Since Beaumont, Texas-based Coburn Supply was named the 2012 Supply House Times Supply House of the Year not much has changed.
And that’s a good thing for customers who do business with the PHCP-PVF distributor in the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.
Coburn’s continues to truck along as one of the industry’s premier distributors. It now operates 52 locations (recent additions include a branch in Mobile, Alabama and a new facility in Tupelo, Mississippi), three distribution centers, three regional pipe yards and 28 showrooms with an employee roster now near 1,000 strong. At least 100 of those employees have been with the company for more than 25 years.
“That’s something you don’t see too often,” CFO Paul Lee says in the company’s conference room in a downtown Beaumont high-rise building on a recent winter weekday.
Three of those employees represent the fourth generation of family ownership and have worked their way up to key management positions in the company and are poised to help the distributor, which helped found the Embassy buying group, to even greater heights.
But for Patrick, Michael and Christy Maloney, the proverbial keys to the castle were not automatically handed over to them.
Patrick Maloney, a Texas Christian University graduate, went to work in medical sales out of college, while brother, Michael, graduated from Auburn University and worked at a marketing firm prior to coming to Coburn. Patrick and Michael are the sons of Coburn President Don Maloney. Cousin Christy Maloney, whose father, AJ Maloney, is the company vice president, graduated from Florida State University and worked in commercial lending in the Dallas and Houston areas. She then followed her husband on two expat assignments in Asia and South America as a full-time stay-at-home mother prior to joining the company. Christy Maloney is the current chairwoman of ASA’s burgeoning Women in Industry group.
“For me I wanted to go out and do my own thing,” Michael Maloney says. “As I got older I started to realize how special Coburn’s was.”
Today, Patrick Maloney is Coburn’s director of sales, while Michael Maloney is director of marketing and oversees the company’s expanding technology footprint, while Christy Maloney is director of finance and strategic planning.
“There is a sense of pride having them work here,” Don Maloney says. “But more to the point, all three of them are qualified to be in the positons they are in. They have had to work with and earn the respect of some people who have been with the company for a long time. As we like to say, they bleed Coburn blue. Just because they are members of the family didn’t mean they could come in here and doors would open for them. They had to be accepted as leaders on their own.”
AJ Maloney adds: “Each of them brings a different set of skills and experience, and that’s valuable to this company. At times Don and I hit roadblocks, and it’s good to have different opinions and different skill sets here that allow us to move through those roadblocks and continue to move forward as a company. We realize we don’t have all the answers and I think they have done a good job of learning how to ask questions and listen and apply the information they have gained that will help the company.”
On the tech front, Michael Maloney is excited about the mobile app the company is in the process of developing. “We are seeing in our conversations with contractors that they are looking for inventory-management solutions,” he says. “We’re doing things to grease the wheels more and take away any frustration of how they do business with us.”
AJ Maloney adds: “We look for our customer base to continue to migrate toward technology in the future and we have to be ready for any way customers want to do business. We want to be there for them.”
Michael Maloney notes Coburn’s has a technology department that is well-versed in working on these types of forward-thinking tech projects. “A plumber wants to check stock, pay a bill and look at invoices through a mobile platform,” he says. “We have people in place who are developing these new technologies quickly. We are responding to what our customers want. We are on the offensive. If you are talking about order replenishment, we want it to go to the customer before they even ask for it. We are in the business of selling solutions and building relationships with our customers, vendor partners and reps.”
Patrick Maloney, who along with his brother and cousin, and just like their fathers, are heavily involved in industry associations and groups, points out being out in front of the technology game is a huge selling point for Coburn’s given the industry’s ongoing labor problems.
“As a company, we can talk to prospective employees about not selling toilets, but selling solutions,” says Patrick Maloney, former chairman of ASA’s Emerging Leaders group. “We also have to make sure our current employees are getting up to speed as quickly as possible and are getting energized with the way Coburn’s does things. It goes back to the bleeding blue thing. There is a reason our customers come to us. It’s because of our employees.”
To that point, Christy Maloney adds the company, despite having more than 50 branches and being around the 1,000-employee mark, is keenly aware that its branch in Athens, Texas is different than its branch in Greenwood, Mississippi.
“We still are driven by what our branches need,” she says. “Our branches are close to our customers and we have to react to that. If we see a market going in a particular direction, we have to listen to what those locations need. We certainly don’t operate in a vacuum.”
Time to party
Later this year, Coburn’s will celebrate its 85th anniversary with a gala celebration in New Orleans. Coburn’s brings its employees and vendor and rep partners together every five years to honor the company’s accomplishments. Don Maloney emphasizes there will be plenty to celebrate in the Big Easy.
“We’ve seen our business grow,” he says. We’ve improved our distribution and logistics greatly and have upgraded our business intelligence reporting and sales reporting (introduction of a new CRM system for the salesforce).”
Part of that 85th birthday bash will be celebrating the strong relationships the company continues to enjoy with its customers. “We’ve created a culture of family with our customers,” Christy Maloney says. “Our competition sells service just like us, but are selling a different kind of service — solutions for our customers. It’s what they expect out of us.”
Lee is the longevity youngster of the bunch. He’s been with Coburn’s for four years as CFO, but instantly was wooed by what he saw when he joined the organization.
“Look at the people who are leading this. They really get into it,” he says. “Immediately I saw the dedication of the third generation and the passion that the fourth generation brings. We’re looking forward to the next 85 years here.”