious, conservative and exceptional business that truly cares about the results of our work. When we developed the brand nine years ago, our objective was to bring “peace of mind” to our customers. This is still our objective today. We have true leaders that work across any boundary to bring the right solution to the customer. The team is selfless in their desire to help each other and our customers.
DG: How have customer expectations changed over the years?
RB: Customers today want to do business with companies and associates that help make them successful. Relationships must be mutually beneficial and long term. We must define problems, develop an agreed-upon solution and execute. We need to collaborate with our customers. More transparency and trust is required to build the right kind of organization. We talk a lot about incremental improvement, but it really means we want to be more valuable to our customers next year than we are this year.
DG: Talk about current market trends and what that means for consumers.
RB: Some of the biggest news in the industrial market in the past couple of years has centered around oil price trends. During the oil crash in summer of 2014, the industrial market slipped into a recession from which it has finally begun to emerge. Options to increase revenue in the space were limited, so looking for added efficiencies, like focusing on higher margin products, re-structuring, investing in new technology and optimizing logistics, became tactical initiatives. Industry in the U.S. is now stabilized and trends are improving. Our team is optimistic about the growth across the industry segments we serve.
DG: What helps the company stand out in the marketplace?
RB: First, we have exceptional stewards of the business on our leadership team, including Vice President of Industrial Operations Mark Westerbeck, Divisional Director Jim Sullivan, Business Development Manager Todd David, our Industry Managers and field Directors.
Second, Wolseley Industrial Group’s quality process is unique to the industry. Our Quality Assurance Lab scientifically evaluates products and materials made around the world and assesses them for nonconformity. Our quality process is comprehensive, fully-implemented and is the foundation for providing our customers with peace of mind. Highlights of our QA program include:
DG: Please address the recent announcement.
RB: Wolseley plc, our parent company, recently announced it would change its name to Ferguson plc — a reflection of the strength of the Ferguson name in the industries we serve. Ferguson is recognized as a national leader, growing steadily each year with the stability and resources our customers and vendors look for in a distribution partner. There will be no changes that materially affect Ferguson’s commitment to the industrial business.
We would like to congratulate the newly named Ferguson plc on this momentous occasion and to Rob Braig on receiving the PVF Hall of Fame award!