The numbers are out there.
One recent study shows 60% of second-generation businesses fail, while the number skyrockets to 90% for the third generation. Another report puts the second-generation number even higher and lowers the third-generation failure odds just slightly.
But out in Colorado Springs, Colorado, PHCP-PVF distributor Rampart Supply is one of those companies on the other end of the spectrum as it celebrates its 50th year in business in 2018.
Under the leadership of President Colin Perry (the second generation) and with the third generation, his son, James Perry (vice president), making a huge impact in the business, Rampart Supply continues to thrive in a competitive Colorado marketplace.
Using a formula of strong inventory investment and a continued push to better its employees through structured and plentiful training programs, Rampart Supply is setting itself on a course of continued success.
“We have a lot of tenure,” says Colin Perry, who notes the average tenure in the 250-employee company is approaching 10 years. “We have a lot of expertise and we live and die by customer service. We also have a great breadth of inventory. We’re not afraid to have stuff on the shelves (97% fill rate).”
Colin Perry’s dad, Joe (now 94 years old), started his career working at the Pueblo (Colorado) Crane Co. in the early 1950s. He later came to Colorado Springs where he started a supply house in 1968, buying an old ice-house building in downtown Colorado Springs. Joe Perry’s affinity for the Front Range inspired the business name and Rampart Plumbing & Heating Supply was born.
Expansion officially occurred in 1996 when Rampart moved into the Denver market with the acquisition of plumbing supply house Water Systems. Joe Perry had a decades-long friendship and business relationship with Water Systems owner Max Good that predated the acquisition.
Seven years ago, Rampart opened its third location in Pueblo. Today, Rampart runs the three locations with the Denver checking in at 200,000 square feet, Colorado Springs at 120,000 square feet and Pueblo at 30,000. The Denver and Colorado Springs locations employ more than 100 people each. All three locations have kitchen-and-bath showrooms.
“Dad started it on a shoestring,” Colin Perry says. “Vendors worked with us and he made it work.”
Rampart’s coverage area includes the Continental Divide east going as far south as the New Mexico border and as far north as the Wyoming state line.
During the Great Recession, Colin Perry notes Rampart laid off no employees. In fact, it reinvested in its workforce, which has generated a positive payoff for the company.
“The competition did not make that decision,” James Perry points out. “We were able to get about 40 folks during that time. It’s one of those things where you could be stupid if it doesn’t work or a genius if it pays off. It paid off. Now with the building boom in Denver, you are seeing these mechanical contractors come from out of state and that’s allowed us to hire some folks from large, tenured local companies.”
Rampart, a past winner of the Supply House Times Supply House of the Year award, has taken things a step further on the people front with an increased focus on investing in its workforce. “In the last two years we have built up our human-resources department,” says James Perry, who helped his grandpa around the warehouse as a kid and started his official Rampart tenure in 2010. “We’ve refined and honed our hiring and training skills. We’ve shortened training times and we’re focused on productivity and retention.”
Rampart, a member of the WIT & Co. buying group, is heavily involved with ASA and its ASA University training courses. “ASA University has helped us so much, especially for the folks with no industry experience,” James Perry adds.
James Perry says Rampart looks for personality traits first and industry knowledge/skills second. “You have to understand and believe in customer service,” he says. “If you don’t you won’t survive. We hire for the quality of the individual and not necessarily the technical skills. And once they see the culture here and the comfortable fit, they usually are here for a while.”
That training also extends to Rampart’s customers. One particular current initiative in the works is hosting classes that deal with sales-tax issues contractors could incur. “It’s a team effort here,” Director of Marketing Lindsay Taylor says. “We believe in the customer-service aspect and we’ve started programs that take care of our customers.”
And Rampart, with its “Working Harder for You” customer-service mantra, shows no signs of slowing down on the customer-service front. “We have a lot of freedom and latitude here,” says Colin Perry, whose brother, Kevin, and brother-in-law, John, are retired from the business. “We all are of a like mindset. We aren’t here to drill every penny out of every transaction. We invest back into the business. Our customers mean everything to us.”
So what does bucking the generation trend and getting to 50 years mean to Rampart? “It kind of snuck up on us,” Colin Perry says. “It’s a very big milestone for us. You don’t see a ton of businesses out there make it that far. For a small family business, it’s big. It means we are doing something right.”
Colin Perry says expansion isn’t necessarily in the company’s plans, but providing next-level customer service certainly is. “We’re not going to put a bunch of pins on the map and say we are going to be here in two years,” he says. “If the opportunity makes sense to expand we will, otherwise we’re going to continue to grow organically. We know there are many opportunities out there that will keep us busy.”