David Popek’s backstory about how he became involved in the PHCP-PVF industry is rather straightforward.
“I was just out of school looking for a job,” he says.
And Popek found one in 1979 working at Ferguson’s Ashland, Va., branch. “I had no idea what Ferguson did,” he says with a laugh recently in the lounge of the Marriott Hilton Head (S.C.) Resort and Spa during the 89th annual Southern Wholesalers Association (SWA) Convention.
“I was a kid looking for a job. I started out doing yard work — cutting the grass, mulching and watering plants. I moved to the warehouse, learned products and processes and was able to grow through the organization.”
More than three decades later, Popek continues his personal growth in the industry. After working at Ferguson for nine years, he joined Richmond, Va.-based privately owned family distributor VAMAC (acronym pronounced VAY-MAC) where he now is in his 31st year there and is the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. He also will take the reins as SWA’s 67th president, presiding over the regional’s 90th meeting next summer in Palm Coast, Fla.
Like at Ferguson, Popek was given the opportunity to grow his career at VAMAC, but on an even larger scale.
“The Perry family has given me the opportunity to grow here,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have the same possibilities elsewhere. They are a company that promotes from within when possible. They care about growing their associates and preparing them for openings within the company. They recognize their associates and their value. Customers see that culture in us. It is a strong quality that makes us unique. We share that philosophy through actions with our customers — that’s where relationships are built and the trust and respect are earned.”
When Popek, who had risen to an assistant showroom manager in Ferguson’s Richmond, Va., location, came to VAMAC he did so without a manager’s title.
“Chris (VAMAC President Perry) explained there was no manager position open at the time,” he says. “He assured me there would be opportunity. I went to work for them, starting on the counter, working through warehouse, inside sales, outside sales and branch management.”
And the opportunities at VAMAC continued to blossom. Perry indicated the company was interested in expanding its showroom base, a task given to Popek and one he excelled at.
“I had the background from Ferguson in showroom sales,” Popek points out. “I enjoy the showroom side of the business.”
From there it was on to the human-resources department, which Popek ended up running, despite having no formal HR training. While leading the company’s HR arm, Popek continued to be mentored by Perry along with COO Roger Foster, who retired in 2010.
Popek now is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, a post he’s held for seven years. “I’ve been so blessed to have mentors such as Chris Perry and Ken Perry (VAMAC chairman of the board) and Roger Foster. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if they had not invested so much of their time and themselves in me.”
Today, VAMAC, a plumbing, well-water and septic supplies distributor, has grown to 18 branches. The distributor’s newest location in Alexandria, Va., opened in February. VAMAC, in its 101st year of operation, is a member of ASA and the WIT buying group.
“It’s hard to list all the good things VAMAC and the Perry family have done for me in the industry over the years,” he says. “What stands out for me is the family culture (the company’s logo contains the slogan ‘The Family Advantage’). That belief comes from the top from Ken and Chris Perry and permeates throughout the company. Every day the chairman of the board, the president and Corbin Ensign (senior vice president and Ken Perry’s daughter) are readily available to associates. I’m proud of the fact I work for a family-owned business that looks at associates as family.”
Thus, when decisions of great magnitude are made, one of the key driving factors is the company’s associates. “If we’re making a significant decision, we look at the effect on associates,” Popek says. “I can’t believe there are many companies like this that show the level of care and concern for their employees.”
Giving back to the industry
Popek received a call several years ago from SWA Executive Director Terry Shafer asking him to join the regional’s board. “At the time I didn’t know a lot about SWA,” he says. “I told him I would call him back. SWA, at the time, wasn’t something I was directly involved with. After talking to people in the industry, I joined. It’s been a blessing serving on the board. I’ve met so many tremendous people.”
Popek says the greatest value of being an SWA member is the networking opportunities available both with fellow distributor members and with association manufacturer members.
“We are able to bounce ideas off each other,” he explains. “We talk about common opportunities and common challenges. We have the opportunity to see vendors not only in our buying group but through SWA. You are expanding your contact with vendors well beyond you and the sales rep.”
And Popek notes SWA’s annual conference allows those relationships to broaden even further thanks to its family-friendly environment where spouses and children are encouraged to attend.
“That family environment here is unlike anything else I’ve seen,” he says. “I’ve developed many business and personal relationships through SWA.”
Popek is a major advocate of the group’s Leadership Development Council, the young executives arm of SWA that continues to grow in numbers. “The LDC is growing and it’s the future of this organization,” he says. “We need to continue to support the LDC and we need to continue to mentor and nurture those who have the desire to serve this organization in the executive chairs.”
As far as his upcoming year as SWA president, Popek plans to keep his foot on the gas. “I’ve followed John Simmons (current SWA president from Winsupply-Noland Co.) through the chairs and will continue to support his efforts. I want to build on what the previous presidents have accomplished and help continue to grow SWA as an organization.”
SWA Presidents Since 2000
1999-2000: Joseph White (Castle Supply)
2000-2001: Stewart Hall (Hughes Supply)
2001-2002: Lee Steinhouse (Steinhouse Supply)
2002-2003: Ewin Otinger (George G. Lee Co.)
2003-2004: Bob Christiansen (Chris-More)
2004-2005: Bill Kenny (Kenny Pipe & Supply)
2005-2006: Sam Williams (Gateway Supply)
2006-2007: Joe Lawrence (Lawrence Plumbing Supply)
2007-2008: John Landrum (Landrum Supply)
2008-2009: Pace Robinson (Modern Supply)
2009-2010: Mike Larkin (Winsupply)
2010-2011: Reggie Hickman (Brock McVey)
2011-2012: Randy Wool (Wool Plumbing Supply)
2012-2013: Harry Hays (American Pipe & Supply)
2013-2014: Coley Herrin (Plumbing Distributors, Inc.)
2014-2015: Travis Elrod (DeVore & Johnson)
2015-2016: Brendan Donohue (Cregger Co.)
2016-2017: John Simmons (Winsupply-Noland Co.)
2017-2018: David Popek (VAMAC)
This article was originally titled “Success is no accident” in the August 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.