When you turn onto Main Street in Alliance, Ohio, the sprawling brick building that comes into view immediately gives the aura of success.
But there is no aura involved here. This is the real deal. The company that occupies this pristinely kept property means business and has the results to prove it.
Welcome to Robertson Heating Supply, a Supply House Times and Plumbing & Mechanical Supply House of the Year award-winner, and a now fourth-generation family-owned distributor that has been providing PHCP products along with exceptional service and cutting-edge initiatives to its customers for 85 years.
Robertson’s recently celebrated its 85th anniversary with a three-pronged blowout that included a well-done vendor dinner gala at Alliance Country Club, a simultaneous customer appreciation event at the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and its signature buying show the next day at corporate headquarters in Alliance, Ohio.
The buying show, which Robertson’s is well-known for in the industry, booked a seven-figure dollar total in new business, plus offered six training sessions, including some with state-certified credit attached to them. The trainings ranged from vendor-specific to a credit and collections class for dealers hosted by Robertson’s.
“It’s hosted by our credit manager and aimed at contractors,” Robertson Heating Supply President Scott Robertson told Supply House Times in an interview at company headquarters prior to the vendor dinner gala. “How do contractors collect money that’s owed to them?”
During the vendor dinner Robertson honored many of its long-term partners, including Rheem (1947), Oatey (1950), Honeywell (1955), BrassCraft (1955), Hart and Cooley (1957) and Delta Faucet (1963).
Keep on rolling
Scott Robertson is proud of the company’s long-term family ownership that is currently active in the third generation with himself and his sisters, Linda Wonner, Lori Keller and Sue Neil (Neil is Robertson’s corporate secretary and HR director). The fourth generation, which features 11 siblings of current ownership, was introduced during the vendor gala. Five of the 11 currently work in the company. Each Robertson sibling has at least one child in that fourth generation category.
“A lot of companies don’t make it to the third or through the third,” Robertson says. “According to the articles I’ve heard the third screws it up, but so far I haven’t done that (laughs).”
Robertson’s grandfather John Robertson started the company in 1934 and Robertson’s father, Ed, has worked in the company his entire life. Day-to-day leadership went from John Robertson to former ASA President Ez Fogle and then to Scott Robertson, who took over the company in 1991 at the age of 29.
Since Scott Robertson took the controls in 1991, it’s been nothing but steady growth for the distributor. In 1991, Robertson’s did $45.5 million in sales and in 2019 he noted the company is on track to go north of $150 million.
The company has grown from about 18 locations in 1991 to 31 today in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Michigan and as of mid-June, Fort Wayne, Indiana, giving Robertson’s a footprint in four states.
The company, a member of the Embassy buying group, has 283 employees with 91 of them having 20 or more years of tenure. Each year, Robertson’s honors people in that 20-year club with a dinner at Alliance Country Club. To celebrate the 85th anniversary, all Robertson employees will participate in one of six different employee events (of the employee’s choice) throughout this year.
“A lot of credit goes to my grandfather for building a great foundation,” says Robertson, also a former ASA president. “He took all the risk. He put his money on the line back in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s when he built our first building in 1953. He went to the bank and got a loan for about $500,000, which back then was a heck of a lot of money. He put his life on the line to make that decision. He became extremely successful in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He basically reinvested all the money back in the company and allowed us to keep growing and opening branches. He taught us that same work ethic, if you will, so that’s what we’ve done. We keep the money in the company so we can continue to grow.
“That’s the secret to our success. We had an excellent leader with a strong work ethic where this company and industry was his life. That culture was embedded upon myself, my dad and my sisters, and we’ve tried to continue it and act the same way.”
Robertson’s moved into its current sprawling digs back in 2003. “It’s our life,” Robertson says. “We were in that old building for 50 years. When we built this building my thoughts were that we were going to be here for 50-plus years. If you are going to operate an efficient company, a large company, you need to have an efficient building that is going to last a long time. We didn’t skimp on the work. It’s a nice building, yes, but it’s very efficient and very modern with technology.”
The 217,000-square-foot distribution center that is part of the Alliance campus is automated with scanning technology for the 15,000 active products it has in inventory. “We’re always measuring what products are selling. We’re not trying to have 30,000 SKUs of which 10,000 aren’t selling.”
Robertson’s also continues to issue its popular pricing book, which is updated around 30 times a year. The book is produced by Robertson’s in-house printing department, which was started by John Robertson back in 1947.
“It’s probably the only print shop you will see at a wholesaler,” Robertson says. “We’re giving them prices and specs, 365 days a year. All they have to do is look at their update sheets. If a vendor lets us know June 1 there is a 4% price increase, it will be in the next issue. If a dealer knows his discount, with that pricing book he knows his net price 365 days a year without calling in. This has been going on since the 40s. It’s an example of how innovative grandpa was. He invented the twig concept, which is a one-man branch in a small town. We still have three of those today and they do seven-figure sales with one employee out of a 10,000-square-foot building.”
Robertson and Executive Vice President Scott Middleton also are proud of the company’s detailed seven corporate goals it sets each year that come with financial incentives for all employees depending on how many goals are met. In 2018, the result was a four-figure payout to each employee. One of this year’s goals was tied to the recent 85th celebration buying show.
“It’s a good process that we’ve been doing for about 25 years and it really challenges the company and puts the challenge in front of the employees,” Middleton says. “We’re an open book in this company. They know what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do.”
Robertson says 85 years means plenty to him. “I’m extremely proud that we’ve been family owned by the same family for 85 successful years,” he says. “It means we’ve been very reliable and consistent for our vendors and our customers, some who also are third and fourth generation that we’ve been working with for 50, 60 and 70 of those years.”
As for the future, Robertson has his eyes on 100 years. “One-hundred is a big number, right?” he says. “We’re going to continue to look to open more branches. Indiana is going to be a growth market for us and we want to put additional locations in Michigan. We want to keep growing.”