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Company values matter. And every successful business has a set of principles to assist its employees in achieving their goals, as well as the goals of the company. They are the essence of the organization’s identity and summarize the purpose of its existence.
Houston-based Piping and Equipment (P&E), a subsidiary of Fairmont Supply Co., a full-line industrial supplier of pipe, valves, fittings, flanges and other ancillary tools, sustained five decades of success by staying true to the established best practices of co-founder and former CEO Gary Cartright. The PVF distributor’s unwavering stance to keep excellence in performance, premier customer service and product innovation are at the core of its business.
With additional branch locations in Gonzales, La., and Decatur, Ala., and a business that has grown to three locations with 60 dedicated employees, P&E’s mission is to consistently provide world-class service to its customers, while identifying and delivering cost-saving solutions to positively impact their bottom line.
Just the Facts
P&E carries a wide range of PVF products in carbon steel, stainless steel and special alloys to service the chemical, petrochemical, pulp and paper, power generation, mining and other downstream industries.
Providing a viable segue between petroleum-producing areas and consumer bases, the midstream market is one where efficiency and reliability are paramount. P&E has proven to be a dependable partner for many midstream companies and exemplifies its historic customer service-first approach.
“We want our customers to focus on what they do best,” says Tony Dodds, CEO of parent company Fairmont Supply. “And with a diversified set of customers that spans across numerous industries, P&E is geared to meet MRO or small-, medium- or large-project needs.”
Washington, Pa.-based Fairmont Supply is a full-line distributor of industrial maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) supplies in various product categories including safety, abrasives, adhesives, chemicals, tools, electrical, fasteners, janitorial, paint, pipe fittings and welding.
Dodds says warehouse locations range from 10,000 square feet to as large as 100,000 square feet. “All branch locations serve as distribution sites and have the ability to draw inventory from each other,” he says.
With annual sales in excess of $200 million, and consistently recognized on Industrial Distribution magazine’s “Big 50” list, Fairmont Supply has 25 locations with more than 400 employees.
“Our highly experienced staff provides best-in-class product and service support, including our deep relationships with our supplier partners, to bring specialized solutions that reduce and manage inventory levels, all while reducing overall costs,” Dodds says.
He feels strongly that the company’s passionate and loyal workforce is what sets it apart from the competition. “Our average tenure across the organization is more than 10 years,” he notes. “Additionally, we pride ourselves on being nimble and flexible in developing solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”
A Strong Foundation
Established in 1969, P&E came into existence with three entities spanning three states — Georgia, Alabama and Florida — all lead by Roger A. Patterson Sr.
Throughout the years and changes in the industry, the Florida group became the P&E that stands today. And past leader and PVF icon Cartright helped build its strong foundation. He continued the importance of quality in everything that makes a company successful.
In 1987, the Total Quality Program was implemented and P&E gained recognition as one of the nation’s most respected “quality” PVF distributors. In the company’s continued growth, P&E became a subsidiary of Fairmont Supply in July 2007.
Met with historical hospitality focused on the same core values it has maintained for years, the company has been paved with a desire to make the entire process of purchasing, receiving and using products seamlessly while accommodating the evolutionary needs of its customers.
“I am thankful to have been part of P&E’s 50 years of prosperity,” Cartright says. “Helping customers through continual product innovation, while keeping employees at the heart of its strategy, is P&E’s true legacy.”
A company’s most important business resource is its employees. And a company’s core values are an essential part of determining how great an organization can be.
What Cartright began years ago — keeping employees at the center of company strategy —continues today. P&E’s philosophy of keeping employees at the core of company strategy is what Dodds says fuels its success.
“As a company, if we do a great job of making sure our employees have the support they need to be successful, then our employees will be motivated to do a great job of taking care of our customers,” he says. “It’s quite simple — take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers. The rest falls into place naturally.”
Like most companies, Dodds says P&E is continuously looking for talent and ways to establish itself as an employer of choice.
“Staying active and involved in our communities is an important part of our brand as an employer and has been a big part of our company culture over the years,” he notes. “Our company has the support and tools of many large companies but still has a small-company feel. Our employees have told us they appreciate having connectivity to all levels of management and that our company still feels like a small company with leaders who care.”
Exciting things are happening at P&E and Fairmont Supply. “We are continuing to grow the business organically and through acquisition,” Dodds explains. “Over the past 18 months, we have completed three strategic acquisitions that have given us 10 new locations in some large, diversified end markets such as Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Portland, [Ore.,] Memphis, [Tenn.,] and Nashville [, Tenn].”
