Mixing elements of modern water-heating technology and manufacturing efficiency with corporate and social culture, Navien in October hosted its first-ever trip to the Republic of Korea for North American customers. U.S. and Canadian distribution channel partners were accompanied on the trip by Navien executives, including North American CEO Scott Lee.
“The trip to our South Korean headquarters and factory with our wholesale and contractor partners allowed us to express our gratitude for their business,” Lee said. “Many people in the U.S. and Canada know Navien for our water heaters, but they do not know that we are a world leader in the boiler industry. The factory visit allowed us to show our customers how we ensure that quality is the key factor throughout our manufacturing of both boilers and water heaters. I am pleased with the customer relationships that we cemented on the trip.”
Some customers on the trip say they have sold or installed Navien’s tankless products since 2008. The mix of products they sell varies by geography with Canadian wholesalers tending to sell more wall-hung boilers and their U.S. counterparts selling a larger proportion of tankless water heaters.
“We’ve sold Navien products for the eight years since they came to the U.S.; we’ve been with them from the beginning,” said Kyle Cline, director of plumbing sales and branch operations for Oklahoma City-based Locke Supply Co. He added that Locke’s mix of Navien sales is 95% tankless water heaters and 5% combi-units.
Peoria, Ill.-based Connor Co. has sold Navien products since 2009, General Manager Nick Lavin said.
“We sell a good mix, especially combi-units and tankless water heaters,” he said. “We’re starting to sell more and more wall-hung boilers. That market has started to grow for us.”
Grover Martin of Greenville, S.C.-based ProSource Supply said his company pioneered Navien tankless water heater sales in South Carolina’s upstate region starting in 2008.
“All Navien tankless units feature condensing technology now, but we sold them previously, as well,” he said. “Once we found out that condensing technology makes it easier for the contractor, we focused on Navien. What makes it easier for the contractor is piping the units with PVC pipe instead of stainless steel. Also, the efficiency ratings are so much higher now. They are 98% efficient where the old-style tankless units were in the higher 80% range.”
Martin noted his company today sells tankless water heaters through its five showrooms as well as over the wholesale counter due to the training Navien provides his employees. His wife, Tonya Martin, manages the showrooms and accompanied him on the trip.
“All our showroom people ask our customers about how much hot water they use with body showers, whirlpools, and other bath and kitchen products,” Grover Martin said. “Several people from our company have attended Navien’s training program so they’re better educated on how to use Navien products in solving customers’ problems.”
New about Navien
Navien’s customers say the trip taught them something new about the manufacturer, despite their long-term relationships. On Oct. 18, 2016, they toured the manufacturing and distribution facility in Seotan, South Korea.
“From a technical standpoint, I didn’t realize so many components were produced in-house — the circuit board for the tankless units, for example,” Cline said. “I assumed a lot of the components were outsourced.”
The customers remarked on the automated warehouse, where robots pick orders from inventory on the shelves.
“It was great to see the amount of inventory Navien keeps in its distribution facility and how quickly they can get product to us even though the factory is far away,” Lavin said. “Just the efficiency of it impressed me. It’s a nonstop process of pulling product from shelves that are completely full.”
“The efficiencies were amazing with little potential to make mistakes with machines doing all the work,” Martin said.
Customers also received a broad sampling of Korean culture and took a side trip to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.
“Navien definitely gave us a good mix of history and the future,” Lavin said. “They also showed us how dedicated they are to growing their business in the U.S. and what they are doing to get there.”
This article was originally titled “Quality time” in the February 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.