Many of the “boots on the ground” PHCP-PVF distributors that started from a small family operation years ago, aren’t able to remain family owned and operated decades later. This year’s Supply House Times Supply House of the Year, Wool Plumbing Supply out of south Florida, has mastered the PHCP distribution and bath and kitchen showroom game under strong family leadership, and is set up to do so for years to come.
A 1950s beginning
Randy Wool, president and second generation leader of Wool Plumbing Supply explains that his late father, Carl Wool, started the company out of the trunk of his car in 1957.
“He would visit various plumbers on a daily basis and simply ask them what they needed. He would figure out which products were back-ordered from other distributors and make deliveries to plumbing contractors at night.”
Wool recalls riding around with his father while making these deliveries. At just five or six years old, he was fascinated by looking at all of the fittings and parts.
After a few years doing this delivery operation, Carl Wool was able to rent a warehouse in Fort Lauderdale.
“One day, the regional sales representative for KOHLER visited the warehouse and was impressed by how many trucks were coming in and the variety of products we had. He asked my dad if he would be interested in taking on the KOHLER line,” Wool notes.
This deal catapulted Wool Plumbing Supply, setting the company up to become what it is today; one of the largest independent plumbing distributors in Florida.
Today, the company employs more than 140 people and has 10 locations — eight warehouses and nine bath and kitchen showrooms — throughout the state.
“We are very fortunate to have my two sons working in the business,” Wool notes.
Executive Vice Presidents, Jeff Wool and Justin Wool have both been involved in the business since their teenage years, and are well equipped to be the third generation to lead Wool Plumbing Supply.
Relatability reigns important
Distributors across the supply chain have been facing the challenge of competing with national suppliers and large retailers for years now. All three Wool men say being an independent distributor works to their advantage.
“Many of our customers are small businesses and/or independently owned contractors,” Justin Wool explains. “There is extreme value in being able to relate to these guys. Especially right now, many of them are just trying to survive in the marketplace, which is difficult. We hear from them all the time that they’d rather do business with us than a ‘big box’ retailer.”
There aren’t many advantages independent distributors carry over national companies, and thankfully Justin Wool believes this one won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
“There’s no amount of marketing those companies can do to change the fact that most of our custom-ers are small businessmen and want to support a small to medium sized company like Wool. There is a lot of emotion at play here, and we understand that about our customers.”
This level of relatability extends to the company’s employees. Randy Wool explains that Wool’s talented and loyal employee base has been a major key to success.
“We have an extremely low turnover rate with our employees; many of them have been with us more than 15 years, and some 30 or 40 years,” he says.
Just like in other sectors of the PHCP-PVF industry, distributors have a hard time finding new talent for their teams. “It’s nearly impossible to find new, qualified employees,” Randy Wool notes. “So we put tremendous value in the ones we have. We promote a good, family-like work atmosphere in order to keep our great employees for the long haul.”
Jeff Wool says much like the company’s customers, many employees note that they’d rather work for a smaller business than a large corporation.
“This is another area where our relatability helps us succeed. When I interview people, many of them say they don’t want to work for a large company where they’d feel more like a number than a person. Here, we know them all by name, and they know us. If they ever need something they can call each of us directly,” he explains.
Adaptability and goals
When asked how the company has managed so much growth over the past six decades, Randy Wool says constant learning is essential.
“Obviously, over a 60-year period the industry has changed. We have faced challenges along the way and been able to learn from them, overcome them and become better. We weren’t facing the challenge of competing with national companies and online retail like we are now, but I think staying true to our cus-tomers is what keeps the business strong.”
He also explains that keeping plenty of product on hand has proven successful.
“We aren’t afraid of inventory. For us, it turns out that the cost of keeping inventory on the shelves is not nearly as high as not having the product available when our customers need it. Today, time is money, and contractors don’t have time to visit multiple places to get what they need. If we have everything for them, we can be that one-stop-shop, and they’ll keep coming back,” he adds.
Looking ahead, Jeff Wool explains that while he has some specific goals for Wool Plumbing Supply, the main goal is remaining adaptable to whatever comes to the market.
“So much can change in five to 10 years, so it’s hard to say where we will be. As long as we remain customer focused and adaptable to industry changes, I know we will continue to grow.”
Staying on top of available technology to create a more Omni channel approach for its customer is a goal Wool has for the future. The company hopes to develop the most efficient e-commerce platform possible, create a mobile app and continue to invest in its showroom side of the business.
“At the end of the day, we know change is inevitable and you can’t stop them from coming to the industry. We just have to make sure we are staying relevant as those changes come, and growing the business is vital; if you’re not growing, you’re going to be left behind,” Jeff Wool says.
Wool Plumbing Supply is an active member in the American Supply Association (ASA), Southern Wholesaler’s Association (SWA) and the Affiliated Distributors (AD) buying group.
Jeff Wool explains that being a member of these groups has helped with various aspects of the business.
“This industry isn’t easy, and working with family presents its own set of challenges. Getting involved with ASA, SWA and AD allows us to talk to many other businesses that are also family operated and go through the same things we do. Many of the people I met in these groups when I first joined the business told me ‘Hey, working with family isn’t easy, but it is so rewarding when things take off and you’re succeeding with your family,” he adds.
Several AD members say that Wool Plumbing Supply has been active and valued in the buying group for years.
Jeffrey Beall, president of the PHCP Business Unit with AD says, “Since the inception of AD’s Plumbing Division in 2001, Wool Plumbing Supply has been a valued member. Through their networking and friendship, they enhance the member experience and through leadership; they make AD a stronger organization. They’ve contributed two generations of active service and leadership, with Randy on the Plumbing Division board and Jeff on the Decorative Brands Division board. Randy is a great friend and confidant.”
Justin Dunscomb, president of the Plumbing and PVF Divisions agrees, “The Wool Plumbing Supply team personifies how a company can make the best of the AD model and win big by taking advantage of the programs and relationships in multiple divisions. We are honored to have called them an AD member for the past 19 years. We look forward to the next 19! Congratulations to Randy, Jeff, Justin and the whole team.”
Randy Wool says he’s proud of Wool Plumbing Supply’s accomplishments, and knows his father would be too.
“Overall, I’m most proud of the significant level we’ve grown to over the years; a level that’s allowed us to expand and put profit back into the business.”
Wool feels that his sons are diligently preparing to master every side of the business, and are more than capable of carrying on the core values of the company.
“I’m proud of Justin and Jeff and what we’ve accomplished together. I feel we are a significant force in the marketplace. It’s not easy to face all of the trials the marketplace faces today while maintaining your business status and achieving growth, so I’m extremely proud.”