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United Pipe and Steel is making another big splash on the West Coast. The company opened in Southern California in 2015, and that distribution center (Rialto, CA) has grown to be one of the largest of the company’s 12 U.S. locations. Yes, this national master distributor has now officially settled into its newest California facility in Stockton, California with an 85,000-square-foot building and approximately 5 acres of outside storage. From this location, it will run its own fleet approximately 250 miles in every direction, servicing all geographies at least once per week with a regularly scheduled delivery.
United Pipe continues to focus on servicing wholesalers in various market segments including plumbing, PVF, HVAC, waterworks, pool and electrical. The steel pipe, copper tube, conduit, strut and rod products are stored indoors, and the plastics are stored outside.
With the addition of its new location, United Pipe now has 180 full-time employees across the U.S. About 50 employees are in its Ipswich, Massachusetts headquarters, and each of its 12 distribution centers has a manager, warehouse associates, and Class A drivers. Between sales and operations, the Stockton facility will be staffed with eight employees, most of whom are relocating from other United Pipe locations. This will ensure that United Pipe is able to get up and running with folks who truly understand the service model. “Our sales team has industry veteran Noah Heller (VP New Markets) at the helm, supported by a team of inside and outside salespeople” explains President/CEO Greg Leidner.
We asked what some of the biggest challenges were when venturing out west. For starters, it took United Pipe over a year to obtain its racking permit in earthquake-prone Southern California. There were also longer lead times to obtain products manufactured east of the Rockies. And of course, the most significant challenge was the infamous Los Angeles traffic. “We do business in many major metropolitan areas. Nothing comes close to LA traffic,” Heller notes.
Heller also indicated that the three hour time difference created a need to staff a later sales shift to service wholesalers on the west coast. Heller adds, “We have a dedicated sales group who work together to service customers. This includes an inside team in Massachusetts and outside team who live on the west coast.” That said, Heller emphasized that it’s the customer relationships that matter most. “Our customers know how much we care about them. The job is personal to all of us.”
The idea of expanding into other parts of the country was always on United Pipe’s radar. Corey Lowsky, vice president of sales, explains how his tenure allowed him to converse with many clients and get their take on why they like doing business with United Pipe. “The overwhelming response I received was that our business model provides an extraordinarily valuable service to wholesalers — the ability to cost-effectively combine copper, steel and plastic pipe on the same order to meet a low minimum for FFA allowed them to manage their businesses better. They could have high fill rates and lower working capital requirements. Less risk when commodity markets went south. One invoice to pay, one truck to unload. Our drivers were helpful, because they cared about what they were doing. We are a service-oriented organization — just like our customers are!”
Leidner was determined to take this business model and bring it to other wholesalers around the country. And that’s been the company’s focus for the last decade. In addition to expanding geographically, the company also expanded its product set to fit large, difficult to handle, commodity products. Leidner adds, “We are always looking to expand our product lines. If there are specific items wholesalers would like us to carry, give us a shout!”
The founder of United Pipe & Steel, David Cohen, is the consummate entrepreneur. He is a firm believer of the ethos — you need to constantly improve to make the company more valuable for customers, suppliers, and employees. It’s these fundamental business tenets that still drive decision-making at United Pipe. Adds Lowsky, “We have well-trained, responsive, and engaged employees that are constantly coming up with ways to add more value to customers and suppliers. Part of that process is having both short-term and long-term goals to improve the business.”
In the near term the company is focused on 100-percent picking accuracy. This will require the implementation of a wireless warehouse. As Leidner explains, “to provide our customers with unparalleled service we are going to be working on this initiative in 2018. We will continue to invest in technology, and give back to our customers with even better results.”
United Pipe’s primary long-term goal is geographic expansion. Heller explains that over the next two years, the company will complete its ability to service all wholesalers in the continental U.S. “This is a replicable business model that provides value to wholesalers wherever we go. The Pacific Northwest is next on our list. At that point we’ll likely turn our sights to broadening our product portfolio, and look at international expansion.”
The desire to expand is not without its challenges. With a deep sense of company culture, United Pipe doesn’t want to lose its family environment and entrepreneurial spirit by becoming too big. As Leidner concludes, “culture is critical to who we are and what we do. Maintaining it with a large national presence requires travel for many members of the team — to make sure we meet with each of our employees on a regular basis, share ideas, and create an excitement around the vision we are executing.” Thankfully, technology allows the team to be accessible to customers, suppliers, and each other no matter where they find themselves.
For more information on United Pipe, visit www.unitedpipe.com.