Wholesale distributors know that having all the products to complete your customer’s project is essential for complete customer satisfaction. What happens if you don’t stock a certain item needed to complete the order? Where do you turn to find the items you do not stock and customer service is of upmost importance?
Herein lies the role of master distributors — carrying a wide range of specialty products and making themselves the “go-to” when that specialty item is needed, and your warehouse does not stock the item.
One such company is Jones Stephens, a master distributor based out of Moody, Ala. When it was established more than 40 years ago, the company offered 200 specialty plumbing products. Today, the company carries more than 18,000 SKUs with more than 500,000 sq. ft. in distribution centers strategically located in Alabama, Pennsylvania and California.
The company services the continental United States and focuses on completing customer requests within one to two business days. With more than 250 employees with a wealth of experience and tenure (some more than 30 years), it’s easy to see how they live up to their “We Got It” motto.
Late last year, Ferguson acquired the company and we wanted to find out how the business has evolved and changed, and what is on its horizon. We asked Christopher Rohling, vice president of sales, about the company, its history and its future.
The Wholesaler: Jones Stephens has grown from its beginnings. Who are your customers?
Christopher Rohling: Our customer base is diverse, ranging from one-branch wholesale operations to national customers that serve large geographies. For 25 years, Jones Stephens has focused its business predominately on the wholesale customer, but as our business has grown, we are also driving brand preference with contractors and builders.
Additionally, over the past several years, we’ve developed a strong presence in the OEM and wholesale building products market. Our entire customer base drives our focus on developing innovative products and solutions.
TW: How did the acquisition by Ferguson enhance Jones Stephens and what changes were made post-acquisition?
CR: Ferguson’s investment allows us to rapidly expand and accelerate our development of new products, to optimize our supply chain and provide overall support for our growing business. We believe this support greatly benefits every one of our customers. In keeping with our long-standing strategy, we remain focused on all our customers by remaining a strong, independent business.
TW: What do you see as the role of the master distributor in the industry?
CR: The industry continues to change, and the role of the master distributor is to build a strong brand and remain focused on how we can help our customers improve their productivity, reduce their transactional costs and grow their sales. We believe that focusing on these three actions will determine the opportunity for growth of both our customers and Jones Stephens into the future.
TW: What lines will help the company continue to grow?
CR: We have more products in the development pipeline than ever before. These items will drive value and provide unique selling opportunities for our customers and many will be available this calendar year. By continually adding new products and SKUs, our goal is to help our customers decrease their transactional costs and enhance their margins. Recent examples are poly pipe insulation, faucets and our enhanced supply stop offering.
Another area of growth for Jones Stephens is custom kitting. We are uniquely positioned in the wholesale space to offer this service, saving our customers time and money. We recently created custom boiler install kits for an area affected by the Boston gas line explosion. The kits included about 30 of the rough plumbing components needed to install a boiler in a retrofit application.
TW: What are the advantages of wholesalers utilizing a master distributor?
CR: Wholesalers use master distributors to save on inventory costs. A bonus is when the master distributor acts as a true partner and enhances customers’ profitability through exceptional service.
As a partner for wholesale distributors, we invest significantly in inventory, so our customers don’t have to. As a one-stop shop for customers’ product needs and one- to two-day delivery speeds, customers have quick access to product without the requirement to carry significant inventory.
We judge ourselves on whether our customers have an outstanding experience with us, including service, quality and ease of partnership. We have great associates and a marvelous group of independent reps that pride themselves on best-in-class service. It comes down to Jones Stephens delivering the right products that provide value to our customers at the right place, at the right time and at the right price.
TW: What new product lines have you added that have seen a surge in growth?
CR: We have enjoyed tremendous growth with a few of our launches over the past year. Jones Stephens-branded poly pipe insulation is a great addition to our lineup. Many customers are taking advantage of being able to add this product category to an existing order instead of trying to coordinate another delivery or sending out their delivery truck to pick up an order to service a customer.
Another area of growth began with our launch late last year of a full line of supply stops across the entire category, as well as Jones Stephens-branded gas connectors.
TW: Ecommerce is essential as technology is always moving forward. How has your company adapted?
CR: Our customers are adding our SKUs into their online selling environments. We have embraced the change by leading the industry in allowing our reps to receive commissions on select products sold online. We want to ensure that our sales partners in the field continue to create strong relationships with contractors and are rewarded for their efforts.
We are currently updating our product information data for all SKUs available through Jones Stephens. Having robust digital assets and product data makes us a much easier vendor to do business with and helps our customers operate more efficiently.
TW: The company mission is “Maximizing value to our stakeholders: The broadest inventory, the benchmark in customer service, the fastest and most accurate shipping in the plumbing distribution space.” How do you accomplish this mission?
CR: It’s simple: We have exceptional people. Jones Stephens focuses on attracting, growing and retaining the best people in the industry. Our people truly care about how we impact our customers and hold themselves accountable to delivering exceptional work. We continue to invest in safety and customer-focused training to ensure everyone understands how their role impacts the customer. Because of our exceptional associates, we have distinct competencies in sourcing, product development, kitting and distribution.
Over the past 25 years we’ve developed key partnerships that enable us to provide the right, high-quality products our customers need when they need them. Additionally, the innovations that come from our product development team and our ability to build customized kits gives our wholesale partners unique selling opportunities in their markets. Through a distribution network that spans the United States and provides world-class service, we’re uniquely equipped to fulfill our mission of “maximizing value to our stakeholders.”
Jones Stephens takes a progressive approach to the market so that we continually drive greater value in every area that our customers deem most important, including product offering, quality and service.