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To know your past is to have a window into your future. For a company established 101 years ago, much has occurred in its past that continually helps the leadership adjust and evolve to best meet market needs.
Torrco is family-owned and now led by members of the fourth generation. They are a leading wholesaler in southern New England, with 13 branches, six design center showrooms and two commercial heating specialty divisions — all supported by two distributions centers that have more than 130,000-square-feet of storage space. Torrco serves the plumbing, piping, HVAC and kitchen & bath markets, targeting contractors, trade professionals and consumers.
Today’s company operates similarly to the ways of its earliest days, with a founder’s philosophy of hard work, implementing process and adapting to change. In 1905, 17-year-old David Stein fled Lithuania to live with relatives in the U.S. The young Jewish immigrant ended up in Connecticut where he found work in a plumbing supply house, starting out unloading freight and advancing to becoming a plumber’s helper. Always striving to get further ahead, he moved to Waterbury, Ct., and secured a job as a plumber’s apprentice. In 1912 he became a master plumber and decided it was time to strike out on his own.
Waterbury was booming in the early 1900s due in large part to the number of brass works factories in the area. With factories running at an all-time high, there was a shortage of labor and housing. Contractors often had to travel more than 30 miles to a supply house to fill the demand for plumbing supplies. Stein saw an opportunity, realizing that he could buy extra supplies when he made the trip, and then resell them to others back in Waterbury. He knew many contractors would take advantage of buying product closer to home.
Stein’s idea was successful, and in 1917 he established Brass City Plumbing Supply Co., named in homage to the local area. Soon after, two partners joined him in the business, and the company expanded and began opening branches – including one in Torrington. Business was doing well until the stock market crash of 1929.
With the economy in ruins and customers not able to pay their bills, business suffered and eventually the partnership dissolved. Stein held on to the Torrington facility, renaming it Torrington Supply Co. Working hard and looking for the right fit, he opened a new location in Waterbury. Realizing that this was, indeed, the right place to be, Stein closed the Torrington location and moved the company back to its roots in Waterbury.
Keeping it in the family
Reflecting back on the company’s early days Joel Becker, CEO to Torrco said “Everyone in the family was responsible for the perpetuation of the business. Once old enough to lift a box, they worked in the business. It went without saying in those early days that what was good for the business always came first.”
In the late 1930s the company grew, and soon David Stein’s three sons, Morris, Jerry and Harold joined the company. The business prospered in the years after World War II. Business was good, and America was on the move. In late August 1955 a hurricane dumped over 6 inches of rain on Connecticut and five days later a second storm dumped an additional 20 inches of rain. The Naugatuck River overflowed its banks and sitting directly in its path was the company’s warehouse. Morris Stein got a phone call about the destruction and immediately headed down to the location — only to see the inventory of bathtubs, water heaters and oil tanks floating down the river. Later, Morris recalled in his oral history, “It brought tears to my eyes. I thought for sure we would be wiped out.”
But they weren’t. Torrco’s suppliers helped replace their inventory, and in the years after the flood the business flourished. Around that time the company began another generational change. In 1959 the first-generation owner David Stein passed away and 6 years later in 1965, Morris’ son Fred became the 3rd generation of family to join the company. Morris’s son-in-law Joel Becker joined the company in 1976. In 2002 Chris Fasano, Joel’s son-in-law, joined the company as the fourth generation.
As the company grew, the name Torrington Supply did not reflect the geographic reach of the company. In 2012, the company changed its name to Torrco - reflecting the changes to its market reach.
It is truely a family business. During a dinner celebrating Torrco’s 100th anniversary, Joel Becker reflected on that, “As I stand here before you tonight I am reminded of how lucky I am to be a family business owner. … It is demanding and challenging. You face complex business problems and must work with limited resources. Sometimes decisions are made from the heart and not the head, and it is emotional … but few of us would want to work anywhere else.”