With access to these large, growing markets, Dodds says the company is positioned to strengthen its relationships with national customers and suppliers.
Additionally, Dodds says the company continues to invest heavily in e-commerce as a part of making sure it has multichannel solutions that allow customers to rely on them in many different ways. “Some customers prefer online interactions, some prefer phone calls and some prefer face-to-face interactions,” he notes. “We are equipped to handle customer interactions across all channels.”
Dodds says as much as e-commerce plays a large part, the success of Fairmont, overall, including P&E, is the investment of time, money and resources into improving all communication platforms for the company and its customers. “It’s the way we have to drive our business,” he says. “By remaining true to our values, we will continue to expand, move forward and be successful.”
On the Record
The Wholesaler speaks one-on-one with P&E co-founder Gary Cartright.
The Wholesaler: How did you get into this industry?
Gary Cartright: After the Navy, I worked for a zirconium manufacturer that eventually shut down. But my boss at the plant, Hewey, helped me to land my next job. He took the time to connect with his supplier partners in the Pensacola, Fla., area and that’s how I met Piping and Equipment. Although Hewey did most of the talking during my interview, they liked me enough to offer me the position. And there it was, I started work at eight the next morning, Dec. 28, 1959.
I began in P&E’s warehouse, where I kept track of inventory. After a lot of hard work and dedication, the rest of my career there just fell into place.
TW: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned over the years, good or bad, that have made you grow as an individual, or made you grow in your knowledge of the business? How did it help the evolution of the company?
GC: The first thing I think of, personally, is I never felt the competitor was an enemy. My competition is simply trying to do the same thing as me. So I know that if I want to win the business, then I have to be superior to my competitor. The best way to do this is to understand what you’re up against. In this industry, we basically have the same products; it forces you to find an edge, get to know your customers a little deeper and maybe even pour on some extra charm.
I always believed I needed to back that philosophy by joining specific industrial-related organizations such as the American Supply Association (ASA), PVF Roundtable and Affiliated Distributors. By doing so, P&E was instrumental in getting the industrial piping division off the ground with ASA.
Likewise, the PVF Roundtable was founded because there was a need in the industry for better specifications on materials. I, personally, helped to launch that, too. Several construction projects were going on during that time. Companies were ordering material but when it was delivered, it wasn’t the right material. So as distributors, we learned to help get more accurate specifications and better measurements directly from the jobsites.
The organization I am most proud of being a part of is Affiliated Distributors (AD). I was one of the founding members of its PVF division and it continues to benefit Piping and Equipment, and the industry itself, in many, many ways.
TW: What is your greatest achievement?
GC: The best thing I did for the corporation, long-term, was initiating and building our relationship with AD.
TW: Looking back on the industry, its evolution and what it is today, what is your take on technology?
GC: Well, I try to stay away from it because of how quickly it changes, and it’s just not how I’m accustomed to doing business. But although I am not too familiar with it, I recognize how necessary technology is to achieve what we’re trying to do in the industry. Everybody has to get on board with it. The drawback for me is when business folks don’t pick up the phone anymore. Rather than talk, they text. It seems to me there is a lack of person-to-person interaction; that is hard for me to understand.
In terms of inventory, technology is very important in how you manage it. It is essential that customers can see what you have in stock. Having that visibility can make or break a sale.
I know P&E is ahead of the curve in how it leverages technology. It has an excellent IT and e-commerce department that support getting the company’s customers what they need, when they need it.
TW: Anything else looking back that you are eager to tell?
GC: In 1998, the industrial market was experiencing some changes and I felt the need to gather our key manufacturers, customers, and inside and outside sales teams and ask them to participate in an executive conference.
It was held at The Cloister, Sea Island, Ga., in February 1998. The purpose of the three-day meeting was to communicate to our customers, manufacturers and our sales folks about the major shifts taking place in our industry. The conference had three goals: bring the top procurement personnel of our alliance customers and partners in direct contact with key manufacturers; listen to industry experts about the changes taking place in the procurement, distribution and manufacturing industries; and understand and learn how to build strong supply management processes that would enable us to move forward into the 21st century.
I paid for participants’ trips from the minute they stepped out of their houses to the day they stepped back in them. No obligation from anyone who attended; I just wanted them present. Bill Weisberg of AD was one of our speakers; several outside speakers who were heads of their respective industries spoke as well. More than 100 folks attended the meeting.
The conference worked wonderfully for us and was extremely beneficial to attendees. It was so successful that many customers said they wanted me to put this meeting together every year, but next time they would pay their own way. The entire conference was well-received and the content was relevant.