Giving the customer more convenience and control, through technology
Torrco sets a high bar when it comes to customer service and satisfaction. It provides powerful tools to help customers gain power over their projects, be more efficient in design and ordering, and being a powerful and personal partner. Ease of ordering either through the website or the Torrco Touch mobile app helps customers gain power over their projects. After an order is submitted, it’s easy to follow the progress through delivery. When an order is packed, a delivery slip listing all of contents of the order is placed on the outside of the box — which allows for ease of identification and choosing where to have it dropped at the job site. Snapping a quick photo of the package and slip records the delivery — and in the event of a mistake, those photos can be reviewed, and information can quickly be provided to customers.
Safety is paramount as well. Inside the warehouse to ensure employee safety, each smart forklift requires a keycard to swipe in and out. The lift is equipped with technology that will shut it down in the event of an accident, which significantly improves safety by recording events and notifying operations if there is an issue.
Looking to the future
I sat down with CEO Joel Becker, President Chris Fasano and Vice President-Sales & Marketing Don Polletta to discuss where the company will focus its efforts in the in the next century. It was an interesting conversation. They realize it was an achievement to have marked 100 years but also don’t dwell on the past.
Joel Becker has spent 40 years growing the company by focusing on the operational side of the business. “I like to deal with things that we can control,” he described, “things that we can quantify, see, and improve.” Becker put that ideology to the test during the many years he was actively involved in promoting the growth of the industry. He leads by example, consistently finding ways to give of his time and industry experience. Along the way, he was President of the American Supply Association and the recipient of the 2015 Fred V. Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award.
Fasano, Becker’s son-in-law, started with the company in 2002 and was promoted to President in 2012. He leads with a vision of customer success. Being the fourth generation in the business, he has different strengths, skill sets and ideas of where Torrco is headed – including a focus on customers’ needs. A common statement among the team is “You decide, and it’s done.” Fasano describes that as “an evolution in our thinking about our customers’ needs. It’s about taking the entire procurement process from start to finish, and then making sure our customers’ needs are all being taken care of.”
As President of ASA’s Education Foundation, Fasano understands the dire need to attract and train talent. “Our industry goes through the same challenges as many others,” he said. “It’s about employee development, engagement and recruiting.”
Becker added, “When the ASA Education Foundation was established, the idea was that for employees to be productive, they needed to know about the product, the job, and the business. Today, it’s more than that. To develop engaged, productive, loyal employees it is about creating opportunities and career paths.”
As Fasano noted, “We need different types of people in our business today to help us meet our future needs. Today we not only need sales and warehouse employees, but we also need employees with data analyst skills and coders. Where we want to go and where we must go as a company, we need new skills. We need people who are wired to think like that.”
Don Polletta is responsible for sales and marketing, employee development, and recruiting. He understands that the most important recruiting tool are the organization’s employees. “The best people we brought into the organization are through current employees.” When discussing how the company develops talent his answer was “It starts with the recruiting. Today’s hires want a career path. When new hires understand what we expect from them, and their possible career path, they’re more successfully engaged -- and more successful.”
Employee development is so important that Torrco hired an HR professional who is devoted strictly to recruiting and employee development. She meets regularly with employees to develop individual career roadmaps. Polletta says “We have the right person and process in place to help our employees meet their career goals.”
One of the tools along that path is its young leaders group --- a group of employees who are slated to be tomorrow’s leaders. “So, there’s this distinction about individuals who want to build their careers,” said Polletta. “For people to lead others, they must first know how to lead themselves. Once people have demonstrated the ability to lead themselves we move them into supervisory positions where they lead others. The progression is to lead other supervisors and finally to lead divisions or branches. We call this our leadership ladder, and we currently have a group of 10 in the leadership ladder program. It is very important to us --- to develop leaders internally. Our success depends on it.”
Polletta also went on to note, “as a leader you not only have to do things right but know the right things to do. That is the essence of the leadership program.”
Congratulations to all at Torrco — past, present and future. And here’s to kicking off its next century of service.